12 Steps of Sermon Preperation
12 STEPS OF SERMON PREPARATION
Each step should be done prayerfully, fully dependent upon the Holy Spirit.
1.) Text Overview
Print out the passage in large font w/ wide margins & much spacing. Write it out as well. Physically interact with the text. Circle words, draw connecting lines, put in question marks, bookend words & phrases, highlight stand-out words, write out obvious, hard, & ridiculous questions, look for overall themes & mini-topics that should be addressed. Use many colors of pens & highlighters. Be bold & observant. Do it again & again.
2.) Exegetical Word Study
Original Language (Greek or Hebrew) dissection of the text, word by word considering morphology & context. In depth study for each important word. Study using several syntaxes, showing a breakdown of the word formation, text, & clauses. Look for odd & important words & phrases. Use outline resources to see further text structure. Seek to find the main point as well as the secondary & supporting points. Compare text with other similar accounts & other translations for interpretation & a broader understanding.
3.) Literary Themes & Theology
Consider the genre, mood, tenses, & literary theme(s) of the passage, both overall & specifically. Highlight interesting topics, words, grammar, & figures of speech. Look for any theology or doctrine that is taught or supported in this passage. Look for apologetics that could be drawn from this passage as well. Allow the theme, original author, audience, & circumstances to set the tone for my understanding of this text.
4.) Exhaustive Cross-Referencing
One of the more time consuming parts of studying a passage for sermon preparation. Looking up dozens, if not hundreds of passages of Scripture that possibly deal with any words, themes, or theology found in the focus text. Allow a lot of room for “rabbit trails”, especially for cross-references that have direct relation to the theme of the text. Notate any & all that are deemed helpful or further my understanding of the text or teaching.
5.) Scholarly & Critical Commentary
Another big time consumer. Reading through anywhere between 12 to 100 commentaries on the text. Allow for “out of the box” ideas to be considered, with a critical eye & be concerned with an “abundance of counselors” and not being tossed to & fro by any one lofty idea. Allow the text to be boss, and commentaries to bow, while still being open to wise counsel from godly men of varying perspectives. I am writing out my own commentary, thoughts & notes along the way. This should take hours & hours with taking of a lot of notes, more questions arising, & much prayer.
6.) Quotes for Passage & Topic
Similar to step 5, however this time I am searching for sermons & articles written by respected preachers & teachers on either the text, or the now found subject at hand. I am making sure to write down any interesting or helpful quote that brings things to a greater light of understanding. Not all that are written will be used in the sermon, and some are simply to allow me to grasp the concept better & word-smith my teaching. Always give credit to quotes used & encourage others to grow through reading.
7.) Illustrations & Applications
Writing down any & all illustrations & applications I have considered along the way, as well as a broad search through my resources for these. I am looking for any illustration that does not distract from the main theme, and will add to our understanding without stealing the show from the text itself. Applications should be kept in check, making sure they are serving the theme of the text, and not allowing any detours from the main point(s). Scripture is boss here, as people are very susceptible to being led astray in this area. A good illustration/application can lead off the sermon & provide a great wrap-up & conclusion, so long as it fits the idea & direction of passage at hand.
8.) Structure & Formation
This is one of the more difficult times for me. Taking all of these compiled thoughts, ideas, & points… and somehow placing them in a linear direction so it is not a confusing mess. This is crucial to future sermon delivery & my understanding of the text & my own message. If I don’t understand it clearly enough to communicate it clearly, then I don’t fully grasp the text or message as much as I thought I did. So I allow myself to continue to be teaching through this tedious process. Keep the main thing, the main thing, & repeat it often to make sure I am continuing with 1 main theme.
9.) Write It Out
From there, I take the now linear compiling of my own notes & as well as others thoughts and write out the sermon. I use large font, big spaces & headlines on each page for a new theme, or additional points of a theme. As I do this, I realize what does not fit, will be a can of worms too big for the sermon, or I simply won’t have time to unpack the idea in this setting. I carefully delete out anything that does not add to the sermon theme which is derived from the text. Some deleted material goes into our “Life Group Study Guide” or may even become an article or blog post. Writing out the sermon is very helpful along the journey of my comprehension & ability to communicate the teaching. As I write it, some things get deleted, and some statements get created. This is a great time of thought process coming further along.
