Sermon Preparation

Greg Strand – December 12, 2014 2 Comments

In “Preaching for God’s Glory,” Alistair Begg was interviewed (Expositor [November/December 2014]) about various aspects of preaching and the ministry of the Word. The whole interview has many nuggets of wisdom from one who has been engaged in local church ministry for many years.

One question in particular caught my attention, so I include it here

What is your method for sermon preparation?

Whenever I am asked to summarize my own method of preparation, I mention the following points, which I learned from an old minister when I was still a theological student. Five steps or pointers that I like to keep in mind: think yourself empty, read yourself full, write yourself clear, pray yourself hot, and be yourself, but don’t preach yourself. These pointers help keep me focused from beginning to end.

Now, what exactly do I mean by these?

  1. Think yourself empty. As strange as it may sound, we must be careful to ensure that we do not avoid sound thinking. The temptation to respond emotionally to a passage (“this is how this makes me feel”) is not unique to our listeners. If we are to have “thinking” congregations, it is incumbent upon us to be “thinking” pastors! We do not want to be uncertain by the time our study ends, but it is surely right and proper to begin with the perspective, “I must know what this says, and I must learn what this means.”
  2. Read yourself full. Every preacher must read, and not only read, but read well.
  3. Write yourself clear. Aside from the essential empowering of the Holy Spirit, if there is one single aspect of sermon preparation that I would want to emphasize, it is this. Freedom of delivery in the pulpit depends upon careful organization in the study. We may believe that we have a grasp of the text, only to stand up and discover that somewhere between our thinking and our speaking things have gone badly awry. The missing link can usually be traced back to the absence of putting our thoughts down clearly.
  4. Pray yourself hot. There is no chance of fire in the pews if there is an iceberg in the pulpit! Without prayer and communion with God during the preparation stages, the pulpit will be cold. In 1752 John Shaw reminded the incumbent pastor beginning his charge in Cambridge, Massachusetts: “All will be in vain, to no saving purpose, until God is pleased to give the increase. And in order to do this, God looks for prayers to come up to His ears. A praying minister is always the way to have a successful ministry.”
  5. Be yourself, but don’t preach yourself. A good teacher like John the Baptist, clears the way, declares the way, and then gets out of the way. If people leave worship saying, “What an amazing preacher!” we have failed. Instead we must long for them to say, “What a great God, and what a privilege it is to meet Him in His Word, as we have just done.” A good teacher clears the way, declares the way, and then gets out of the way.

There is much to learn from those who have been preparing and preaching sermons for many years. Begg has been and continues to be a faithful expositor of the Word of God.

What is your method for sermon preparation?

What have you learned from your preparation for and preaching of sermons?

Greg Strand

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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.

2 responses to Sermon Preparation

  1. I really enjoyed these points.

    They seemed to focus primarily on the preparation of the heart and mind rather than the acquisition of information for the purpose of a great speech. Which I loved!

    Personally, I am still developing how I spend time preparing to preach. As I am growing in this area, I admit that I had originally started preparing to preach by focusing all of my attention on trying to answer every question that I could possibly be asked about “X” text of scripture. Obviously, that is dumb, but nonetheless that’s where I was.

    This looked a lot like me sitting at my desk, begging God to “give me something” to preach on. Which would eventually lead to me rabbit-trailing a particular text to the point where I wasn’t sure I even knew what it was saying anymore. Which lead me to Google searches on how to understand it. Which ultimately left me defending and preaching an issue of opinion or “a new take” on something, and also really really tired.

    However, God is merciful and full of grace. He was gracious enough to humble me so that I could see that my intentions, although focused on communicating Jesus to his people at first, eventually became a mixture of pride, performance, arrogance, and were in hard truth, an exaltation of “Me”.

    After I was convicted by the Holy Spirit, I almost kinda grieved my previous efforts as I saw them obviously exalting me and not Jesus. What was worse were the memories that came into my mind of people thanking me for what I had prepared. I, not to be too dramatic here, was ill with shame of the truth of my actions.

    From then on I started making it a priority to make sure there is nothing “in it for me” when I prepare to preach. From the intentional and necessary prayer, to the reading (which thankfully involves way less Google, and way more Bible), to the notes I make, from the outline I use, and from the way I communicate what God has shown me, I have to work hard (constantly in my heart) to make it about Jesus alone.

    So, now my preparation looks a lot like me sitting at the same desk, but this time asking God to show me personally more about who he is, and to keep me focused on exalting him. From there I ask him how I am to communicate that to his people, and to please get me out of the way of his glory.

    I don’t always succeed in accomplishing this as fully as I would desire, but it has consistently gotten easier the more God convinces me that for him and his glory, not my own, do I existence.

    Thanks for the post, Greg!

    • Thank you for your comment, Corey. I appreciate your “confession” and correction in your understanding of and approach to sermon preparation and preaching.

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