In my life, I have worked with more pastors than I have fingers and toes. If I had two more hands and feet, I still wouldn’t have enough digits to be able to count the different approaches I have seen to sermon preparation.
That being said, I have found that the best sermons consistently have three ingredients in their preparation. The inclusion of all three of these can help you insure that your sermon is timely, educational, and edifying.
Ingredient #1: Prayer
You have to get alone with God prior to beginning your sermon prep. Ask, seek, knock, yes, but, most importantly, take time to listen.
You might consider journaling your prayer time. What did you pray for? What do you feel like God said to you today? What questions popped into your head and heart during your prayer time? What answers do you feel like God revealed to you?
This is ALL good fodder for sermons, but, even more importantly, it’s a good record of you and your personal journey with God.
When all that part of it is done, ask God to give you specific direction, for the specific word, meant for the specific people who will be in attendance where and when you will be preaching.
This leads to ingredient #2.
Ingredient #2: Holy Spirit Direction
The most vital reason that prayer is a key ingredient in sermon preparation is that the Holy Spirit comes when we ask for guidance. Jesus said:
I have much more to say to you, but right now it would be more than you could understand. The Spirit shows what is true and will come and guide you into the full truth. The Spirit doesn’t speak on his own. He will tell you only what he has heard from me, and he will let you know what is going to happen. The Spirit will bring glory to me by taking my message and telling it to you. – John 16:12-14
With Holy Spirit guidance you can find that a verse you have read a thousand times suddenly has a new light, or a nuanced meaning for you.
Once you have a clear direction, scripture, topic or title (it can start in a number of ways), you can then go through whatever process works best for you, to prepare your sermon. You might outline, or write out the complete text. Whichever process you use, it’s important to then add the final ingredient.
Ingredient #3: Time
Once you have your sermon prepared, let it simmer. Give it some time to rest in your head and heart. Go through it in your car as you drive. Go through your points in conversation with someone you trust.
This time of percolating can give you deeper insights. You can find more relevant illustrations or analogies that help you make your points. You can even refine the wording of your bullet points.
A Final Note
I have sat in the congregation listening to sermons that sounded like the preacher decided on his way to the pulpit what verse he was going to use, and then riffed for 45 minutes, spouting lingo and phrases that sounded great, but he didn’t really say anything.
I have sat in the congregation and listened to what amounted to a well-rehearsed, super slick motivational speech that had no theological content whatsoever.
I have sat in the congregation and watch a pastor start one sermon, and then just stop talking. I mean, he just stopped everything. Was quiet for what seemed like hours, but was probably just 30 seconds or so, announce to the congregation that God was leading him to talk about something else altogether, and proceed to give one of the best sermons I have ever heard.
The point here is that none of these rules are hard and fast. God can use anybody, at any time.
However, implementing these three ingredients in your sermon preparation can lead to consistently good, insightful, timely, and engaging sermons that help to foster growth and maturity in your congregation.
[reminder]What ingredients did I miss? What process have you found that works best for you? Do you think these ingredients can help you in your sermon preparation?[/reminder]