One of my favorite questions to ask pastors when I sit with them is, “What does your sermon preparation process look like?” By God’s grace, he has wired every single one of us differently; therefore, everyone’s process is unique to them. Some pastors prepare later in the week while others prepare all week long. A few write out a full manuscript and others develop either a small outline or a detailed outline. Depending on how God has created you and as you stay faithful to Scripture, you should do what honors God, is best for you, and allows God’s people to drink deeply from the Special Revelation well.
Why You Need to Spend Quality Time in the Text
No matter the length or style of your process, I do think that the first step in sermon preparation ought to be studying the Word of God–specifically, studying the text you are about to preach or teach. Preachers should spend time praying over, studying, meditating on, and even memorizing the text. How do we expect our people to drink deeply from our teaching if we have not guzzled the Word ourselves? Yet, I think many of us, myself included, skim over this important step in our preparation.
As a fellow preacher, the temptation to move quickly through step one is a real struggle. Many times I will either read a text of Scripture and immediately think of how to build an outline for the audience or I might read the text a few times and immediately leap into the commentaries, dictionaries, concordances, and many other resources to begin my exegetical work. Sometimes this process seems more like doing a job instead of allowing the Bible to do its work on me. By the way, I am not saying you shouldn’t use resources in your exegetical work. You absolutely should! My point is to spend quality time in the text before jumping into your resources.
Two Reasons to Spend More Time in Scripture
If you will permit me, here are two reasons you should spend more time in the text before moving to other resources and writing out your sermon in whatever format that works for you.
First, we need to believe that the Holy Spirit will illuminate the Word of God into our hearts and minds every time we approach the Bible as a follower of Christ. Before approaching God’s Holy Word, I pray that God would show me his glory, that King Jesus would draw me closer to himself, and that the Holy Spirit would open the eyes of my heart, mind, and soul from the text I’m about to study. Sometimes I fear that in our sermon preparation we forget how reliant we are on the Holy Spirit and how reliable he is to impact us through his divinely inspired Word.
Second, we forget that God is working on us just as much as he is working on those we teach. In a recent podcast from the Center of Preaching and Pastoral Leadership at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, one of the commentators talked about how sermon preparation should be a time of personal development–you can listen to that podcast by clicking here. To put it another way, the text must work on you before you wield the scriptures to work on those you are preaching and teaching. Spending time praying over and meditating on the text will begin to “cut” through your own vices and conform you into the image of Christ Jesus our Lord before you stand and preach the passage to others (cf. Hebrews 4:12; Romans 8:29).
To recap, step one in any sermon preparation process should be to spend adequate and quality time in the text. Perhaps this means that we might need to start our process earlier than planned, but sometimes I think as ministers of the Word we forget that God is not done working on us even though we stand each week as God’s servants saying to his people, “Thus, says the Lord.” We need to invite the Holy Spirit into our process from start to finish, and allow the Word to work in our own lives before we teach it and apply it to the lives of those in our audience. Only when the preacher has drank deeply from the text himself will he be able to fill the cups of those he preaches to each week.
Some of you might be thinking about how to spend time studying a text of Scripture. Here are a few ways that I do it after I pray–and I pray throughout the entire process: Read the text about 5 to 6 times. As Dr. Akin likes to state, “Bombard the text with questions.” Read the passages before and after your text to get a better understanding of the context. Read the entire book or letter if time permits. As other relevant passages come into your mind, go read them to gain a better understanding of how your text fits into the storyline of Scripture. If your passage references something from the Old Testament or has parallel accounts like we see in the Gospels, go and read them as well. Read it out loud and/or have someone read it out loud to you. The idea is to consume the text before you move to your exegetical work and sermon writing.
Additional Resources You Should Know About
If you are interested in learning more about how to read and understand the Bible, check out this online course by Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Southeastern has also created a church resource that you can use to equip those who handle the Word of God in your local church. You can learn more about this group resource by clicking here.
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