I have had classes on preaching. I have preached now for more than 20 years and I am still trying to become a better preacher. I have also found that almost no two preachers prepare the same way. I am not sure there is a right or wrong way to prepare a sermon, but I do believe the fundamentals of preparation must be the same. I think that the pattern of a faithful sermon is demonstrated in Scripture. A faithful sermon must explain the text, apply the text to the listener, and point the listener to Jesus. There are many who merely deliver religious speeches, but if the pattern is ignored it cannot be qualified as a sermon.
I am convinced that God, as the Chief Shepherd of the church I serve, is far more capable of shepherding these folks than I am. His primary way for shepherding this flock is through the teaching of the Word of God. I believe, as the Under-Shepherd, I should be disciplined in presenting the whole Counsel of God. There are genres of Scripture which are much easier to preach than others. Every person has their interests and preferences, a pastor is not an exception to this, but he must present the whole Counsel of God. I just finished preaching through Acts. Acts is the in the New Testament. Acts is mostly narrative. Acts concerns the gospel expansion of the New Testament Church. The selection of the next text comes at an intersection. I love these folks and I want to serve them well by following the Chief Shepherd’s leadership. I want to address the folks I serve well by addressing their needs. I want to serve them well by stretching their biblical understanding. I want to serve them well by leading them into a more devoted walk with the Lord. Here is the crossroads: I must lead myself in the same areas mentioned above and grow as a preacher so I may serve more faithfully. So, I selected something from the Old Testament. Something that would lead people to grow in a deeper walk with Jesus while addressing real life needs and something that is outside of my comfort-zone, Poetry. Old Testament Poetry is tough for me, it’s tough for the listener and its part of the Whole Counsel of God. The folks need what the Psalmist had to say. I need what the Psalmist had to say. The Chief Shepherd shepherds His church through the whole Counsel of God; I must preach it to serve them well.
Once a text is selected and I have a general understanding of the context of the text (time of writing, reason for writing, recipients of the writing, writer, and where the passage fits in the overall line of thought), I write an Exegetical Outline. This discipline is an adaptation of something that I learned in college. I was taught to diagram the text in the English language, but when I began to teach this to others I found that sentence diagraming is no longer taught. So, the Exegetical Outline is and adaptation of sentence diagraming to discipline the student to comprehend the text of scripture, map the flow of the thinking/argument of the author and serve as a mechanism to help the student communicate the text and the author’s thought as closely to his intent as possible. The Exegetical Outline is driven by the text of Scripture not the imagination of the student. Developing an Exegetical Outline is a laborious task but it is worth the effort. This process alone was life changing for me.
Once the Exegetical Outline is complete, I dig deeper into the context of the verse. I employ the techniques of inductive Bible Study and the science of interpretation to the passage of study. I identify what I believe are key terms in understanding the text and I then study those terms or phrases to gain a deeper understanding or insight. I also must look to the way Jesus impacts my text of study. No Christian should study the Old Testament the same way as a Jewish Rabbi would. Neither should a Christian seek to allegorize the Old Testament; it is history, teach it as history. Once the work of study is complete then I look to faithful, scholarly commentaries for greater insight. I am so thankful for commentaries but they are not a beginning point, or a replacement for faithful study techniques. I am grateful for faithful scholars and faithful scholarship, but I believe if a student of the Bible understands the techniques of study and is faithful to employ them, he too can arrive at the same conclusions. I also believe that good and faithful men make mistakes. I must look to God’s Word first, before looking to what anyone says about God’s Word. After the study, I am now prepared to apply what God has communicated through this author to my audience. Again, I am not free to apply God’s Word any way that I would like, but must take what God has said and bring it into the context of my hearers. I don’t try to be cute, but I do try to communicate the text in a way that will meet the needs in the life of the listener. The points of my sermon are, to the best of my ability, determined by the text and are interwoven with application.