10.) Practice It
Either alone or with Caryn, I proclaim the sermon out loud as I have it so far. This is to make sure that I have it structured correctly, a good build up to the conclusion, & that it is not a jumbled mess of ideas & opinions. I frequently pause to re-edit the sermon notes or to add a new way of saying something. Restating a phrase or main theme in different ways can be very helpful to the listener’s comprehension. This is where most the mistakes get worked out in how to communicate the sermon. Practicing sermon delivery should never be skipped. All the study & prep in the world is lost without the finely practiced & well-skilled delivery of the sermon.
11.) Creating the Keynote
This is what the congregation will see on the big screen during the sermon delivery. A main slide for the beginning & end of the sermon is crucial. On this main slide is the major theme or illustration graphic, along with the title of the sermon & the focus text reference. All slides in-between the title opener & conclusion will contain the cross-referencing texts & also main points that I want visible on the screen. If I have any sermon notes that I want them to write down, or have any fill-in-the-blanks, they must be communicated visibly as well as audibly. The focus text is almost never put on screen, as I want people to have their Bibles open & kept to this text. Cross-references are put on screen for the lost & new believers who cannot turn their Bibles as fast. My sermon shall be audible as well as visible as much as possible to allow for greater comprehension & less distraction.
12.) Review & Highlight
Sunday morning I do one last review my sermon notes along with the keynote presentation that is to go along with it. In my sermon notes, I make sure to highlight & circle main points of sentences or items I want to make sure I don’t miss or need to emphasize. I use different markers to color code Scripture cross-references apart from quotations from others, as well as my main themes & emphasis notes. During my review, I only have a few hours to go before preaching. This is not to be done in a rush, but rather with much time, driving me to prayer often & for extended periods of time prior to delivering the sermon. I am getting very nervous at this point, and continually asking God to remind me to rely on Him, asking Him to speak through me to His people. My aim is to expose God’s people to God’s message found in His word, hoping they will glorify Him through the working of His Spirit. I am reminded once more that I am here to proclaim His word with much reverence to His people, so as to properly build them up to love & follow Christ more for His glory & their greater joy.
Veggie Tales Repentance
I cannot tell you how glad I am to hear that the creator of the Veggie Tales has repented. For years I have been warning people that the Veggie Tales is God-ish, but not Christian. In fact, I noticed that they always seemed to shy away from mentioning Jesus Christ. There just seemed to be no gospel message in these videos at all. Instead it always seem to teach kids to be moral.
I realize that teaching morality is a good thing (to an extent), but it can also be a damning thing as well. If moralism is taught as the main message from God for people to follow, then it deceives people into a false sense of security. Most importantly, we must teach them that God desires them to repent & follow Christ, not just be better people. Otherwise all you have is a bunch of moral people going to Hell. We must teach them the gospel first and foremost!
I looked back at the previous 10 years and realized I had spent 10 years trying to convince kids to behave Christianly without actually teaching them Christianity. And that was a pretty serious conviction. You can say, “Hey kids, be more forgiving because the Bible says so,” or “Hey kids, be more kind because the Bible says so!” But that isn’t Christianity, it’s morality…
And that was such a huge shift for me from the American Christian ideal. We’re drinking a cocktail that’s a mix of the Protestant work ethic, the American dream, and the gospel. And we’ve intertwined them so completely that we can’t tell them apart anymore. Our gospel has become a gospel of following your dreams and being good so God will make all your dreams come true. It’s the Oprah god. So I had to peel that apart. I realized I’m not supposed to be pursuing impact, I’m supposed to be pursuing God. And when I pursue God I will have exactly as much impact as He wants me to have.
Wow! Praise God for enlightening Phil’s heart to be clear about the true gospel of Jesus Christ. Parents, let’s remember to teach our children the gospel and not just to be moral. And most importantly, please do not downgrade the message into “do-gooder tales”. The message of Jesus Christ is to bring life and restoration resulting in good works… not the other way around.
Jesus is the Door… to What?
This morning I saw an interesting question posed which stated something that I think is commonly understood by believers in Christ. It was regarding John 10.9:
“I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.”
