Sermon Preparation

In “Preaching for God’s Glory,” Alistair Begg was interviewed (Expositor [November/December 2014]) about various aspects of preaching and the ministry of the Word. The whole interview has many nuggets of wisdom from one who has been engaged in local church ministry for many years.

One question in particular caught my attention, so I include it here

What is your method for sermon preparation?

Whenever I am asked to summarize my own method of preparation, I mention the following points, which I learned from an old minister when I was still a theological student. Five steps or pointers that I like to keep in mind: think yourself empty, read yourself full, write yourself clear, pray yourself hot, and be yourself, but don’t preach yourself. These pointers help keep me focused from beginning to end.

Now, what exactly do I mean by these?

  1. Think yourself empty. As strange as it may sound, we must be careful to ensure that we do not avoid sound thinking. The temptation to respond emotionally to a passage (“this is how this makes me feel”) is not unique to our listeners. If we are to have “thinking” congregations, it is incumbent upon us to be “thinking” pastors! We do not want to be uncertain by the time our study ends, but it is surely right and proper to begin with the perspective, “I must know what this says, and I must learn what this means.”
  2. Read yourself full. Every preacher must read, and not only read, but read well.
  3. Write yourself clear. Aside from the essential empowering of the Holy Spirit, if there is one single aspect of sermon preparation that I would want to emphasize, it is this. Freedom of delivery in the pulpit depends upon careful organization in the study. We may believe that we have a grasp of the text, only to stand up and discover that somewhere between our thinking and our speaking things have gone badly awry. The missing link can usually be traced back to the absence of putting our thoughts down clearly.
  4. Pray yourself hot. There is no chance of fire in the pews if there is an iceberg in the pulpit! Without prayer and communion with God during the preparation stages, the pulpit will be cold. In 1752 John Shaw reminded the incumbent pastor beginning his charge in Cambridge, Massachusetts: “All will be in vain, to no saving purpose, until God is pleased to give the increase. And in order to do this, God looks for prayers to come up to His ears. A praying minister is always the way to have a successful ministry.”
  5. Be yourself, but don’t preach yourself. A good teacher like John the Baptist, clears the way, declares the way, and then gets out of the way. If people leave worship saying, “What an amazing preacher!” we have failed. Instead we must long for them to say, “What a great God, and what a privilege it is to meet Him in His Word, as we have just done.” A good teacher clears the way, declares the way, and then gets out of the way.

There is much to learn from those who have been preparing and preaching sermons for many years. Begg has been and continues to be a faithful expositor of the Word of God.

What is your method for sermon preparation?

What have you learned from your preparation for and preaching of sermons?

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