Occasionally I will have students ask me how to put together a Bible study or a sermon. Rather than giving them a full course on hermeneutics and homiletics I try to keep it simple. If they have a text or topic (if not we first discuss how to pick a text) in mind we go to the Scriptures and begin discussing sermon preparation.
Let’s imagine that a student feels led to preach on John 3:16. The first thing I do is tell the student to imagine time travelling; travelling back to the time when Jesus originally said these words, or when John originally wrote them. At this point I ask the student to imagine all of the things that would make it difficult for them to understand what Jesus is saying. We talk about language, culture, and the like.
At this point I pull out a sheet of paper and write the name Biblical Bob. I remind the student that what matters most in a Bible study or sermon is not what you want to say or what you think the audience needs to hear, but rather what God says. The first task in preaching John 3:16 is to understand the world of biblical Bob. This means that you study the text, you study the times, and you study the context. I usually offer a few resources to aid them in discovering these things.
Secondly I write the name Modern Marv. This is your audience. You need to know the people that you are preaching to. You need to have a vague idea of their struggles. There are many things that are universal to all men and women. And there are some things that are unique to your environment. We must be aware of these.
The task of preaching is building a bridge between Biblical Bob and Modern Marv (Or Post-Modern Percy if you prefer). How do you communicate the biblical message to our modern ears? In order to do this effectively you have to know what the message is—this is your chief task. At this point I usually draw a bridge between the two and begin discussing things that Biblical Bob has in common with Modern Marv. Then I remind the student that Jesus is the hero of both Biblical Bob and Modern Marv.
There are numerous other things that go into sermon preparation but I feel that explaining it this way helps the student to understand the task at hand. As they begin preaching you will find many students will fall off on one side or the other: either they will preach a very “biblical” message that has little to no relevance for today or they will preach a very “relevant” message that has little to no biblical fidelity. Having this framework in their mind will help them grow and be faithful to the text and to their audience.
By the way, none of this is new to me. The way it is communicated might be, but the general principles can be found here among other places:
Between Two Worlds by John Stott
Christ-Centered Preaching by Bryan Chapell
The Supremacy of God in Preaching by John Piper
Spirit-Empowered Preaching by Arturo Azurdia
The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text by Sideny Greidanus
Preaching Christ in All of Scripture by Edmund Clowney
Preaching to a Post-Everything World by Zack Eswine