After preparing sermons for 40 years, the following six steps have helped eliminate some of the stress related to sermon preparation.
1. Plant seeds in your mind
A preacher must develop a "garden" in his mind where sermons grow on a regular basis.
- Quiet time – ideas for sermons will surface.
- Notes – keep note cards in your pocket to jot down sermon thoughts as they arise throughout the day.
- Reading – read good books as often as possible. Ideas for sermons will usually accompany good reading material (write these on your note cards).
2. Pray for your people
As you think about the needs and concerns of different individuals in your church, sermon topics will surface.
3. Select the topics
It is vital to pray for God's leadership in your preaching. Sermon preparation should start as early in the week as possible (not Saturday night). The longer you wait the more the pressure builds. The sermon needs time to "cook."
- A sermon series will help you spend more time in sermon development.
- Preaching sermons about special days helps you relate to what is happening the in the life of the congregation.
- If a sermon from another preacher speaks to you, preach the same truth in your own style and in your own words.
- It is good to take an old sermon, rework it, and bring it up to date.
4. Develop the sermon
Watch out for the temptation to coast once you settle on a topic. With all the demands on the limited time of a bivocational preacher, it is easy to allow other things to consume your time after you have decided what to preach.
- As you develop the sermon, study the passage and its context to make sure you are being true to the text.
- After you have developed a basic outline, read your favorite commentaries to gain additional thoughts.
- One of the advantages of being bivocational is to be involved in the real world. Everyday illustrations will be easy for you to use. However, when using a current illustration, never embarrass someone or break a trust.
5. Prepare for delivery
- Outline – A good outline helps develop the flow of the sermon and keeps you on track. Without it, you may ramble, repeat yourself, and chase rabbits.
- Application – As you think about preaching a particular sermon, ask yourself, "How does this relate to the people in the pew? What are you asking them to do in response to the sermon?" Application is critical to effective preaching.
- Your introduction and conclusion are vital – carefully write out both. Your introduction can cause you to capture or lose your audience before you ever get to the meat of the sermon. Your conclusion should end the sermon and offer the right challenge to your audience.
6. Conserve your efforts
Sermon preparation is hard work. It consumes a large portion of a preacher's time. We are not good stewards if we do not conserve the efforts of our study and preparation.
- Sermon notes - Even if you do not manuscript your sermons, prepare a thorough outline with adequate notes so you can recall the heart of the sermon later. Your own sermon notes will be excellent study material for future sermons on the same text or subject.
- Sermon log - It is good to keep a log of when and where you preached each sermon. A sermon file is very helpful. You will want to cross-reference them under two headings: text and topic.
I am convinced that preaching the Word of God is the greatest calling one can receive. It is not an easy task but it is most rewarding when you see God changing lives through the sermons you preach.