What all is involved in preparing a good sermon?
The answer to this questions should begin, in my opinion, with one’s philosophy of what constitutes good Bible exposition. Many believe in very shallow exposition where they simply seek to preach the big idea and embellish it with a lot of stories, illustration, humor, and devote a great deal of time to application. An occasional story or illustration and natural humor are fine, as long as this is kept to a minimum. We want our hearers to apply the truth to their lives, but many times when application is the emphasis it borders on heresy and manipulation. We should desire to teach the Bible so those who hear see how the message develops out of the text of Scripture according to the cultural background, context, grammar and meaning of words as it is fitting and truly helps illuminate the passage and its emphasis. We don’t want to bore people with grammar or talk over their heads, but a little here or there can truly help people see the truth, focus, emphasis, etc. of a passage. One of the real issues is people’s hunger for God and His precious Word. You may have to start slow and gradually, with prayer, let God develop this in their lives. And this may take a lot of faith and patience on your part. It is easy to get discouraged on this issue.
There are many things that go into preparing a good message or sermon. This involves training, giftedness, hard work, innovative thinking, and time. The amount of time needed in preparing a good sermon or study will vary with the individual. The newer one is at the process, the more time it will take because they do not have a lot of reserve and experience to draw from. The same applies in the use of the languages. The better you know the original languages and the more you use them, the greater will be your ability to grasp and see the significance of the original text in the passage being studied.
As to my own method, I follow certain basic procedures: I read the text in the Greek over and over along with several English versions and look for key ideas, words, constructions, connectives, etc. In other words, I familiarize myself with the text. Along with this, I read the context before and after and review all I can about the background, context of the whole book, the cultural situation, the problems the author might have been dealing with, his purpose, concerns, etc.
I then begin to develop an outline which becomes the skeleton for the message, but at first, I am simply seeking to identify the key ideas of each verse, paragraph, and section of the passage. At first, the outline simply tells me what each verse is doing and saying, etc., and how the verses relate to each other in the structure of, let’s say, the paragraph. I then may work at making the outline more homiletical using some form of alliteration. A good outline is needed to develop the thought of the text and to keep the teacher from wandering down all kinds of bunny trails. It also helps your listeners to better follow the argument or theme of the text and know where you are going and have been. Whatever, the outline should reveal the text and not just be clever.
As we do all of this preparation, we need to be prayerfully dependent on the Spirit. As important as this is, however, we must not think this negates the need for careful thinking, study, and the proper use of sound principles of exegesis. Too often, we hear studies that are not faithful to the text. Instead, the preacher is using the words of the text to preach his own agenda or to manipulate his people. Such is an abomination and unfaithfulness to our calling. It is the message of God’s Word faithfully and accurately presented that changes lives, and anything else is simply man manipulating people.
Below is a list of some excellent books on exegesis and message preparation that I think can really help and add volumes to what I have just said. These are:
1. Using New Testament Greek in Ministry, A Practical Guide For Students and Pastors, David Alan Black, Baker Book House. Even if you do not know Greek, this is a valuable book.*** Even though this deals with using Greek, it is loaded with insights for study and sermon preparation.
2. Linguistics For Students of New Testament Greek, A Survey of Basic Concepts and Applications, David Alan Black, Baker Book House. This one is more difficult and should be one of the later additions, especially if you do not know Greek.
3. Homiletical Handbook, Donald L. Hamilton, Broadman Press.**
4. How to Prepare Bible Messages, James Braga, Multnomah.**
5. Rightly Divided, Readings In Biblical Hermeneutics, Roy B. Zuck, General Editor, Kregel.***
6. New Testament Exegesis, Revised Edition, A Handbook for Students and Pastors, Gordon D. Fee, Westminister/John Knox Press.
7. Preaching That Connects, Mark Galli and Craig Brian Larson, Zondervan Publishing.*
I have placed one or more asterisks (*) by those that I think might be best to start with. These are all in paperback and would be good additions to your library.