Reading the Text

Sermon preparation begins by reading the text. While this sounds logical, my tendency is to proceed to paragraph flow/structural analysis before taking the time to read the text carefully. Reading the paragraph, however, is vital to interpretation.

My approach is to read the preaching text in several versions, moving from literal translations to paraphrases.

I begin by slowly reading through the text in the New American Standard Bible, my preaching translation. Next I read the King James Version, followed by the New King James Version, the English Standard Version, the New International Version (1984), and the New Living Translation. You may also want to include the Holman Christian Standard Bible (literal) and The Message (paraphrase).

I follow this method for two reasons.

First, the majority of the members of my church use these translations. If there is a major difference in the versions, I need to address it as I preach.

Second, reading in this order helps to catch the rhythms and divisions of the text. As I move from literal to paraphrase, I can see how the translators shorten paragraphs and sentences. I can observe their translation decisions. These two elements help to bring out the text’s meaning.

It is vital that you do not hurry when reading your text. Relax and read slightly aloud. By the time you finish, you will have a good feel for the text’s flow.

Also, I encourage you to preach from a literal translation. A major element of expository preaching is explaining the meaning of words and phrases, and the nuance of verb tenses. Paraphrases, or the NIV’s dynamic equivalence, can obscure individual words for the sake of readability. Bring these versions into your sermon when they shed light on the passage, but avoid using them as your preaching translation.

I recommend preaching from the New American Standard Bible (NASB), the English Standard Version (ESV), or the New King James Version (NKJV).

I realize that your ministry context may require using the King James Version. If it is an issue, it is not worth offending your congregation by not preaching from the KJV. The King James’ endurance testifies of its excellence. But, with some archaic language and syntax, the KJV can be confusing. A current translation, based on the same word-for-word principles as the KJV, allows the entire congregation to understand the text more easily.

One final word on translation choice. You will know you are doing a good job of explaining the text when people begin to purchase new Bibles. I love when church members call from a Christian book store to make sure they are buying the correct version. If I was not walking through the text and explaining the meaning of the words and phrases, then neither my version nor theirs would matter.

Balancing the week


Sermon preparation combines three disciplines: exegesis, hermeneutics, and homiletics. Our job as pastors is to learn the most effective and efficient methods for these disciplines.

Pastoral ministry includes more than preaching. For instance, it is very important to the church I serve that I visit members in the hospital. Hospital visitation and prayers before surgery are vital to my ministry. It is one of the key ways I show the congregation that I care. If I slacked in this aspect of ministry, then the people would not be receptive to my preaching. If you don’t shepherd the flock on Monday through Saturday, you can’t speak with any influence on Sunday.

Every church’s expectations are different. What we must do is determine how to allot our time so that we shepherd with integrity, while also putting in the seat time to prepare quality sermons. The personal side of pastoring is just as important as the teaching component. Balance is key.

To achieve balance, we must know exactly what we are setting out to accomplish. We need a plan to know if we are on schedule.

I am off on Fridays, so my sermon preparation is based on a Monday through Thursday schedule. I know what I need to accomplish each day to be on schedule for Sunday. Make no mistake. Sunday is coming. Whatever happens during the week, you must be ready to explain, illustrate, and apply your preaching text for the congregation.

I’ve developed the week I describe by learning the ebb and flow of my church. Your ministry context will determine your week.

For me, Monday is exegesis day. My goal is to complete my structural analysis, word studies, map and dictionary work, and whatever other study methods I need to use.

Tuesday is commentary day. I read the exegetical and expository commentaries I have collected for my chosen text.

Wednesday is hermeneutics day. I call it “What’s the point Wednesday.” This day is key. I sum up the main idea of my preaching text with three sentences. The first, the historical theme sentence, describes the text’s meaning in past tense language. The second, the contextual theme sentence, alters the previous sentence into a present tense universal statement. The third sentence, the sermonic theme sentence, retools the second statement into the “point” to be presented to the congregation. Once I develop these sentences, I work through an application worksheet, think through my conclusion and introduction, and decide on possible illustrations.

Thursday is sermon notes day. Over the years, I’ve developed personal formatting so that I can glance at my notes and easily find information. My goal is to limit my notes to one landscaped page divided into two columns. If I need more information, I write within the text of my Bible.

