How I prepare – Article in ‘Preach’

This article was published first in Preach  I was asked to describe a typical sermon preparation.

Pre-preparation
This sermon on Isaiah 42:18–25 was one of a series on Isaiah 40–66. I decided, in consultation with Sinclair, the other main preacher at St Peter’s, to begin this series in the morning services, with him going through 1 Peter in the evenings. The reason for choosing Isaiah was that it is Old Testament prophecy, and earlier recent series had been on 2 Corinthians, the Sermon on the Mount and Psalms. We try in a year to offer something from each of the biblical genres of history, prophecy, letter, gospel and poetry. Before beginning the series I made myself familiar with the wider context and reading on Isaiah.

The month before
I plan sermon passages and titles a month in advance. Isaiah 42:18–25 is a clear section with a clear message and so it was quite easy to title it ‘The Deaf and Blind Church’ although I did toy with the idea of taking the phrase at the end of the passage and entitling the sermon ‘Taking it to Heart’.

Two weeks before
I look over the passage and think about what the main themes are and what is involved because I usually draw up the order of service at least eight days in advance. I like the sung praise to go along with the main theme being looked at. I also have to decide if I am going to split the sermon into two (or even three) with songs splitting it up. I do this if there are obvious clear divisions and different subjects to look at. In this case there was one main theme so I kept the sermon as one. I also needed to prepare in prayer – not least because the passage is not the easiest one to understand and to communicate.

The week before
Monday
I begin on the Monday by piling up my commentaries and opening up Logos. I tend to take notes with pen and paper on blank A4 sheets. I begin with reading the passage and dividing it as I see. Then I read a basic commentary such as the New Bible Commentary. After that I go to a technical and more detailed commentary, involving the original language. Then I move on to some more general popular works such as The Bible Speaks Today series. Finally I turn to more classic works such as Augustine or Matthew Henry or particularly Calvin, who as a warm biblical exegete is unsurpassed. I don’t really bother with the more critical and liberal commentaries. I am there to exegete the Word of God, not poison it.

Tuesday
I now type out the main points of the sermon and what I call ‘three-quarter notes’. I don’t write out the sermon in full. But I do write out all quotes, main and sub points and Scripture texts. It is only after doing this as the backbone of the sermon that I think about illustrations.

Wednesday to Friday
Having done the basic work I let it ‘marinate’. In other words I pray, think about what is to be said, look over the notes and jot down any changes/illustrations that I can think of. It amazes me how so much of what I read fits the passage we are going to be looking at. This passage in particular surely speaks to the situation of the church in the UK today. It scares me (as well as thrilling me) that sometime, as I sit preparing, it’s as though God is communicating directly to our situation today. Of course that is exactly what he is doing. The Word of God is living and active… it cuts to the heart of the matter. On Friday (as I have Saturdays off) I prepare any PowerPoint slides, and print out my sermon.

Sunday morning
I prepare by prayer, Bible-reading and reading over and thinking about what is to be said. I go to church early, ideally to go to the prayer meeting, if I have no other responsibilities.

This sermon was preached on Sunday 3 May – the Lord blessed his word. You can hear a recording HERE.


5 thoughts on “How I prepare – Article in ‘Preach’

  1. Helpful. More or less what I did. Good to demythologise the process. I believe in preaching but I think it is placed in too rarified an atmosphere in more conservative circles. Oratory rather than plain speaking has gained ascendency leading to impossibly high standards that crush some. But then my background is Brethren.

    John

  2. I’d like to be able to spend that much time reading up on stuff, but with two sermons (and services) to prepare most weeks, plus folks to visit and other activities to plan, it just isn’t possible. Still, the Lord’s blessing seems to be in it anyway – which is the main thing!

    1. Hi David – per sermon the basic preparation takes normally one unit of time – I divide my day into morning, afternoon and evening units – each of around three hours….I think there is a real problem (for both the pastor and the congregation) if we cannot give at least three hours per sermon to preparation. And three hours is only adequate if some basic groundwork has been done before…

  3. Over the last 25 years or so I have witnessed in churches the decline of bible based preaching which I would regard as “expository” preaching.

    I am not referring to churches infected with liberalism which have been off the page for years, but to those who would still embrace the term “evangelical”.

    In place of preaching we have “words” where the speaker basically presents his/her own ideas sprinkled with a few bible verses, usually out of context, and often incorrectly applied. Most of the speakers are deeply committed Christians who are genuinely trying to deliver a clear message, but many have little significant theological understanding, have never themselves heard high quality expository preaching, and they have no real anointing for preaching.

    To be blunt most sermons I hear these days are BORING and neither inspire me or inform me. The gospel writers wrote down what the 12 apostles were teaching about the Lord Jesus. This was the primative apostolic gospel – the words and the deeds of Jesus. Yet it is rare to hear any systematic exposition of the gospels these days. In stead we get dreadful sentimental “worship” songs in which Jesus seems little more than a boyfriend.

    Obviously there are glowing (but fairly infrequent) exceptions to this.

    One of the judgements of God on a nation that has turned its back on Him is a famine for “hearing the words of the Lord”. (Amos 8, 11-12). I believe that we are in such times.

    I thank God that there are still some churches throughout the land where preaching is taken seriously and the preachers are gifted and well prepared. But they should expect increasing criticism and hostility because the Word of God is deeply offensive to the world.

    Keep the flame alive David.

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