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Preach the Word


SERMON PREPARATION


"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:

  1. 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.

  2. Read widely. Read history, philosophy, literature, biography, psychology... Read newspapers and journals. Keep in step with the times and with people.

  3. 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.

  4. Read keenly. Plan your reading. Follow topics or themes in a number of books. Extend your library. Secondhand bookshops are worth a visit or two.

  5. Use the Internet. You can search web sites for subject material and illustrations. The magazine 'Christianity Today' has pages to support the keen preacher.


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.

  1. 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).

  2. 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.).

  3. 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 in part 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 two extremes
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 thoughts, 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 anoints.

A conclusion
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.



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Copyright 2007 Vernon Ralphs

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