How to prepare a sermon – part 2



So you’ve begun your sermon preparation by spending time in prayer – the single most important part of the entire process. The next step is to turn to the passage of Scripture that you are going to base your sermon on.

Step 2: Work with the text

In my view, expository preaching is the best kind of preaching method for a congregation to sit under in the long term. Simply put, expository preaching is allowing the meaning and purpose of the Bible text to drive the meaning and purpose of the sermon: what the Bible says, the preacher says. It shows a congregation clearly where you get your ideas from and also helps them to read the Bible competently for themselves – a key tool in their discipleship.

Select the text

This is easy if you preach through a book or part of a book like I do. Preaching through consecutive passages takes out the hassle of sitting down each week to ponder which text to use. Before I start an expository series, I sit down and prayerfully read through the entire book or section, and portion it up, assigning myself the biblical texts for each week.

If you are preaching through a thematic series, but still want to take a single passage for each message and preach it expositionally, then in a similar way, take time before you embark on a series to set yourself a passage for each message. This takes a great deal of stress out of the weekly prep.

Read the text

Now I have the text for a sermon identified, I read the passage multiple times in different translations. The aim here is to get a good grasp of what the passage is saying in general. I use the English Standard Version as my main version but also read the New International Version and the New Living Translation, occasionally using The Message paraphrase as well. There are loads of versions available at BibleGateway for example. Look out for any dominant phrases that catch your eye, take you by surprise, or words that are repeated. This may highlight key points that the original author sought to draw out.

Study the text

Having read and become very familiar with the passage at this overview level, I then take the passage in a lot more detail. I have a blank MS Word file open on my laptop and I create a table, two columns by ten rows (say). In the left column I put the verse number or numbers and in the right I put each verse on its own – one per row. I call this file Exegesis.

Then I start by writing little commentaries on each verse, being careful to explain what is being said and looking out for any surprises that come out of the text. I also incorporate any important variations between the various Bible translations, and a few Greek verbs that might aid understanding of the meaning of the sentence you are studying.

As well as my Exegesis table, I open an additional blank file, which I call Expository Questions. I record any questions that arise as I go through the passage so that I can come back and answer them. There may be questions about the text itself (the ‘what’ questions of exegesis) or questions about the meaning of the text and its implications (the ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions of exposition and application).

Having gone through the entire passage verse by verse (or section by section for larger passages, especially OT narrative) I look up the cross-references and add any helpful additional information to my Exegesis table. Cross-references are obviously not themselves inspired text, but they help connect your own passage with others parts of Scripture, often giving more background and explanation than you might have by looking at your own passage in isolation.

Not all Bible versions contain cross-references, but I advise that you get hold of one that does. Not all cross-references will be helpful, so don’t get bogged down in them, just treat them as a handy guide. You can type them into BibleGateway to speed up the process.

Getting to the point

By now I have a pretty good idea about the meaning and point of the passage I am preparing to preach on. And all this has come from carefully reading and examining the text.

In the next post in the series, I’ll discuss my use of commentaries and how I make wider connections between the passage of study and the entire canon of Scripture.