Yesterday I asked “should a pastor spend 20-25 hours in sermon preparation?” Today I want to consider how a pastor could easily spend 20-25 hours in sermon preparation. I even want to make the argument that these steps to sermon prep should not be circumvented. Perhaps you could give some of these less time but I believe that these steps need to be present.
I will state the obvious (but often overlooked) upfront. Each of these steps should be bathed in prayer. Sermon preparation should fundamentally be done on the knees. With that being said here is how one could easily spend 20-25 hours in prep time.
I am assuming that the preacher is preaching through an already established series, so there is no time spent figuring out what to preach.
The essential element to sermon preparation is to really get what the text means. Sometimes this will be easier and sometimes it will be really quite difficult. I typically begin by using something like Bible Arc to get a feel for how the passage fits together.
After I feel as if I have a grasp on the flow of the text I will begin reading commentaries and engaging in linguistic and background studies. This is where I really try to get a grasp on what the author in this text is saying. All throughout this process I am asking myself questions about where it fits in the overall story of Scripture and how this particular text relates to Jesus.
Then after doing all of this background work I try to write the text in my own words (I know, heresy, right?). This helps me to know that I have a good understanding of what the original author intended. The goal of the first stage is to be able to know what the author intended and how it relates to Jesus.
All throughout stage #1 ideas will come into my mind about how this particular text might preach. But what I try to do before considering how it may benefit others is to consider how this text needs to shape my own life. As John Owen has said, “If the Word does not dwell with power in us, it will not pass with power from us.”
At the end of the day the most important thing is that I am mastered by the Word and not simply have a mastery of the Word. What good is it for me to know that Christ saying “I wish you were hot or cold” has to do with the water supply of Laodicea, if my own heart is not rescued from lukewarm pursuits?
In the first stage I want to know the text. In the second stage I want to know my own heart and how it relates to this text. I want to consider how Jesus provides rescue in this passage. I want to know how this passage preaches the gospel to my own heart.
Now I am ready to consider how to preach this text. This is often a really difficult task. You have won half the battle if you consider your own heart. But there are unique needs to each congregation and individual.
In this stage I am trying to figure out how to bridge the gap between my 21st century hearers and the original audience. What do we have in common with the church in Colossae? What might we be going through that can relate to David’s time in the cave? At the end of the day I can have confidence that the human heart in the 21st century struggled with the same thing that people in the first century (or even OT) struggle with today. And I can also have confidence that the same Jesus recorded in Scripture is the same Jesus that heals today. I just have to labor to bridge that gap.
At the end of this stage I hope to have a decent outline of what the text is saying and how it applies to us. I hope to put it in a concise statement that connects what the original author is saying with our response today.
I start writing out the sermon. I fill out the skeleton. This can take some time but is actually the easiest step. After doing all of this preparation work it is quite easy to fill out six pages worth of manuscript.
After writing the manuscript I try to put it back in an outline form. At this stage I am simply getting ready to preach. I want to know that if my notes burn up in front of me I could still preach this text. I may take the whole manuscript into the pulpit with me and I may take an outline form (typically I take both).
These stages are all inter-connected and I often find myself bouncing back and forth. But you can see how a preacher could easily spend 20-25 hours per week doing sermon prep. And each step is necessary.
If you skip step one then you will just be giving advice. If you skip step two then your preaching will lack passion and your soul will eventually wither. If you skip step three you will just have a verse by verse commentary that your people cannot fully connect with. If you skip step four it may not be the worst thing—but you will run the risk of not being as deliberate and intentional with the words you choose to communicate such a precious truth. If you skip step five you may miss obvious holes in your sermon.
Preaching and teaching the word is a high calling, lets not shirk our responsibility.
Early I mentioned something obvious. Here is the second obvious thing: I am by no means and experiment in preaching and homiletics—not even close. Feel free to offer suggestions or how you spend your time preparing sermons or Sunday school lessons.