(This does not include time given to finding a passage to preach. I start assuming you have already found a verse, passage, or book to preach.)
My college preaching class was appalled to find out that pastors were only averaging 3-5 hours in sermon preparation. How could they? The ideal picture was 15-20 hours of time spent in sermon preparation. However, the more time I serve in ministry the less I hold to the idea of spending 15-20 hours in sermon preparation. It would be nice, but is it really feasible? So, instead of becoming bitter and griping about it I put the ol’thinkin cap on and tried to come up with a way ministers can prepare a sermon in 5 hours. This is something I have put into practice (the few times I’ve preached) and it worked. I’m open to suggestions and criticisms of this too. So please comment and help me develop this. So, here we go.
Hour 1 – Letting the Scripture speak. In this first hour you do nothing but read, re-read, pray over, meditate upon, read again, think about, and ask God to reveal to you the Scripture you are planning to preach (I’m assuming you already have your passage selected). God wants us to know Him and He wants others to know Him too, because of this, He helps us understand His Word. His Spirit really can be our ultimate Teacher. Shut the door and lock it, get away to a quiet place where you won’t be bothered, a place where you can be alone with God and His Word for this step. Put up a sign on your office door telling others you are “In prayer” or “Spending time with God”. This isn’t a lie, you are actually doing this. What’s wrong with letting others know and protecting this time?
Hour 2 – Observations. In this second hour you will begin making initial observations about the particular verse or passage you are going to preach. This is where basic questions are asked as you observe the passage. Here’s a list of questions that will help lead you to understand any passage better:
- What’s going on in the story?
- What are some key words in the story or verse?
- What is the context to this particular verse or passage?
- Who’s the author?
- When was it written?
- Who is the audience?
- Why was it written?
- What is the overall theme of the book this passage comes from?
- What are other verses that connect to this?
- How does this particular verse or story break down in you were to make an outline of it?
Hour 3 – Finding answers. Hour 2 leads right into hour 3 because here you begin looking up answers to the questions you are asking of the text. Study Bibles are priceless here. They can eliminate the need for Bible dictionaries, handbooks, lexicons, and commentaries. In other words, they can save you time. If used properly you can find basic context questions to a particular passage or verse in just seconds! A good study Bible will have introductions to a book that will tell you who authored it, when they wrote it, why they wrote it, who they wrote it to, an outline of the book, etc.
Before study Bibles, pastors would have to look through several other books to find this basic information. Now you can have it right there with God’s Word (you can even have it on your computer too). There’s no excuse to not have a study Bible, they are an invaluable resource in sermon preparation. What are some good ones? I love the NLT Study Bible (personal fav!). The NIV Study Bible is another good one. I would avoid study Bibles that are from a certain theological persuasion (e.g., ESV Study Bible, MacArthur Study Bible, Scoffield Study Bible).
Of course I’m not saying you can’t use other resources. By all means do! Some of your questions may not be easily answered, so you may have to wrestle with them for a while and do some extra reading.
Hour 4 – Applying it. You’ve done the basic research and now it’s time to start thinking about how this passage applies. What does God want you to apply to your life from this passage? Pray plays a key role here. Ask God to help you apply this and His Spirit to teach you is essential. I recommend starting with you. How do you apply this to your life? What are some examples from your life of how this applies or how this should have been applied (these can later become illustrations). After you finish the introspection you can begin to think about others and how they would apply such a truth.
Hour 5 – Sharing the truth. Imagine you are sitting at the table eating a meal with some of your closest friends. You want to share with them what you’ve just done. How would you do that? Would you start by reading them the passage of Scripture? Maybe you want to retell the Bible story in your own words. Once the story is read, you would want to share some of the context to the particular passage so they could understand it better. From there you would talk about what God revealed to you through this passage and how it applies to your life. As you are doing this try and imagine what kind of questions your friends would ask. Would something be confusing to them? Would they connect your application of the Scripture to the Scripture? Make an outline or type up a manuscript in this last hour of all your thoughts (this will become your sermon).
Now if you take Mondays off and do this exercise on a Tuesday morning, say from 8am to 1pm, you can have the rest of the week to think about, review, and develop this sermon. Hopefully you can come up with extra illustrations and stories to explain it polish the message off as you have time to think about it. Just carry a notepad with you so when you’re out calling and visiting you can write down your ideas and any changes you would make.