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10 Steps To Prepare And Preach An Expository Sermon

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What steps should one take to prepare and preach an expository sermon?

First of all, we must consider what an expository sermon is. In a topical sermon, a preacher covers a major theme like love, salvation, or forgiveness, but the outline arises from the thought process of the preacher instead of from a Scripture text or series of texts. In an expository sermon, the theme, outline, and applications arise from the text and not the author’s thought process. The chief aim of exposition is to explain the original author’s intent behind a passage and persuasively apply it to a contemporary audience. This is done by using grammatical, historical, and textual principles.

With this understanding in mind, we will consider ten steps to prepare and preach an expository sermon.

Step 1: Choose A Passage.

When looking at a chapter of the Bible, the paragraph breaks, which are typically 3-10 verses, are usually preached. It’s a small section of Scripture with a common theme. To confirm that these verses will preach well together, look at expository commentaries and sermons. Did others preach this same section of verses? Did they broaden it or make it smaller? The fact that others have trodden the same ground (and we get to look at how they did it) helps encourage the preacher to prepare a sermon or sermon series over the same verses.

To find sermons on the same passage, simply Google it. For example, “Philippians 4:6-7 sermons.” Or search sermon sites like preceptaustin.org and bible.org.

Step 2: Gather Five To Ten Commentaries And Sermons For Research.

Why is it important to gather commentaries and sermons for research? It is good to remember that the Bible is an ancient historical book; therefore, it is difficult to properly interpret and apply without understanding the ancient background. We need to know how an ancient Jew or Gentile would have read a specific passage over 2000 years ago. What is the historical background? Was it written during war, peace, or persecution? Is there anything culturally relevant that we need to know to better understand the passage? Is there anything in the Hebrew or Greek that isn’t conveyed by the English? Commentaries and good sermons will help us mine the riches of the passage.

Another reason it is important to gather commentaries and sermons for research is because God has chosen to build his church through the ministry of pastors and teachers. Ephesians 4:11-14 says that God gave pastors and teachers to equip the church for the work of ministry, to help it come to a unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to help it mature, and to protect it from false teaching. This is not just true for congregations on Sunday, but it is also true for preachers. Preachers must be built up by other pastors and teachers before they build up their congregation. This is how God chose to equip his church. It is no more right for a preacher to say, “I don’t need to study commentaries and sermons because I have the Holy Spirit,” than it is for a church member to say, “I don’t need to listen to my pastor’s preaching because I have the Holy Spirit.” God equips his saints through gifted teachers. As Christ’s body, we must rely on the gifts of others (1 Cor 12:21). The preacher must drink deeply from theologians, Greek and Hebrew scholars, and pastors who have preached for forty years. By doing so, their sermons become wealthy, and their congregations are enriched. C. S. Lewis said, “My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others…in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself.”1 Let the preacher become a thousand godly teachers and yet remain himself.

As you gather, it is good to secure a diverse range of writings on the passage. Get devotional commentaries like Warren Wiersbe’s Be Commentaries, William MacDonald’s Believer’s Bible Commentary, the Life Application New Testament Commentary, and David Guzik’s Enduring Word Commentary. Get expositional commentaries (imagine a commentary and sermon combined) like MacArthur New Testament Commentaries, Kent Hughes’ Preaching the Word Commentaries, the Christ-Centered Exposition Commentaries, and The Bible Teacher’s Guide. Get a few exegetical commentaries (which are a little more technical) like Tyndale Commentaries and The Bible Speaks Today. And finally, find two or three good full manuscript sermons on sermon sites like preceptaustin.org, bible.org, or sermoncentral.com. Personally, I’m a big fan of Steve Cole’s and Bruce Goettsche’s sermons.

Step 3: Actively Read The Passage Multiple Times.

As you read, pay attention to coordinating conjunctions—words that join two or more words, phrases, or clauses—such as: and, but, or, nor, so, because, and if. These little words are important for understanding what the passage means and how the parts relate to one another. Conjunctions also are important for discovering main points and sub-points (and therefore sermon points and sub-points). It may be helpful to underline or highlight these and any other keywords (repeated words, action words, words that reflect the theme, etc.). In addition, while reading, ask the text questions, like:

Why does he say that? What does it mean? What is the main thought? How does this apply to our contemporary context? Are there any major doctrines taught or implied in this passage that I should teach? In light of the text, are there any false doctrines or contemporary threats that I should refute or expose? How should I order the main thoughts in a sermon outline?

If you gain any insights or are left with pressing questions, write them down and seek the answers when researching the commentaries and sermons. (It may be helpful to create two separate Word documents: a notes page and a sermon page. You will set aside the sermon page until Step Five when you transfer essential insights from your notes page to the detailed sermon outline, which you will have started on your sermon page.)

Step 4: Actively Read The Commentaries And Sermons And Document Insights.

