Five Simple Tips on Sermon Preparation

foundworthy asked a question:

What is your process for sermon prep?

Hello AJ! While I wouldn’t want to give you a simple formula, since each of us must find our own way, I’ll outline just a few things I do.

1) I often preach in series, about 4 to 7 sermons long, because it helps me to know where I’m going. Usually each sermon inside the series is supporting One Big Point that I’m trying to make.

2) In seminary, my professors always did the 3 am Test.  Basically: If I were to shake you awake at 3 am on Sunday morning and ask you, “Tell me your sermon in one sentence!” — and you couldn’t do it, then it wasn’t ready.  Simplify, simplify, keep it simple.

3) Exegesis (digging into the particular meaning of Scripture) is very valuable, but please know what to put in the showcase and what to keep in the basement. Sometimes I find a really cool fact of history during my study of the Bible, but I realize this is only me nerding out and has zero relevance to what I’m saying. So I save it for another day and look for another.

4) Sermons are hard work. I study hard. I read the news. I pray hard. I listen to how others did the same passage. One message might take about 20 hours per week. But the main thing is: I have to constantly meet up with the church.  Sermons are a way to love and serve people by the powerful healing Spirit of God.  I have to love my people first. Without that, then the pulpit is just a catharsis or a college lecture. Seminarians spend so much energy crafting a precise message, but they barely love their people or love the King.  Love your people.

5) I constantly assume there are people who don’t care or who hate Jesus.  I think of the twelve year old suicidal kid who is ready to hurt himself again.  I think of the single divorced mom raising three kids on three jobs with a father who left them.  I think of the skeptical college student who once loved youth group but has hardened by parties and amateur philosophy.  I think of the pregnant fifteen year old whose parents have shamed her and she’s been vilified at school.  I think of my close friends and family who don’t know Jesus.  I practice my sermons by pulling up a chair in front of me and going one-on-one, because sermons are speaking to real people, and they’re coming to Sunday service with a load of burdens they can hardly carry, and they do want to know there’s something more.

— J.S.

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Please know I’m way more comfortable writing, and speaking has always been tough for me. Thank God for grace.

Also check out:

– Six Things I Write At The Top of Every Sermon

– Preachers: A Sermon Gut-Check

– Seven Tips on Preaching & Teaching For the First Time

– The Difference Between A Speech and A Sermon

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Purchase my new book on love, sex, and dating here!

4 thoughts on “Five Simple Tips on Sermon Preparation

  1. “Exegesis (digging into the particular meaning of Scripture) is very valuable, but please know what to put in the showcase and what to keep in the basement.”
    “Seminarians spend so much energy crafting a precise message, but they barely love their people or love the King.”

    Having a close to 20 year history with SEBTS students that attended my church while in seminary, I can attest to the above.

    I can’t tell you how many times I have seen seminarians preach a message as though they are delivering it to their profs. These messages usually go right over the heads of the people sitting in the pews, which to me is an indication of little to no thought by the preacher to whom they are speaking.

    I don’t really blame them, as they are in or have just finished classes that grade them on how they preach and what they preach (having not been in any of those classes, I have no idea against what they are graded), however, in a church, we must always be aware of who we are reaching, or attempting to reach.

    My messages would not appeal to a grad or doctoral level seminarian, but then again, they are not who I am preaching to.


    1. I did the same thing for the first year. I was preaching inside my tightly enclosed circle of textbooks and theologians, responding to problems that no one else cared about. Like Tim Keller says, a pastor’s first hundred sermons are going to be terrible. Growing pains. 🙂


  2. Good stuff ! Even though God hasn’t given me a platform to teach or preach I would like to start writing sermons, and if one day God desire me to share then I will . Thanks for sharing !


  3. Reblogged this on Ryan Ellington and commented:
    I’ve been reading blog posts on sermon prep for years by professionals and amateurs alike and have not usually found them particularly helpful–but this was fantastic! I’ve never read a post on the subject that put such a human face on it, and I want to hear this author preach now. It taps into what I have been feeling lately, that pastoral work NEEDS to be a deeply relational and human encounter between the pastor and his flock.


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