Sermon Preparation

Greg Strand – May 22, 2012 Leave a comment

Ray Ortlund, “Sermon Preparation” (May 18, 2012):

Ortlund gives some excellent counsel/advice on “sermon preparation,” which consists of three aspects: technical, rhetorical and personal (italics below mine).

First, Ortlund writes, “There is, first, a technical aspect to sermon preparation.  ‘What do those words on the biblical page mean?’”

“There is, secondly,” according to Ortlund, “a rhetorical aspect to sermon preparation.  ‘How shall I communicate this message in a clear and compelling way?  What land mines must I step around — or step on?  How should I locate this biblical truth within the world of the people to whom I am preaching, to help them?’” 

Ortlund notes, “There is, thirdly, a personal aspect to sermon preparation.  ‘Out of the overflow of the heart his mouth speaks.’” 

Sermon preparation consists of doing your work in the biblical text, crafting the sermon for preaching, and the living the biblical truth before you preach it. Ortlund states that this final aspect of sermon preparation is critical and one of the true marks of great preaching. He concludes,

A man of authentic humaneness, goodness, Jesus-like-ness, might not be a doctoral-level exegete, he might not be rhetorically sophisticated, but that man’s preaching will be compelling because he is compelling.  Something is flowing out of him, something of Jesus himself.  The preacher’s good heart, his core being, is well stocked with insights into and personal experiences of the living Christ.  He is therefore able to speak out of both the biblical text and his own intuitive knowledge of the Lord into the hearts of the people where they really live.  And they are helped, freed, lifted, saved.

This is what Ortlund observed in his dad. Though he did not master all the aspects of sermon preparation, he did the final one, and that made the difference in his life and his preaching.

My dad was like this.  He was a careful observer of the biblical text, but he was no world-class exegete.  He paid attention to the obvious in communicating, but he was no rhetorical guru.  His preaching had an almost uncanny effect, because his heart was good and the gospel poured out of him.  His preaching connected people with the Lord himself.

All three aspects are necessary. But the heart of sermon preparation and the heart of preaching is the personal. (This does not mean that one only preaches in the first-person plural so that the whole  sermon is about me. No, good preaching has God as its subject and man/me as its object.) Here is Ortlund’s conclusion.

To neglect the personal aspect of sermon preparation dooms a sermon to technical acceptability, with maybe some cutesy rhetorical flourishes.  To submit to the personal aspect, to walk with God in total openness to him, putting him first and then preaching by faith, will make the sermon better because the man is better.

That kind of preaching is rare, because that kind of preacher is rare.

What kind of preacher are you?

Greg Strand


Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

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