Preparing Sermons

Everyone develops sermons differently, and even in one’s own preparation it is not a static thing. Development occurs. Preparation processes change. For me, preparing sermons usually involves the same process, although some things have changed over the years.  This post is a description of my usual sermon preparation routine. This preparation is assuming an expository philosophy which begins with Scripture. I'm not looking to rant about whatever I feel is wrong with the world. Nor am I using a text to springboard a discussion. Instead, expository preaching unpacks a text and explains its meaning to God's people. 

Because  New Testament epistles are the easiest to preach, the process below reflects the preparation of one. Specifically, it reflects the sermon I preached over Christmas break at Desert Heights Church on Titus 2:11-14. If I were preaching narrative or poetry there would be similar elements of preparation, but there would be real differences, most notably in the propositional display. In narrative, the key is not so much the grammar of individual phrases or words, but the meaning of blocks of texts or repetitive themes.

#1 Pray
The first step in the process is prayer. The preacher serves as a spokesman for God. The message is not his own. He is only a messenger heralding the message of the King. The Holy Spirit must be directing the entire process.

Tools in sermon studying: Bible, MacBook, commentaries, NM Pinon Coffee and Garth Brooks

#2 Master the Book
The first step in understanding a specific passage is getting grasp on the message of the entire book. No text stands in isolation. The goal in mastering the book is identifying where your text fits within the overall book and how it contributes to its message.

#3 Propositional Display
If possible, this should be done in the original languages. But sermon preparation time is usually limited,  so the original languages should at least be consulted here and throughout the entire process. The goal in developing a propositional display is extracting the intrinsic outline of the text.  We don’t come to a text and impose our own outline on it. If our theology of preaching is correct, then we see that our purpose is not to deliver our own message but to discover and communicate the King’s message.

First, copy the text and place it within a writing program.  I work on a MacBook and preach my notes from an iPad, so I use Pages for convenience. Next, look for grammatical clues, whether you're using an English or a Greek text. In English asking the 5 “w’s” (
who, what, where, when, why, how, ) provides an easy way to analyze a text and explore the relationships of its phrases. The point is that you want to dissect a text and subjugate phrases beneath phrases so that the text’s intrinsic outline will emerge. 

Here is my propositional display of Titus 2:11-14:
In addition to extracting the inherit outline of a text, a propositional display provides borders in discussion. It visually demonstrates to us the major and minor points of the text. This, in turn, prevents us from getting side tracked or making sub points main points. In Titus 2:11-14 starting in the Greek text was crucial as it reveals that the passage is actually just one sentence with charis (grace) as its subject. We see that everything in the passage relates back to grace. So my preaching outline, the frame that I  hang points of explanation upon reflects this understanding:

There is nothing profound about my outline, it isn’t cute or cleverly alliterated.  I simply tried to the best of my ability to extract the text’s outline and communicate it.  Because grace is the the subject, the first point is an explanation of  what grace is and what is meant by its appearing. Because everything else in the passage spanning from verses 12 through 14 concerns grace's training work, that forms the second point. Grace trains us to renounce, live and wait.

The Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament is a new, ongoing commentary series that includes a propositional display for every textual unit. This is an excellent resource to ensure that your display is on the right track.

#4 Work Hard on Your Own
Commentaries should be used, but that’s the next step. Initial outlining and explanation should be done before consulting commentaries. You want to safeguard yourself from copying someone else's interpretation and becoming a clone. Also, you don’t want to rob yourself of the joy of discovery.

#5 Commentaries

Some Christians are opposed to commentaries. That is a strange position to hold to. Commentaries are gifts to the church. Scholars have dedicated their lives to the deep study of Scripture. They have become specialists in their fields to a depth that the local pastor cannot match. Commentaries are the fruit of their labor.

In my own study of Scripture I read as many commentaries as I possibly can. I don’t want to miss any idea or interpretation. Reading multiple commentaries provides a forum for various scholars to debate eachother about the passage's meaning. 

In my process of consulting commentaries, I always begin at the most simple level and work my way up to as advanced as I can comprehend. I’ll read all the introductions and then the actual expositions of texts. First, I consult study Bible notes, usually the MacArthur and ESV Study Bibles. Next, I read an expositional commentary like the Tyndale series (TOTC, TNTC). Then, I’ll read a more intermediate commentary like the MacArthur New Testament Commentary (MNTC), the New American Commentary Series (NAS) or the Pillar New Testament Commentary Series (PNTC). Finally, I’ll read several advanced commentaries. At this level, the commentaries I regularly consult are the New International Commentary Series (NICOT, NICNT), the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary Series (ZEC), and the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament Series (BECNT).

#6 Pray Again
Prayer in sermon preparation shouldn’t be limited to the beginning of the project alone. The whole sermon process should be bathed and book ended in prayer. Delivering the King’s message is dependent upon the Holy Spirit’s guidance, illumination, and power.

Here is the sermon I preached on Titus 2:11-14:

God's Grace: The Foundation of Christian Life from Desert Heights Church on Vimeo.