Sermon preparation begins as soon as the last sermon was preached. Many preachers are exhausted from the last sermon and are not in the mood to begin another sermon. (Of course, when the power of God flows through the preacher during the sermon it will produced a certain degree of exhaustion and that is a good thing.) Why might the preparation be such a daunting task? Perhaps it could be a false assumption about what a sermon is and what we believe might be the expectations of our congregation.
Let us begin with the easiest of the two: expectations. Are we seeking the praise of men? Jesus said: “Beware when men speak well of you.” In fact, as ministers of the Gospel, we need to be delivered from the people we serve and not be in bondage to them. If we are unable to tell them what they might need to hear we are like salt that has lost its savor. Besides, a sermon is not some vehicle to prove ourselves or to demonstrate our oratory or debating skills. It is not about our analysis of the state of current affairs. It is not about our good advice in coping with the latest crisis. A sermon is not actually a sermon. A sermon is a Word from God to a specific people at a specific time in a specific place. A sermon is a form of prophecy. It comes from God and rather than from our bank of philosophies, theologies, or denominational doctrines.
Now to the good news about sermon preparation. First of all, the sermon itself should be good news because it should be about the Gospel which is good news. As communicators of the Gospel we should be excited about the good news we are preaching. We have an outstanding product to sell and an eager market who needs our product. (True, some people do not want good news but remember that we are delivered from them.) Secondly, God wants to get this good news out more than we do. Thus, God is here to help us. We are not alone in our sermon preparation even though the enemy constantly tells us that we are.
In fact, God wants to write our sermon for us! We may not believe that because it sounds too easy or because it destroys our vehicle to receive credit for our work. (The Gospel has a way of doing the later no matter what we might be doing to earn our righteousness.) Let us put aside our objections for the moment and explore how God might want to help us. Often times it is the fear that God might not be in the process that keeps us from eagerly starting on our preparation from a new sermon.
We do have some specific preparation that we must do on our own.
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)
We should read the upcoming scriptures in the lectionary. (If we are not using the lectionary we should be in serious prayer about what scriptures God wants us to use.) We need to do a certain amount of exegesis on those Scriptures as early in the week as possible, using the necessary tools at our disposal. (See Preaching Essentials.)
Now begins the exciting development of the sermon. We pray. We are not praying in desperation, hoping that God may hear us and come to our aid. We are living in prayer. We are living in His presence. We have set aside our sermon concept and are listening to His voice. Often times it is a still small voice. Sometimes it is almost a whole sermon while we are in the shower. We immediately thank Him because His concept is far more interesting, exciting, and empowering than ours. We are instantly inspired to put on paper what He is saying to us. (Of course that does not mean we will read our sermon to the congregation. We must tell it as we would a story.)
Here comes another exciting part: He invites us to add our personality, sense of humor, and personal examples. God is providing the foundation but we are privileged to join Him and add to that foundation. We are allowed to be creative. We are invited to soar on the wings of God’s gift that He has given us. He has given the altogether vital and inspirational kernel. We are to build upon it with His guidance and encouragement.
We must remember that we are preaching first to ourselves. The sermon should move us into a greater intimacy with God. It is not wise to preach down to our congregation. We must see ourselves as being in as much need of hearing the voice of God as our congregation. We are preaching for transformation and renewal within the Body of Christ – even revival.
It is not ourselves that we proclaim; we proclaim Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as servants, for Jesus’ sake, For the same God who said, “Out of darkness let light shine,” has caused His light to shine within us, to give the light of revelation — the revelation of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:5-6)