The well-intended gentleman stated that he always thought this meant that Jesus is the entrance (door) to Heaven, the only way to get there. I wanted to take this opportunity to answer this publicly, as I believe it is a fundamental oversight made by most Christians. Let me be clear on the onset and make this statement which is fundamental to you understanding John 10.9…
Jesus did not come to be the door to Heaven… Jesus came to be the door to God.
This may sound like the same thing to you, but it is not. In fact, I believe it is life-changingly different. Why? Because Jesus did not come and die on the cross so that you and I could merely go to a nice place one day after we die. I’ve stated in a sermon recently that: “Heaven is not a retirement home for church people”. Heaven is the by-product destination of those who have rejected their sin and turned to love God instead. Loving God is what we are to do now, and loving God will be what we do when we pass on into eternity. This will occur in God’s presence, which will be in Heaven, because that is where God’s holy temple is. Allow me to explain further:
Restoring A Broken Relationship
Our biggest problem in this life is not that we might not go to Heaven. Our biggest problem in this life is that we have sinned against the most wonderful being in the universe and have caused a great divide between us and Him. Our sin is so tragic that it not only causes a rejection of God’s fellowship, but it also brings a receiving of God’s wrath. We are not “good people” trying to do our best while we wait to get into Heaven. No, rather the Bible says we were enemies of God. The Scriptures tell us that for those who have repented & believed in Christ, something great has occurred. Christ didn’t just die to get us to Heaven, but to turn us from enemies of God into children of God, reconciled completely to right fellowship with the Father. Observe:
“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”
We’ve got to understand that Jesus died to bring people to God. He came to restore a broken relationship. Romans is known as the book declaring God’s righteousness for sinners to be saved. One interesting thing about the book of Romans is that it never once talks about Heaven regarding our salvation. It only refers to Heaven twice, and both times are not dealing with it as the result of salvation for believers. Its not that Heaven isn’t the final dwelling place of saints… because it is. Its just that Heaven is not the point of your salvation… God is! So in his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul is proclaiming the gospel with the intended result that believers would understand the righteousness of Christ which brings them into a restored fellowship with God. He puts it similarly to the Ephesians as he declares believer’s reconciliation to God through Christ:
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”
So we must understand that Christ came to restore God’s people to God. This restoration is not to take place & be enjoyed one day in eternity in the clouds… but today! Heaven is the final result of such a wonderful restoration! Heaven will be the full culmination of our restoration, but make no mistake about it, that restoration is the point and it is to be enjoyed today through Jesus Christ. So in Christ, sinners may now have & enjoy reconciliation & peace with God (Romans 5.1).
Context – John 9
I would like to add further support to this idea that Jesus came to be the door to God, not just Heaven. Take a look at the context of which provoked Jesus’ imagery to be preached. In John 9, Jesus had just caused a man who was blind from birth to see. Most scholars believe the man had been born without eyes at all, and Jesus literally created eyeballs for the man and caused him to see. The Pharisees became very upset over this, as it was on the Sabbath. But there is a bigger problem for them. Look at how Jesus created new eyes for the man:
“Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.”
Now there is much more to this account than we will get into in this post, but don’t miss something amazing here. Jesus took dirt from the ground, mixed it with spit from His mouth, then after obediently washing, the man had eyes that could see! This would make any religious leader familiar with the Old Testament think of the creation account where God took dirt and breathed from His mouth to create mankind. Do you see it? Jesus created eyes the same way God created eyes. The Pharisees do not like this at all. The man who can now miraculously see is questioned and tells them what he knows, that Jesus gave him new sight. Then the man makes an amazing & possibly blasphemous claim:
“Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind.”
The formerly blind man is making a faith statement here. ”The only person I have ever heard of that could do such a miracle was when God created everything back in Genesis.” The man is kicked out of their presence and out of the temple because they believe him to be a great sinner. It is then that Jesus approaches and He asks if the man believes in the Messiah, the Christ who is to come to reconcile people to God. When the man asks who it is, Jesus has an amazing response:
“Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.””
Don’t miss it… You have SEEN him. Jesus offers the man proof of His identity as well as fellowship. Now look at the man’s response:
“He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.”