While reading, write down anything insightful and useful, like helpful sermon points, illustrations, explanations, word studies, and cross-references. Organize these in an orderly manner on your notes page. Since this will be an expositional sermon, try to initially place these insights into separate categories under each verse that they help explain or illustrate. For example, if you were preaching Psalm 1:1-6, make Psalm 1:1 a heading, then Psalm 1:2, Psalm 1:3, etc. As you continue to study, you will discern sermon point headings that summarize the contents of a verse or group of verses, like Psalm 1:1 may fit under the heading The Path of the Wicked, Psalm 1:2-3 The Path of the Righteous, etc. As you research and see how other commentators and preachers have grouped the verses and placed them under headings, it will help with creating your own outline.

Step 5: Create A Detailed Sermon Outline.

On your sermon page, develop three to five sermon points from the passage that summarize the main ideas of a part of a verse, an entire verse, or a group of verses. Many of these will become clear in the midst of your research. As you write them, consider developing action points instead of thematic points, as it helps the audience better remember them. For example, if the theme for Psalm 1:1 is The Path of the Wicked, instead say Stay Away from the Path of the Wicked. And if the theme of Psalm 1:2-3 is The Path of the Righteous, instead say Follow the Path of the Righteous. After you develop the skeleton of your outline, flesh it out by transferring essential explanations and insights from your notes page. This will make it easy to rewrite in your own words or to directly quote as you write your sermon.

Step 6: Fully Manuscript The Sermon.

Fully manuscripting sermons is important for word clarity, hiding the sermon in your heart, being able to preach it again in the future, and also for making it available to your congregation or a wider audience. Your full manuscript should have these items:

  • An Introduction: The introduction should SHOCK the hearers in the sense that it tells them why they must listen to the sermon and why it is important. It will also prepare listeners for what will follow. The introduction should include three elements: a theme, an interrogative question, and an organizational sentence. These are explained below:

A Theme: The theme is the main idea that flows from the passage. Think of one word or phrase that is continually mentioned, implied, or sums up the passage you are preaching. For Psalm 1, it might be The Blessed Life or The Happy Life (as “blessed" can be translated “happy”).

Another helpful tip in discerning the theme is that it often includes a subject and a modifier. The subject answers the question, “What is the author talking about?” and the modifier answers the question, “How does the author limit the scope of the subject?”2 The modifier completes the subject by focusing and defining it. For example, the subject of Ephesians 6:10-19 is “spiritual warfare.” But the modifier is probably “standing firm,” as it is mentioned in one form or another four times in the passage (v. 11, 13, 14 NIV). Therefore, the theme is “Standing Firm in Spiritual Warfare.” Similarly, the subject of 1 Corinthians 13 is “love”; however, the modifier is probably “excellent,” since the passage is introduced by, “And yet I will show you the most excellent way” (1 Cor 12:31 NIV). Therefore, the theme might be “The Excellency of Love.”

An Interrogative Question: This is the theme of the passage translated into a question by using one of the following: who, what, when, where, why, or how.3 For example, the interrogative for Psalm 1 might be: “How can we live a blessed life?” The following sermon points will then answer that question. For example:

How can we live a blessed life?

  1. Stay Away from the Path of the Wicked (Psalm 1:1)
  2. Follow the Path of the Righteous (Psalm 1:2-3)
  3. Understand the Destiny of the Wicked (Psalm 1:4-6)
  4. Understand God’s Favor over the Righteous (Psalm 1:6)

An Organizational Sentence: The organizational sentence tells the audience what will happen in the sermon. It is often the last part of the introduction. For example, “In this sermon, we will look at four keys to living the happy life.” The audience will then have their ears and hearts ready to receive the four keys or principles for living a happy life. When the organizational sentence is not included, the audience is more susceptible to feeling lost during a sermon, asking questions like, “Where are we?” and “Where are we going?”

  • The Body of the Sermon. The body includes the sermon points and their explanations. After each point, the text it summarizes must then be observed (What does it say?), interpreted (What does it mean?), and applied (How can we apply it?). Observation takes place as the preacher points out grammatical, historical, and cultural aspects of the text that are important for interpretation. Interpretation takes place as observations and other cross-references are used to explain the meaning of the text. It is important to remember that Scripture interprets Scripture, and that Scripture, properly interpreted, never contradicts itself. Therefore, other verses should be used either from the context of the chapter, the book, or the whole of Scripture to explain the meaning. Finally, application occurs as contemporary equivalents to the ancient context are found. To find these, one should ask questions like, “How are the people in this context similar to people in ours? How is the setting or conflict similar to ours? What were the applications for the original audience? What are the timeless truths for all mankind?” As a general rule, the closer the contemporary equivalent to the ancient context, the more authority the application has, and the farther away from the equivalent, the less authority it has. For example, in many cultures, it is hard to find an equivalent to eating food offered to idols, while greeting one another with a holy kiss would correspond to any modern greeting. In addition, while fleshing out the sermon, consider using rhetorical questions throughout as a good application technique. It makes the audience stop and apply the message to their lives instead of just listening. For example, here are some rhetorical questions that could be used for Psalm 1: "Are there any ways you have started down the path of the wicked? What change is God calling you to make? How is your delight in God's Word? How is God calling you to increase your meditation on Scripture? Are you more like a tree—one who continually blesses others? Or are you more like a parasite or fungus—always taking but not giving?" Again, typically you will have three to five sermon points—each explained through observation, interpretation, and application.
  • The Conclusion. The conclusion is a brief summary of the sermon points or a final presentation on the primary application/exhortation of the sermon.

