Wednesday, December 19, 2012

How to Prepare an Expository Sermon

For the folks who have asked how I prepare a sermon, I am providing a simple step-by-step procedure I use for most every sermon. Any person familiar with modern preaching ideas will see I am greatly influenced by Haddon Robinson, Tim Keller, and Bryan Chapell.

Steps 1-6: Pray, asking God to speak through the Scriptures to the people of God, starting with yourself.
Step 2: Discover the Big Idea (through personal study)
Step 3: Craft a sermon
Step 4: Create an outline
Step 5: Write a manuscript
Step 6: Pray for your own heart and the people of God as you internalize the message

Each step is expanded on below:

STEP 1: Pray (begins days and weeks before preaching the sermon)
Ask the LORD to lead you and prepare you. Ask God to convict you of the truth of the text long before you preach this passage to others. Ask God to bring not merely information transfer but actual spiritual transformation through the Word of God rightly preached in the power of the Holy Spirit.

STEP 2: Discover the Big Idea (start work 10-14 days before preaching)
(1)   First, try and ascertain the exegetical idea of the passage. An exegetical idea summarizes the main thrust of the passage from the original hearers’ perspective, without much regard for other Biblical material. Basically, read and reread this single passage to get a sense on what you think this passage has to say.
(2)   Next, ask: what sin and/or improper belief could this chapter of Scripture be addressing?  That is, why is this passage here? What area of human disobedience or divine expectation for humans does this passage illuminate?
(3)   Does the passage before or after this passage have any connectors to this one?
(4)   What cross-references both in the Old and New Testament help me better understand this passage?
(5)   How does this passage point to Jesus? How does Jesus fulfill this passage? How does our worship of and belief in Jesus fulfill what we are to do according to this passage?
(6)   What ways do Christians fake obedience to this, but in reality are not fully transformed by the Gospel to obey fully? Also, what does application look like at the superficial level? What does application look like at the deep/soul level?
(7)   What doubts and concerns would immediately jump into the mind of an unbeliever? How would you answer them?
(8)   If you could summarize in one sentence what I must know from this passage what would you say?
(9)   If you could summarize what obedience to this passage would look like in one sentence, what would you say?
(10)           Write a big idea: In as few of words as possible, tell the modern listener what bearing and expectation this passage has on their life. It could be formed as a command. It could be formed as a powerful sentence. It could be worded in a crisp question that requires some sort of answer.

**It's at this point that I will take 2-4 hours to read commentaries, listen to sermons, or look for other relevant material that relates to my sermon. I try to not look at this stuff until I've first asked and answered all of the important questions on my own. Sometimes in reading commentaries and listening to other sermons, I will realize that my personal work wasn't sufficient and needs to be adjusted. Oftentimes, I find that my personal preparation has produced a deeper sense of the text than most commentators are willing to go.

STEP 3: Craft a sermon (usually 7-10 days before the sermon)
Once you have a big idea and the loads of information it took to discover it, decide how you’d like to walk through the passage.

            Will you share your big idea at the beginning of the sermon and then prove it or argue for it throughout the sermon? (deductive preaching)
            Will you walk through the text verse by verse and then show the congregation that these verses lead to your big idea? (inductive preaching)
            Will you have 2-4 main points? Unless the text demands it, it is usually hard to preach a 4 or more point sermon.
            Will you have one single application point at the end? Or will you sprinkle application throughout the sermon and then remind the people of your application points at the end?
            Are there any stories or illustrations from science, history, personal experience, etc. that would help make Biblical concepts more easily understood?

STEP 4: Make an outline (usually 7-10 days before the sermon)
I would recommend building an outline with a template something like this:
I.                   Introduction: Help me see and feel my need to hear this passage preached. Then explain how your passage just might lead me to believe and/or obey rightly for my joy, the Lord’s glory, etc.
II.                Main Points with illustrations/cross-references/etc.
III.             Application
IV.             Conclusion
Another helpful outline follows this pattern: hook, look, book, took
            HOOK: An opening question, paragraph, story or illustration that tries to hook your audience’s attention that directly relates to the main issue raised in the passage.
            LOOK: An invitation to look at the Bible passage as a way to deal with the concern raised in the opening hook section.
            BOOK: A thorough but concise walk through the Bible with explanation, illustration, and application of the text to move us toward your Big Idea.
            TOOK: The (re)presentation of your Big idea and your main application point(s) that all the hearers are supposed to take home.

STEP 5: Write a manuscript (usually 4-10 days before the sermon)
Go back and write out approximately how you’d like to articulate each of your main sections of your outline. This is the best preparation whether you preach with the manuscript, with a few notes, or with no notes at all.

STEP 6: Final Prep (day before and day of sermon delivery)
            I spend 1-3 hours the night before and 1-3 hours the morning of the sermon to prepare my heart and mind. I read and reread the sermon. Pray by name (if possible) for those to whom I’m preaching. And try to expose myself to other passages that stir my own soul to serve God faithfully (often 1 Corinthians 1-4). 

Often this kind of preparation allows me to preach with minimal reliance upon my notes during the actual sermon. I usually take a full manuscript into the pulpit, but look at it less than 20% of the sermon.

Estimated time line:
            Step 1: Start praying several days before you begin preparation. Total time: ??
            Step 2: Big Idea Study, 5-10 hours
            Step 3: Crafting, 1-2 hours
            Step 4: Outline, 1-2 hours.
            Step 5: Manuscript, 1-2 hours
            Step 6: Final prep - 2-5 hours

Total time: 10-20 hours (and on up from there)

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