6 Steps for Sermon Prep

By P.J. Tibayan

Your sermon prep process is uniquely your own. Consider adding these tools to your toolbox as you seek to proclaim the gospel faithfully to your church.

We all want to preach faithfully and effectively—not just once or twice—but we want faithful, effective sermons to be a regular mark of our lives and ministries. The problem is that we are often left wondering whether or not our means of sermon preparation is the most effective way to edify and affect our people’s hearts, as well as glorify our God. I’m offering insight into my own preparation plan, but let me just say that everyone prepares sermons differently. So, let’s set out to find a way to prepare your sermons within the natural rhythms and constraints of your own life.

Before we get into the plan of preaching a sermon each week, remember that all of your life is preparation for preaching and that all that you are goes into your sermons. In preaching, you’re taking God’s Word from the text to the people. You want the text in its canonical context to control the words and goal of the sermon that you’re preaching to your people. This way, they will hear God’s Word effectively and grow by faith. You’ll want to take the text to yourself in order to prepare a message from it, and then bring it to your people. The following steps are how you can accomplish this lofty goal and bring God’s truth to the people He has entrusted to you.

1. Prayer

Step one, pray. That sounds obvious, but ask God for help. Admit to Him that you need His help, and that apart from the Lord Jesus, you can do nothing. Ask God to help you. Trust that He will help you because of His promise in Matthew 28:20 to be with you always to the end of the age.

Take a promise of God, trust it as you pray, and then start preparing the sermon.

2. Observation

You’re going to take the text and begin your exegesis by drawing out and studying the text. What is the text saying to its original hearers? Take the text and draw out what the original author was saying to its original audience. You’re simply observing the text at this stage. If you are able to look back at the original language, do so in the Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek. Further, look at several different English translations of the text. You’ll recognize the key differences among the translations and observe the translation issues that you should focus on in your preparation.

While looking at the text, you will want to study and read it over and over again. Take time to reread it out loud. Write down any questions you have when studying the text. Pay attention to key words and phrases. Look for connecting words like “for, “therefore,” “so that,” “in order that,” and “but.” These conjunctions are connecting the logical pieces and showing you how the logic of the text flows. Consider any cross references that come to mind as you’re observing the passage.

3. Note-Taking

Have a blank sheet and write out any applications and illustrations that come to your mind. And with any cross references you consider, think about the theology there. What is the theology of that text, and what is it saying about God? What themes from the Bible is this text bringing out? In exegesis, you want to look at the structure of the text. If it’s a narrative, look to the story arc of the text—from the setting to the rising action; from the tension to the climax of the sermon and text; from the resolution of the text to the new setting. Follow the story arc and set your focus on a character in the story.

If you’re studying discourse, look for the logical structure of the text. Or in poetry, look for the parallelism, imagery, and the comparisons and contrasts of the text. Remember that the structure reveals the emphasis of the text. Once you locate and have a good idea of that emphasis, pay attention to the context. Look at the chapters leading up to your passage, then look at the chapters that follow. See how your text fits with biblical illusions to other texts. If it’s a New Testament text, what Old Testament text does it refer back to? Think about the historical, cultural, religious, economic, political, and cultural context. The context informs the background of your passage, so pay attention to that as you’re exegeting the passage.

4. Main Argument

Once you’ve paid attention to the context and the text itself, prepare to state the main argument of the passage in a sentence. For example, in Romans 1:18-32, Paul argues that God’s judgment on all of the world is right because mankind has rejected His revelation in creation. You want to state your main argument in a single, concise sentence. You also want to do some theological reflection. What’s the theology of this text, and how does it point and connect to Jesus? You want to think about the covenantal context of your passage. What has gone on before this passage in redemptive historical history? Seek to connect this passage with one of God’s covenants to His people: the old covenant, the Abrahamic covenant, the Adamic covenant, the Israelic covenant, the Mosaic covenant, the Davidic covenant, and even the new covenant. Look at your passage’s context covenantally. Then, think about the canonical context.

Where does your passage fit into the story line and chronology of the Bible? How does your passage point to Jesus Christ? Is your text before Jesus, after Jesus, or about Jesus? Where and how does it point and connect to Jesus Christ, His cross and resurrection, and His second coming? You want to consider your text theologically. How does it point to Jesus and the gospel? Think about passages that are parallel to yours in theme, as well as how they overlap with each other. You’ll want to look to Jesus through these different lenses.

5. Outline

Now, consider the application and articulation of your sermon. How does this text apply to your own congregation, and how will you articulate it to them? What is the main goal of your sermon for those who will hear? Consider how you will outline that goal, as well as what applications you can preach from this passage to your people. Write them down in order to better articulate your main goal. Outline the sermon in light of the passage to unfold this main goal and argument. Apply the text through structured meditation to Christians, to non-Christians, and to the church as a whole, as well as to children, to the discouraged, and to society at large. Then, fill in the reasoning from your outline, your applications, and your illustrations. Make sure that you’ve preached the gospel to any non-Christians in the room, too.

6. Writing

And lastly, begin writing your introduction. Try to set up the need: Why do your people need to hear this passage of Scripture, this message, and this main goal? Write your conclusion, summarizing the passage and encouraging your people to remember why they need to follow Jesus in accordance with the passage. Then, review your notes one more time and write down where your questions are, where you’re going to pause, and other helpful notes.

Remember that your goal is to prepare strategically. Set up a regular rhythm for your sermon prep each week so that your preparation time is used effectively, and keep tweaking that method until you get it where you want it to be. In doing so, you’ll streamline your preparation and make your sermon more effective for those who will gather to hear the Word preached, week by week.

Adapted from Expositional Preparation of the Preaching Masterclass.

Published November 13, 2023

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P.J. Tibayan

P.J. Tibayan pastors Bethany Baptist Church in Bellflower, Southeast Los Angeles. P.J. earned two degrees from The Master’s University and Seminary (BA, MDiv), a master of missional leadership from The Resurgence Training Center, and a doctorate in Biblical Theology from Southern Seminary (DMin). He was also discipled in ecclesiology as a pastoral intern at Capitol Hill Baptist Church. P. J. leads Shepherd L.A. to connect and resource like-minded pastors for healthier churches in L.A. He has written articles for 9Marks, Desiring God, and The Gospel Coalition. He and his wife, Frances, live in Bellflower with their five children.