“So what do you do for a living?”
I have a new answer to that question: “I write sermons.”
Occasionally, an alert listener will reply, “You only write sermons? Do you preach them?”
Then I give the punchline. “Sure, I do. But it’s hard to remember that part. As soon as the sermon is over, I have to start writing the next one!”
That’s the life of a pastor. We have the joyful burden of weekly preparation. To keep your head about water and become effective you have to learn to hack the process.
You need a system for Bible study and sermon preparation. Whatever system you choose should include these three elements.
You cannot be a faithful preacher if you are not willing to read. Reading is essential to sermon preparation. We are charged to preach the word (2 Tim. 4:2). How can you fulfill that charge without reading the word?
To understand a text, you must read it. And read it again. Then read it again. You must also consult reference books that will help you understand the meaning of the text. There is wisdom in a multitude of counselors. And the more you read, the more you glean from the wisdom of others to better understand the text.
It helps to read deeply and widely. If you can, don’t just read those with whom you already agree. Consult those who will stretch your thinking and force you to dig a little deeper.
You should study when you are most alert and focused. It will help you to learn and remember what you learn. But still get an insurance policy – a pen and paper or a computer keyboard. Either way, record what you are learning. A dull pencil beats are sharp mind any day. You won’t remember everything. So don’t fill a bucket that has holes. Plug the holes by taking good notes.
Find a way to keep a good record of your what you learn. These notes will benefit you greatly as you turn from text to sermon. But don’t throw the research notes away after you complete the sermon. File them away. As you continue to preach, you will run into the same words or themes again. And that file can help you then.
You can speed up future study and make it a bit easier by keep a record of what you have learned in the past. In this way, you are creating your own study Bible. And you aid your growth as a Christian and preacher by building on what you have learned in the past.
You have read deeply and widely. And you have recorded what you have learned. Now what do you do with all the material you have dug up? Whatever you do, please don’t rush to the pulpit and preach what you have learned!
Your exegetical notes are foundational for your sermon preparation. But they are not a sermon. And just because you know the facts of the text does not mean you have crystalized its meaning and message.
You need to spend time in prayerful reflection over what you have studied. Seek God about what the text applies to you. Is there a sin you should confess, a promise you should trust, or a command you should obey? Then consider those who will hear you preach this text. How does this text speak to them?
This is why should you start you study early in the week and guard you study time jealously. Saturday night specials kill creativity. But the more you meditate on the text the more its truth marinate in your heart and mind.
The bottom-line is that you when you study a text for the first time, do a good job and take good notes. Use your time wisely to make you have time to think and write and be creative before you preach.
What do you think about these three tips? What tips would you have to help make sermon preparation time more effective? I look forward to your comments.
For more helpful preaching tips, get a copy of my new book, On Preaching.