How Do You Put Your Sermon Together, part 1
While there are certain elements every pastor will want to incorporate (study and prayer for example), there is no one way to put a sermon together. Just like there is more than one way to skin a cat I suppose (a curious and inviting phrase that). So all I can talk about is what I do to get ready for Sunday.
In case you’re interested, here goes…
1. I plan out my series at least six months in advance. This takes time all by itself. Usually during a study week I’ll map out a new series. So, for example, last July I opened my Bible and several commentaries and plotted out the beginnings of a long series on Mark. I wish I could say I read through Mark several times at this stage, but I don’t. I skim through it and read quickly through several introductions. I’m not doing study work as much as I am trying to get the lay of the land and figure out how to break up the text. Of course, if I need to adjust along the way–because I need to slow down or speed up or because of another issue that must be addressed from the pulpit–I adjust.
2. Theoretically I start sermon prep on Tuesday morning, but I often struggle to get unburied from a weekend of things that have piled up, so I may not start my studies until Wednesday morning. I have to work quickly, more quickly than I like at times, because we have a separate Sunday evening service that I usually preach at too. My process for the evening sermon is roughly the same for the morning sermon, except I usually have less time and the whole process gets compressed. I wish it weren’t so, but it is.
3. So let’s say I start Wednesday morning on the AM sermon. First off, I’ll translate the Greek. If I preaching from the Old Testament, I’ll look at the Hebrew, but I rarely go through and translate it. This is partially because my Hebrew is not as good as it should be, and just as importantly, because OT passages are often longer narratives. Doing a translation of 50 verses of Hebrew would simply take me too much time. If you can do it faster, God bless you. But my Greek is still in decent shape and NT preaching passages are usually much shorter. So I start with translation, using helps as I need them.
4. Once I have my translation written out on a pad of paper and I’ve double-checked it with the ESV to make sure I didn’t completely botch something, I stare at it for awhile. I pray. I think. I jot down notes. I write down questions. I let my mind wander down rabbit trails (you never know where they might lead). I may start on some word studies (using Bible Works, concordances, sometimes Kittel or Colin Brown, etc.) or I may pick a book off the shelf that addresses some idea that text has brought to mind. I read through my translation several times, slowly and prayerfully. I’m simply trying to see what I can see (what God wants to show me) and making a note of it. Once in awhile, God drops down a sermon outline from heaven and I just run with it. Those are wonderful moments, but rare. Usually, I get a mess of ideas and I’m not quite sure what to do with it.
5. Next, I go to the commentaries. Everyone’s different, but I don’t find it helpful to read from seventeen commentaries. They often say the same things. I’d rather find the best commentaries and skip the rest. But, like I said, some preachers benefit from reading everything they can on a passage. For me, I use 3-4 commentaries. For Mark, I’m using Edwards, Lane, France, and Calvin (always Calvin). I underline important or new ideas and jot down a few notes as I read. Quite often I’ll check out an older one-volume commentary like Matthew Henry or Jamieson, Fauccet, and Brown or even a sermon by Chrysostom just to guard against chronological snobbery. I pick my commentaries by talking to other pastors, reading the Carson and Longman books on commentaries, and checking Keith Mathison’s site. I tend to stick with series that have proven helpful in the past and are laid out in a way that works for me (NICNT, NICOT, Pillar, NIGCT, BST, and Tyndale, less often NAC and BECNT). One caution: I find that I cannot go to Stott or Piper too quickly. They always seem to get the outline “right.” If I look at their material at the outset, it is tempting to lean too heavily on them.