What’s Your Method?
That question of preparation is always challenging because, quite honestly, everything is sermon prep. Charles Spurgeon used to carry little scraps of paper with him and would stop at random moments when an illustration came to mind or saw something he wanted to write down and capture. Every time I sit down to read a book, watch a movie, or consider the experiences that I’ve had, everything works together as sermon prep.
One of the irreducible minimums among people who take part in the craft of preaching well is that they consume a lot of content. Now, I just want to stop right there, and I want you to hear the particular language that I use. It’s not just that they read a lot, but that they consume a lot of content. One of the joys of living in the twenty-first century is that there are so many ways we can ingest content. You may not be a reader, but there’s Audible and podcasts you can listen to. Great preachers are constantly intaking and ingesting a lot of content. However it is you get your content, figure out a way to maximize that intake of content.
1. Catalog Your Content
I’m old school. I read physical books. So, whenever I read a book, I always go to that blank first page, and as I’m reading along in that book, I’ll go back and jot down, “Page 89: good quote, good illustration on prayer.” Then, sometime later as I’m preaching on prayer, I still won’t have a photographic memory, but I will remember that book where I read something about prayer. I’ll go to that front page and find exactly where it is. The point that I’m trying to make to you is this:
Who cares if you intake a lot of content if you don’t have a catalog to maximize that content? I want to encourage you to do that.
2. Build Out Your Buckets
Now, let me just kind of walk you through the week as I sit down and prepare a message. I want you to understand that there are always two big buckets in which I try to approach sermon preparation. One big bucket is what I call “the content bucket,” which has to do with what I’m going to say and what the passage means. The second big bucket, which I think is so important yet, unfortunately, a lot of preachers underestimate it. It is “the communication bucket.” You have the content, which is what I’m going to say, and then you have communication, which is how I’m going to say it. Regardless of how good your exegesis is, if you don’t put thought into how you’re going to communicate it, you can mess up really sound exegesis simply because it was unclear, fell flat, or was uninspiring.
I was preaching not too long ago and had an 11-year-old girl approach me with her mother. The 11-year-old girl was too shy to actually speak to me, but her mother said, “Listen, my daughter wanted me to communicate to you that she got it and that she really loved your message.” That’s exactly what we want! One of our goals as preachers is to be simple yet not shallow. Doing so is an art. We’ve got to make sure we’re communicating in such a way that when we’re taking the rich depth of the Scriptures and communicating them in a manner that is simple, that people can grab hold of it. And that is inspiring!
3. Craft Your Content
With these two big buckets in mind, I’m not the type of person who can sit down in my own wiring and prepare my sermon all in one shot. Some of you are gifted that way, and I think so much of these kinds of conversations is knowing who you are and how you’re wired and then playing to that strength. For me, it’s a little bit by little bit. I could never pull an all-nighter when I was in school and do well on the test because I’m a slow learner.
So, day one for me is observation, just me and my Bible. I’m just kind of engaging with the text, taking notes, and trying to come up with a minimum of 25 observations. Day two for me is exegesis. This is where I’m diving into my word studies and chasing theological themes. Day three is my commentary work. When I approach commentaries, I approach them for the perspective. It’s not so much to glean new insights, although oftentimes I do, but to make sure I’m in the ballpark among trusted scholars as it relates to my exegetical conclusions. Day four is my toughest day; it’s the outline day. That’s when I try to wrestle with pulling together my research and my reading, while putting together an outline to be able to clearly communicate the deep vastness and depths of that text.
4. Clarify Your Communication
Now, we’re getting into the communication bucket. I’m asking, “How am I going to say these things?” I try to communicate my points in applicational terms, and I want to make that connection with people and with individuals. Then finally on day five, I write out the sermon word for word. This typically means 10-point font, space-and-a-half. Five pages will get me a 25- to 55-minute sermon, somewhere in that range.
I don’t write it out to memorize it; I write it out to internalize it. I want to be so familiar with my message that I’m free to follow the wind of the Spirit in that preaching moment. I’ll then read it about five times, pray a lot throughout the week, stand up, trust God, and be open for the His Spirit to move, guide and direct me.
Published October 25, 2023