I would like to outline my process for sermon preparation, in a sense not only for readers but also for myself. If you have a clear process of steps, it speeds up the process significantly. While it works for me, I am by no means an expert, but a learner. Feel free to adapt the process to yourself in your preaching journey.
Prayer is the first thing to do. God has a message from His word for His people. Understand the key message that God would like to bring to His people. Bath the whole process with prayer as you need to depend on God’s leading and wisdom in crafting a message.
2. Read the Scripture passage multiple times
When the scripture is given to you, read it multiple times. Read it till it sinks into your spirit. If you have the habit of Lectio divina, do use it. Read different translations or paraphrases of the same text. It may open insights into the passage for you.
3. Use Bible resources
After you have read through the passage and got a good grasp of the major ideas, you can turn to other resources. Some of them that I use (especially when you are pressed for time), are these few:
(A) The cultural background is important in yielding insights into the culture of that day. There is a time, location, cultural and language gap from the Bible and modern culture. That is why understanding the cultural background is so helpful in illuminating the text. It can drastically change how we understand the Bible accounts. You probably need to buy the right books for this.
(B) The New English Translation (NET) Bible is a wonderful resource for those who want a scholarly insights without understanding the original languages (Greek and Hebrew). Even though I studied Greek, the footnotes in the NET bible are provided by experts in the language and often highlight key ideas drawn from the original language. Thus, someone has done the exegesis for you and you just need to use it.
(C) David Guzik’s online commentary is helpful in outlining your text. He gives mostly devotional type of lessons from the text and is a simple (and free) resource for preachers today. Though some of the quotes are rather outdated, the main ideas aren’t.
4. Crystallise your main thought and action
After you have done your reading and research, you can now crystallise two things: (A) “What is the main point of the passage?” and (B) “What do you want listeners to do?” As preachers we do not just download information into our listeners but teach for life-change. What do you want your listeners to do in respond to the Word of God? If you aren’t sure, keep on searching. Usually, it is the same point where God has spoken or convicted you through the text. When you are convicted by the word of God, you can preach it with passion. Life-change starts with you. If you aren’t moved, neither will your listeners. This can be the toughest part of sermon preparation but the most valuable.
5. Outline your text
If you’re preaching a deductive sermon, try to delineate your passage into reasonable sections that flow well. This is quite a craft to form parallel yet succinct statements that make it memorable. Adrian Rogers is a master in creating a beautiful outline. Go listen to some of his messages and you’ll get inspiration. This stage can be tough too but don’t sacrifice your key ideas just to make points sound parallel. It will appear forced and unnatural.
6. Write a script
A script is important to clarify your thoughts. A preacher who speaks off the cuff (extemporaneously) will either reach a blank at some point or diverge off point. This is dangerous and an insult to your listeners. They chose to spend time to listen to you, so you better prepare yourself well. Preachers who don’t prepare says that they don’t care about the flock. Shepherds carefully search for fertile grass before leading the sheep there. Unless you’re experienced, prepare a full script every time. Even the best preachers at least write their introduction and conclusion verbatim.
I always start with the introduction and a conclusion. Both are usually stories that hook interest at the start and motivate them at the end. For the body, I use the Explain-Illustrate-Action format for all sections. It’s quite foolproof and works well in unpacking the text. So it’s Intro-EIA (repeated for each section)-Conclusion. After the conclusion, I usually add an Altar Call for salvation or responding to the word. If possible, preach the Gospel message as often as you can and give listeners an opportunity to receive Jesus. Don’t leave it for another week – you never know if they’ll be back.
Another format that I’ve found useful when my mind is a blank is Andy Stanley’s format: ME-WE-GOD-YOU-WE. It has kickstarted many of my sermon preparations but it doesn’t work for everyone. If it suits you, great.
7. Make sure your sections flow well
You make them flow well by adding transition statements. It needs to be clear and at least a few sentences long. This provides auditory signposts for listeners to follow your sermon and train of thought. It’s not like reading a book where I can backtrack something I missed. In a sermon, you will need to give clear transitions and repeat your main points multiple times. On paper, it might look tedious and long but your listeners will thank you for it.
8. Write for the ear
After you write your script, it may sound more like a report than a sermon. Try reading it out loud and see if it sounds natural. Does it sound like a conversation or a report? One of the key lessons I learnt is not to write for the eyes, but for the ear. As I mentioned earlier, a sermon is an auditory journey. Of course, you can use visual aids such as Powerpoint. But the content must be written for the ear also. How can one do that? By shortening your sentences into breath bites, by forming active verbs in sentences, by repeating key points, by using parallel statements. There are many ways but the idea is to write like you speak. Imagine you’re speaking one on one, how would you convey your message. Bring that intimacy along with you.
9. Forget it all and preach
Once you’re done with your script for the ear, practice it several times. Try to commit the illustrations and key points to memory so that your eye contact with your listeners will be better. When you actually preach, just preach. You don’t need to follow your script verbatim. Look at the listener’s faces. Are they agreeing or are they confused? If they are confused or angry, maybe you need to dwell on that point longer.
I hope this simple guide helps you in your sermon preparation in some way. May the Lord equip you with his message from his word for his people.