"Preparation will be that of the whole life, of the day, and of the
moment" (W.E. Sangster).
Introduction Martyn Lloyd-Jones wisely observes: "At first one tends to
think that the great thing is to prepare the sermon - and the sermon
does need most careful preparation. But altogether more important is
the preparation of the preacher himself" (Preaching and Preachers).
1. PREPARATION OF THE PREACHER
Prayerfully consider the following points:
Preparation by consecration
Consider the teaching of Rom.12:1,2. We must be vessels consecrated for
the Master's use (2 Cor.4:7). The preacher's study must be a place of
communion with God - a private place where the voice of God is heard
and we get a word for the public platform.
Preparation by meditation
Spiritual sermons are delivered by spiritual people. W.E.Sangster says
that the preacher's general preparation involves living, worship,
biblical and theological study, meditation and deep thinking (The Craft
of the Sermon).
Preparation by reading
For many people reading is hard work. But often sitting in the right
chair, with the correct light, at a planned time, with selected pages
from a book or books can make reading enjoyable and creative. So, plan
your reading. Consider these points:
Read the Scriptures.
Read them devotionally, that is, for your own
benefit first. The Bible contains a library of illustrations. In
preaching, let the Bible illustrated itself.
Read widely. Read
history, philosophy, literature, biography,
psychology... Read newspapers and journals. Keep in step with the times
and with people.
Read critically. Mark
your books. C.S.Lewis was a great believer in
marking the books he read. Often a keyword pencilled at the top of a
page will bring its contents back to memory and recall an important
truth. Note illustrations and telling stories. Create endnotes or
indices in books where there are none.
Read keenly. Plan
your reading. Follow topics or themes in a number of
books. Extend your library. Secondhand bookshops are worth a visit or
Use the Internet. You
can search web sites for subject material and
illustrations. The magazine 'Christianity Today' has pages to support
Preparation by observation
Observe life. Jesus did this, and when he preached he gained public
attention (see Mt.5-7). Sermons with human interest will be listened
to. So, note the questions people ask. Observe their conversations.
Then, listen to, and observe, other preachers. Learn from their good
and bad points.
Preparation by collection
A sermon can be put together by using a preacher's books of outlines
and illustrations. God forbid! Develop your own outlines, and collect
your own illustrations. Sermons must be yours - your sermon must be
you. Be alive to ideas that come to you. Use a notebook or scrapbook to
record your thoughts. Create a file of information and inspiration!
2. PREPARATION OF THE SERMON
"Effective preaching means hard work" (Aaron Linford,
Redemption Tidings). We need to recognise this. The most effective
sermons are shaped by the tools of study, meditation and prayer. We
need to consider various views on sermon preparation and delivery.
Idealistic methods of preaching
The following approaches to sermonising need to be criticised as they
involve little or no preparation.
The indolent method. This
approach involves saying whatever comes into
one's head. This kind of sermon has no structure or content. Pastoral
ministry cannot be sustained by this method. It will not feed the flock
of God (Jn.21:15,17).
The idealistic method. This
mode misuses the scripture: "Open your
mouth wide and I will fill it" (Psa.81:10), often believing that the
Holy Spirit will inspire new thoughts and words in preaching.
Experience and Scripture do not support this approach (1 Tim.4:13f.).
The inspired method. This
is like the second method but does involve
some preparation in terms of Bible reading and prayer. Again,
experience tells us that this is not good enough. Like the other two
methods, it produces preaching which has no aim and is marked by
mistakes and repetitions.
More concerned approaches
Preparation can go too far the other way. Evaluate these two approaches:
The written sermon. In this case the sermon is written out
or full and read out in the pulpit. This method will generally fail
because the sermon comes over rather like an essay or lecture. A full
script, however, may help the beginner. However, some powerful
preachers, such as Dr.Joseph Parker and Jonathan Edwards used full
notes with great success! (Read Edward's sermon, Sinners in the Hands
of an Angry God.)
The memorised sermon. This method involves much work and
may, in the
end, lead to a rather wooden delivery. Notes, in this case, would not
be used. And, without this backup, a nervous mind will inevitably let
the preacher down!
