Nearly 20 years of gospel ministry have come and gone for me. You learn things along the way. I am still learning. I have served in our Lord’s Kingdom in a lay capacity, a bi-vocational capacity, and a full-time capacity. You never stop learning, but you pick-up helpful tidbits along the way. I’d like to mention a few.
To Whom Much is Given, Much Will Be Required
Jesus told the parable of a faithful servant and an unfaithful servant. He concludes by saying, “Everyone to whom much was given, much will be required . . .” (Luke 12:48). Once you have been given an understanding of proper hermeneutics and homiletics, much is required. I apologize in advance for making your life more difficult, but you will thank me in the eternal state! Hopefully, the following tips will make things easier for you.
Things No One Told Me in Seminary
First, I saw Alistair Begg interviewed on sermon preparation (on youtube, I believe). He said this.
- Think yourself empty.
- Read yourself full.
- Write yourself clear.
- Pray yourself hot.
- Be yourself always.
I always try to follow this. Don’t reverse #1 and #2. Always read the text first, then the commentaries. Otherwise, the commentaries might influence your interpretation of the biblical author’s intent.
Second, prepare three months of full manuscripts as soon as possible. A wise old preacher implored me once to do this. I didn’t know why he was so insistent, but I did it nonetheless. It has been a lifesaver for a number of reasons.
- One, emergencies happen: funerals, accidents, emergencies, etc. When they do, you will be prepared.
- Two, difficult passages arise. It helps to have a longer period of time to think through difficult passages (illustrations will come along the way as well).
- Three, personal edification occurs. God will use your own sermons to convict or encourage you. I rarely remember exactly what I prepared 3 months ago. When I pull it out to review on the week I am to preach it, it sanctifies my heart all over again. This allows you, in a very real sense, to be impacted by the message yourself—before you preach it to others.
- Four, edits and adjustments sharpen the message. I modify, edit, or adjust the application early in the week. Circumstances will have changed from the time I wrote it (three months prior). The meaning of the passage remains fixed, but the application may shift depending on circumstances.
Third, write-out full manuscripts. This isn’t for everyone, I understand, but if you can get into the habit of it, it will sharpen your delivery. I use 14-point font, single space, and try to keep it less than five pages. That gives me room to depart from the manuscript extemporaneously. I (almost) always take the manuscript to the pulpit even though I don’t need it. It keeps me on track if I begin to stray away from the preaching-text.
Fourth, establish a routine. Routines can be a helpful discipline and save you much time. Currently, my off-day is Mondays. On Tuesday morning, I begin reviewing my sermon manuscript (which I prepared three months prior). I read it, edit it, and save it. I try to read and pray through it once each day until the Lord’s Day. Early on the Lord’s Day morning, I read and pray through it twice. Most Sundays, I have internalized it or even memorized it by the time I step into the pulpit. Sometimes, during the sermon-event, the Spirit takes me away from the exact words I wrote down. No matter. By following this deliberate preparation process, I generally have a comfortable command of both (1) the text itself and (2) the flow of the message.
Finally, know when to stop the sermon. Closing a sermon is an art in itself. Few devote time to thinking how to close it. Be mindful of your audience. Your message is the most important thing they will experience all week, but many of them don’t know that. I have had occasions where the time got away from me. I simply stopped. I said something like, “Well, I have so much more to say, but we’ll save it for another time . . .” No one ever complained about that. Pastoral preaching is a long-term endeavor. Unless Jesus comes back, you always have next week.
Each person has their own way, so make your preparations your own. If you follow my model, I’m never stressed for time. I never feel that pressure that “Oh, no! Sunday’s coming!” Rather, I can’t wait for Sunday because the work has been done. I am able to worship and enjoy the experience along with everyone else. We pray the same for you.