The man rightly worships God, who is standing right in front of Him. How did he come to this conclusion? He read of the creation account in Genesis, and he witnesses the creation account personally just recently, as he received new eyes from the Lord. When he hasn’t quite made the full connection to the object of his faith, Jesus reminds the man of his new sight and who he sees as the giver of sight. The man responds accordingly with worship to his creator, his Lord, and his God.
Jesus concludes by saying basically that those who claim to see but won’t come to Him for sight are blind & judged already. But those who will admit their blindness and come to Him for sight will see! He says this just loud enough for the Pharisees to hear and they take exception to His words. Jesus responds by telling them that their guilt remains. They have not been reconciled to the God, as they suppose. This is when John 10 begins, with Jesus giving them a solemn warning.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber.”
Restoration with God is necessary and needed. We should never presume we are in right standing with God based on religious attitudes nor our family’s disposition. There is one door to God, and Jesus declares Himself to be that door. This is what leads Him to make this statement in verse 9:
“I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.”
It is not a reference to an exclusive club called Heaven. This door is Jesus Christ, the only way for a sinner to have a relationship with God fully restored. Those who are far off from God because of their sin must come through Jesus Christ to enjoy a right fellowship with God. But here is the amazing thing, Jesus does not offer that fellowship reserved one day for Heaven, but offers it to us today! Jesus died to bring wayward sinners to God in right fellowship through the sacrifice that He paid on our behalf on the cross. He takes the wrath that we deserved and He restores us to good fellowship with God by being the door to God for us.
As you read this, I pray that God gives you eyes to see Jesus Christ as the door sent to restore your relationship with God. I pray that this door would result in you repenting of your sins, trusting what Christ did on the cross to pay your sin debt, and you too would worship Him today. Jesus Christ, the door to God.
Love Covers a Multitude of Sins
Harmonizing 1 Peter 4:8 with Matthew 18:15
An argument often raised against the regular practice of church discipline detailed in Matthew 18:15–18 is Peter’s comment in 1 Peter 4:8 that “love covers a multitude of sins.” In so opining, Peter seems to be suggesting that church members should prefer covering to confronting sin. But is this really what Peter is suggesting? Note the following three possible ways of harmonizing 1 Peter 4:8 with Matthew 18:15:
(1) Some suggest that 1 Peter 4:8 is best applied when believers ignore sinful behavior in the body and/or silently endure sins precipitated against them personally. The best way to harmonize Peter with the words of Christ in Matthew, in this case, is to “cover up” sins in the body rather than confronting them.
Response: It is true, of course, that Scripture encourages believers to patiently endure abuse from outsiders (1 Cor 4:12; 1 Pet 2:20; etc.); however, nowhere does Scripture commend a “loving disregard” of sin in the body for the sake of unity. One wonders, in fact, how a believer can possibly allow his brother to remain immersed in sin and describe it as “love.”
(2) Others suggest, more plausibly, that 1 Peter 4:8 is best applied when believers develop a “thick skin” in relationships with fellow church-members, cultivating tolerance so as not to be easily insulted. In this case a believer best harmonizes the message of Peter with the message of Christ by (1) resolving always to assume the best of fellow-believers when they speak or act out of turn, and, as a result, by (2) not rushing to judgment and confronting in haste or for petty reasons.
Response: That Scripture commends such a mindset is surely true—we should not be people who are easily provoked or who are swift to think evil of our brothers. This harmonization of Matthew 18 and 1 Peter 4, however, does not seem to capture the force of either text. Both Matthew and Peter are speaking not to trifling offenses but to sins. So while it is surely true that Christians should not be hasty in accusing one another over petty concerns, this does not seem to be the point in view in either passage.
(3) This leaves us, then, with a third option, which I suggest is the correct one. In this model of harmonization, the believer best obeys Peter when, having being sinned against, confronting his erring brother, and successfully “gaining his brother,” he afterward refuses to “keep a record of wrongs” (1 Cor 13:5) or to embarrass his repentant brother by divulging the details of the situation to others. As such, believers are called upon to “cover,” whenever possible, sins that have been amicably resolved.
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