How long should the manuscript be? In general, it takes five minutes to preach a one-page manuscript (single-spaced and 12pt font). Therefore, if you plan to preach for twenty-five minutes, your manuscript should be five pages long. If you plan to preach for forty-five minutes, your manuscript should be nine pages long. One of the great things about fully manuscripting is that it helps to better control the length of a sermon.

Step 7: Read The Manuscript Several Times While Highlighting And Editing It.

By continually re-reading and editing the manuscript, you will hide it in your heart. Editing will also help the manuscript become more concise, which is great for communication. As you read and edit, highlight, bold, underline, and even increase the font size of important sentences in the manuscript to make them stand out when preaching. Also, take note of sections you plan to read verbatim during the message and those you plan to share from memory. Obviously, it would be wise to read the passage, the cross-references, and any great quotes from commentaries or sermons (unless you have a great memory). But, any personal stories, or even Bible stories, should probably be shared with little to no reference to the manuscript. Otherwise, when preaching, plan to briefly look at your main points, subpoints, and highlights throughout the message to keep you on track. In addition, when you read the verses, cross-references, and quotes while preaching, plan to use those moments to quickly look ahead on your manuscript.

Step 8: Preach The Sermon.

Before preaching and at times during preaching, be aware that it is normal to feel unprepared, a little anxious, and that the sermon has not fully come together. Do not be alarmed. Often God makes his preachers weak, so they will not depend on their flesh (2 Cor 1:9). God’s power is made perfect in our weakness (cf. 2 Cor 12:9). If God calls you to preach often, you will learn to expect this feeling of inadequacy and also the accompanying power that follows.

As you prepare and eventually preach, remember the wise counsel passed down by many seasoned preachers: “Think yourself empty; read yourself full; write yourself clear; pray yourself hot; be yourself, but don’t preach yourself!” There is no need to be like somebody else when preaching. God has called you to give his Word to that specific audience. God knows what he is doing.

Step 9: After Preaching, Be Careful Of Temptations.

There is the temptation of discouragement because you feel like you could have preached better. There is the temptation of succumbing to outside criticism. Some criticism is constructive, and we must listen to it and improve. However, the enemy loves to criticize the preacher with the hope of discouraging, weakening, and ultimately trying to shut his mouth. Be aware that this is the nature of preaching—full of discouragements (as well as joys). But then there is also the temptation of pride if our preaching went well and was well-received. God fights against the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). By God’s grace and through discipline, practice humility. Give thanks to those who compliment you, and at the same time, give praise to God since he is the source of every good work we accomplish (Phil 2:12-13, Eph 2:10).

Step 10: Pray, Pray, Pray!

Pray before you study, pray while studying, pray while writing, pray after writing, pray before preaching, pray while preaching, and pray after preaching. As you pray, also, ask your friends and congregants to pray. Paul said this in Ephesians 6:19-20 (NIV):

Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, or which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Paul asked the Ephesians to pray for God to give him the right words and manner in preaching. He asked for prayer to preach it fearlessly twice. No doubt, this represents the constant threat of fear that often accompanies preaching. There is a fear of mishandling God’s Word, a fear of failing, a fear of being rejected, a fear of upsetting people, and even a fear of persecution that might come from proclaiming the truth. No doubt, because of this, Paul also asked the Colossians to pray for his preaching (Col 4:2). Like Paul, preachers should not be shy about asking for prayer. It is a fruit of humility in our lives; it’s a healthy discipline for our congregations, and ultimately, power, clarity, and boldness in preaching come from intercession—ours and that of others.

As you prepare and preach God’s Word, may there be constant grace on you and the hearers, and may God be glorified through it all. In Jesus Name, Amen.

Copyright © 2021 Gregory Brown

Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.


1 Accessed 7/5/16, from https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/11/26/c-s-lewis-literature-reading-books/

2 McDill, Wayne. The 12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching - Second Edition (Kindle Locations 1877-1878). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.

3 McDill, Wayne. The 12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching - Second Edition (Kindle Locations 1591-1592). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Related Topics: Bible Study Methods, Hermeneutics, Pastors, Teaching the Bible

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