Every pastor develops their own style for writing a sermon: some prefer isolation in a quiet environment; others enjoy group dynamics and discussion. Some outline and some manuscript, others simply read, study, and get up with just the Bible in hand. Whatever your style is, here are 4 things that your prep should always include:
1. It should be founded in Scripture
There are many great books available, which contain great truths found in scripture–some of them by Christian authors – but they are not the inspired Word of God. There are many great blogs and articles available online for pastors to read and enjoy and even learn from, but they are not the inspired Word of God. There are many movies with clips that express deep emotions that pull at our hearts and move us to tears, but they are not the inspired Word of God.
When I come to prepare a sermon, I must always start with the primary source: The Holy Bible. There is only one book penned under the authority of God by eyewitnesses and those who gave their lives for Christ. There is only one book preserved down through the generations by the hand of God and nearly identical in every way now to its original in the days of old. This is where life comes from – the Word of God – and I must caution myself to never to build a sermon from anything else.
2. It should begin with prayer
Prayer is simply talking with God. He is the Head of the Church, so before I go and get fancy ideas about the flock that He has entrusted to me, I should sit down and spend some time talking to Him. God alone knows the needs of those in the church; He knows them better than I ever could. He alone is the only one who can speak life, hope, and redemption into the hearts and souls of those who come on Sunday (or Weds, or whenever you all meet). He also knows me better than I do, and is the only one who can reach into my heart and soften it.
That said, there are two questions that I ask God before I begin a sermon: “‘What do you want to teach me from this passage, Lord?” and “How do you want me to teach from this passage, Lord?” Both of these questions correctly place me under God’s authority. The times that I have failed to begin with prayer are the times that my heart has been hard towards His leadership and His voice, because of that I have struggled. If I cannot listen and obey, how can I expect to lead my flock to listen and obey?
3. It should involve repentance
Every sermon needs to contain the Gospel and a call to respond; otherwise, it is not a sermon but a nice talk. I want those who hear the Word to receive the Word, repent of their sin, and walk in the newness of life with Christ as their Lord. I want those who are in Christ to hear the Word and be convicted of their sin as well, remembering their need of and love for their Savior, Jesus. As a pastor, I am not above this. If the messages I preach contain the Gospel (they should!) and a call to respond – have I evaluated my heart in light of that call? Is there sin in my life that the passage reveals to me? Do I need to repent and respond to Christ’s love and mercy and holiness? Yes, and I need to do it before Sunday morning. I must let God show me the log in my eye and respond accordingly.
4. It should end with worship
I am compelled to worship the Lord as I write my sermon. I worship Him for providing a savior, for providing a way out from temptation, for providing a body of believers to keep me accountable and encourage me, for the Word of Life, for the Great Commission that I can play a part in, for a community in which to serve, and for the breath and life I have. No one in scripture who encountered the Lord responded in any way except worship. If I have indeed sat down with the Word of God, spoken directly to the Lord, and allowed Him to work in my heart, then worship is the only right response. Then and only then am I prepared to write the sermon, for I have allowed God to teach me first so that I, in turn, may teach others.