Methods that come between the
As God's messengers we need to prepare carefully and prayerfully, while
trusting God completely. The preacher should prepare thoroughly - and
prepare notes which are adequate. Consider the following methods:
The outlined sermon. This method uses notes, but not a
full text. The
notes provide the sermon outline together with key thoughts.
Dr.Campbell Morgan, late of Westminster Chapel, used to write out his
sermon introduction and conclusion fairly fully. But the main body of
his sermon would be indicated simply by its main points. C.H.Spurgeon
also followed this practice. This approach encourages the preacher to
deliver the word with confidence while (at the same time), relying on
the Lord for words of instant inspiration.
The extempore sermon. Here, "The one who prepares well his
and trusts to the occasion for the right word, may truly be said to be
an extempore preacher" (Aaron Linford). In this case only skeletal
notes would be taken into the pulpit.
Inspiration and anointing
What do we mean when we say a preacher is 'inspired' or 'anointed'?
Often these terms are used as part of our religious language - without
understanding them biblically. For example, we cannot say a preacher
isn't inspired if they use notes. Nor is inspiration evident by a
preacher changing their message as they begin to preach. And
'anointing' is not demonstrated by shouting or walking around while
preaching! Sensing the Lord's inspiration or the Spirit's anointing on
a preacher is not ascertained by what we see of the preacher, but what
happens in our hearts. The 'anointed' word touches the human spirit.
And it is the prepared preacher who has a prepared word that the Lord
So, we must recognise the need of preparation and planning. But the
important thing here is that we receive the word of the Lord in our
study. Then, as those who look to the Holy Spirit for inspiration and
direction in the pulpit, we must expect words of inspiration to be
given while we are actually preaching. Oral Roberts, the Pentecostal
evangelist, said he used full notes with 'gaps' in them - spaces that
the Spirit could fill. Consider John 14:26 here.
3. IMMEDIATE PREPARATION
Now that we have defined general attitudes and approaches to
preaching we can address the actual preparation of the sermon.
Choosing the subject or text
Particular preparation begins with the preacher choosing the theme or
text - or vice versa! The best subject is the one that selects the
preacher - and gives him or her no rest until it is delivered. Our
prayer life, reading and meditation of the Scriptures may bring the
subject to us. A church's needs or problems may indicate a subject to a
pastor. Sometimes listening to a sermon may suggest another sermon! The
Christian calendar shouldn't be ignored. Be open to the direction of
the Holy Spirit. For most preachers the angst of sermon preparation is
knowing what to preach on. Once we have an assurance of our text or
subject then we can settle down to study. Again, be advised to use a
notebook to jot down ideas and outlines as they come to you. The Lord
may give you a word for a particular occasion well in advance.
Contemplating the subject
Some sermons require incubation. We can preach a sermon too soon.
J.H.Jowett advises us to let messages mature in his book The Preacher:
His Life and Work. A few random thoughts here. If ideas or outlines
come to you jot them down immediately. It is easy to loose a God-given
word. We may have to work out a sermon in our lives before we preach
it. If a word burns in our hearts it will burn in the pulpit. Be clear
about the aim of the sermon.
Criticising our work
In stage two we are gathering material that supports and illustrates
the text or passage we have chosen. Now we need to prune our material.
Illustrations may be excluded or replaced. Bible verses and illustrates
may be evaluated.
Construction of the sermon
Now the sermon is taking shape. Again, we must be clear about the aim
of the sermon. This will determine the climax of the sermon and its
application. "Decide on your introduction, the main sermon body, and
your conclusion. Decide the sort, prepare the outline and complete the
work" (W.B.Riley, The Preacher and His Preaching).
Check the research
Check your Scripture quotations and exposition. Check the facts in your
illustrations. Prepare your final sermon notes. You may prefer to write
your quotations in your notes. (Searching for scriptures in the pulpit
can irritate a congregation!)
Clarify the sermon
Finally, just before you preach take time to think about your sermon,
view your notes and pray. It is advisable to colour-code or highlight
your notes. In this case this can be done at the last minute to assist
the memory. Avoid, if you can, reviewing your notes on the platform.