One of the great joys and privileges of serving God as pastor is the chance to speak on His behalf and proclaim His word. At the church I serve we have been preaching on the same passages our church family is reading, using George Guthrie's Reading God's Story: Chronological Reading Plan.
When preparing to speak on a specific Bible passage, I use the following process.
- Read the passage, re-familiarizing myself with its context and the main message of the book.
- Pray and meditate over the text, and make notes.
- Read and study scholarly resources, such as commentaries and articles, to learn more about the context, gather insights, and discover the original meanings of particular words and phrases.
- Choose one main theme or point I believe God wants me to communicate.
- Look for stories from my life, current events, history, and other scriptures to illustrate this point.
- Develop a logical flow for the message, and practice delivery.
I have used a similar process for years, but for the past decade I have relied increasingly on resources available free or at a low cost online. Instead of physical books, I have moved to downloadable books, Bible study resource websites, Bible software, podcasts, and free online college or seminary courses.
Here are some of the online resources I find helpful in my message preparation.
E-books and Audiobooks, Rather than Print
While I maintain a large library of printed volumes, I have switched my book-buying habits to electronic and audiobooks.
E-book formats - such as Lifeway Reader, Kindle, Google Play, and Apple iBooks - allow me to take my entire library with me wherever I go. I can highlight, add notes, and search, accessing everything on my phone, tablet, and laptop.
Audiobooks allow me to listen while driving, mowing the lawn, exercising, or just working around the house. Audible.com's mobile app enables me to listen at two or three times normal speed. Christian Audio also offers a wealth of Christian audiobook titles.
Online Bibles with Bible Study Helps
One of my favorites is WordSearch Bible because there is nothing to download or install. It offers abundant free resources, allows instant access, and works across numerous platforms. MyStudyBible.com features more than 15 Bible translations, commentaries, teaching helps, the HCSB Study Bible notes, the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Strong's Greek & Hebrew Dictionary, and audio pronunciation of Bible names and difficult words. You can mouse over Scripture references to see cross-references and Greek or Hebrew definitions.
Other online resources with free Bible study helps include
- YouVersion.com, featuring a user-friendly mobile app, is my choice for reading plans and listening to audio Bibles.
- Christian Classics Ethereal Library is an excellent source for original writings in the public domain.
- Bible Gateway is a searchable online Bible with over 100 translations in 50 languages. It works well for copying and pasting scriptures into your sermon manuscript.
Bible Software and Apps
Various Bible software programs use digitized Bibles, commentaries, reference books, collections of sermons, articles, maps, photos, and videos to create a searchable library. Everyone has their favorites, but I use WordSearch and Logos. This Wikipedia article includes an extensive list of Bible software platforms.
Several valuable Study Bible apps are available. The CSB Study app for iOS ($9.99) is especially useful when you don't have internet connectivity. Study notes, word studies, and articles remain on your device, rather than online.
Online Academic Study
The final category of online sermon preparation resources is free college or seminary online courses. Several colleges and seminaries provide entire courses to the public at no cost. While I was preparing messages on the life of Joseph in Genesis and on the book of Job, I found both college and seminary lectures on these subjects. These lectures provided wonderful background material and biblical insights to cite and incorporate into my messages.