Rethinking Sermon Preparation

The area I’ve worked on the hardest in the past year is sermon preparation. It’s always a struggle to make time to prepare sermons because it’s hard work and there are plenty of other things to do!

As I wrote in my post, Preaching Requires Investment, Bill Hybels has been quoted to say …

Preaching has been the single most vexing activity that I am engaged in, in Christian work. Nothing beats me up or puts me on my knees for longer periods of time, frustrates me more, or creates a greater feeling of dependency on God than preaching and teaching.

I’ve written posts in the past about my attempts to improve sermon preparation, including The 4 Ss of Sermon Preparation, which was a revision The 5 Stages of Sermon Preparation. The 4 Ss (Soak, Study, Shape, and Simmer) still describe my general process for sermon preparation, but I will always be looking for ways to improve the day-to-day process!

But lately, I’ve been thinking about the nature of sermon preparation. Sermon prep really isn’t about writing, or putting together, a great sermon. Rather, sermon prep is about God forming his message in the preacher so the preacher can communicate it to people!

Sermon prep is about experiencing God’s Word personally and taking a journey with God, and then taking the congregation on a journey through the sermon. That’s not easy to do. It’s easier to focus on the task of putting a sermon together. Tasks are easier to complete. Journeys are much more difficult and unpredictable!

Nancy Duarte, author of Resonate talks about the communicator as the mentor (rather than the hero). Duarte says, “You’re simply the voice helping them get unstuck in their journey” (20). To be a good mentor, “place the audience at the center of the action, and make them feel that the presentation is addressing them personally” (20). (I’ve written a lot about Resonate; start with “Resonate”: Bringing It All Together).

Thinking of the people in the audience as heroes changes the nature of communication. The goal isn’t to impress people with profound knowledge or great communication skills. It’s to help people on their journey. Duarte writes …

As mentor, your role is to give the hero guidance, confidence, insight, training, or magical gifts so he can overcome his initial fears and enter the new journey with you. (20)

Similar to the idea of a mentor, I like to think of the communicator (and the leader) as an Adventure Guide. Different from a Travel Agent, who sends people on journeys they may not have taken themselves, an Adventure Guide takes the journey, too!

We can only help people on their journey if we are taking the journey ourselves!

My favorite image for this is a funnel, which I heard Louie Giglio talk about last year during the free online event, Preach Better Sermons. I mentioned it in my post, 5 Takeaways from Preach Better Sermons. Giglio used a funnel to illustrate how God’s Word should pour into us and work on us so that a meaningful, focused message comes out. God must do a work in the preacher through the text during the process of preparing to preach!

I certainly haven’t mastered it, but here are three ways I’m trying to prepare to preach

  1. Maintain a strong devotional life. I read through the Bible unrelated to sermon prep. Prayer is also vital (see Preacher & Prayer).
  2. Soak in the text, preferably more than a week before delivery (the further ahead, the better). See Sermon Prep With iAnnotate to read about my process for soaking in the text.
  3. Constantly ask, “What does God want me to say?” and “What is God saying to me?” It can’t just be what I want to say to “them”!

It’s hard work. But it’s necessary because sermon preparation is about God forming his message in us so we can communicate it to people!

How do you invite and allow God to work on you during sermon preparation?

4 thoughts on “Rethinking Sermon Preparation”

  1. Randy,
    What’s the possibility of getting copies of the posts that you have written on sermon preparation? I think that they would fit in well with the Sermon Planning Course that Lay Servants now have to take.

    Dr. Tony


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