When I leave the office on Thursday afternoon, I try not to think about my sermon again until Saturday morning. Because I have small children, I wake up early on Saturday morning to review my morning and evening sermons. I sit in front of my laptop and, basically, preach my sermon to myself. Very low volume of course. Donna and the girls do not need to wake up to a gospel invitation every Saturday morning. As I preach, I edit my notes.

On Sunday morning, I wake up and go over my morning message again before printing my notes. By breakfast time, I’m ready to preach. On Sunday afternoon, I review my notes for the Sunday evening sermon.

What I’ve described is an ideal week for sermon preparation. As a general rule, you should plan so that you remain on schedule while spending half of your day studying and half of your day ministering personally to the congregation.

So, what happens if you fall behind? Either stay up late or get up early. Do not take evenings away from your family to study. Church emergencies may occur and require your presence. That is okay. It is part of the calling. But, you have control over your study time. Take advantage of the control.

Most weeks you will be able to stay on schedule. I have found that unusually busy weeks typically require only one late night or early morning to catch up.

Once you develop your schedule, you will always know if you are ahead or behind. You will have time to be with the congregation and your family, while also sharing good content on Sunday.

The Wonderful World of Files and Records



Before you begin sermon preparation, decide how to keep track of your sermons and series.

With a business background, I am comfortable using Microsoft Excel for record keeping. Whatever system you use, you will need to make sure that it is easily accessible and logically organized.

First, you need to create a record system for your entire preaching and teaching ministry. For this step, I have a single Excel file with several tabs. My current file includes worksheets for each year’s preaching from 2007 through 2015 (June or July is a good time to begin thinking about next year). The file also contains the following worksheets: tithing verses (I read these before we take up the offering), baptisms, weddings, funerals, Sunday school (what class I substituted for and what I taught), Easter sermons (for quick reference when planning), sermons by invitation, and ordination councils.

My yearly preaching worksheets are divided between Sunday morning and Sunday evening. I include the date, preaching text, and location.

Below is my worksheet for the morning services of the first quarter of 2014.  The spreadsheet also contains a column for Sunday evening. You will notice that on 3/2 and 3/23 I list a guest preacher. For the purpose of this blog I have removed the names, but on those Sundays I was out of the pulpit because of illness and vacation.

Morning Service
Date Text Location
1/5/2014 John 1:1-5 Meridian
1/12/2014 John 1:6-13 Meridian
1/19/2014 John 1:14-18 Meridian
1/26/2014 John 1:19-34 Meridian
2/2/2014 John 1:35-51 Meridian
2/9/2014 John 2:1-12 Meridian
2/16/2014 John 2:13-25 Meridian
2/23/2014 John 2:23 -3:15 Meridian
3/2/2014 Guest Preacher Meridian
3/9/2014 John 3:16-21 Meridian
3/16/2014 John 3:22-36 Meridian
3/23/2014 Guest Preacher Meridian
3/30/2014 John 4:1-30, 39-42 Meridian

By keeping these records, I can see what I have preached every Sunday since 2007. I began pastoring in 2004, but I did not create the this system until later. As you’ll see below, I could recreate those years through the individual sermon file names. But, I would rather not think about those early sermons. Cringe worthy stuff, better forgotten.

Once your overall system is set up, the second step is to name and categorize your individual sermons.

I do all of my sermon preparation in Microsoft Word, so these instructions will be PC, rather than Mac, friendly.  Whatever operating system  you use, the principles remain the same.

First I created a folder titled “Sermons.” Within that folder, I have subfolders for each book of the Bible. In those subfolders, I’ve created further subfolders for individual sermons and sermon series.

Within the individual sermon folder, I create two files. The first I call “sermon prep.” This document contains my structural analysis, study notes, and sermon application form. The second file contains my pulpit notes. I name this file according to date, location, and time of day.

This past Sunday I preached from James 1:12-15. To retrieve the sermon notes I would go to my “Sermons” folder, to the “James” subfolder, to the “James SEP 2014” subfolder, to the “James 1:12-15” subfolder, to the file “Sermon Notes 6-29-2014 MBC Morning.”

This system may seem overly detailed, but it allows me to find files quickly. While I make it a practice not to re-preach sermons at my church (If I revisit a text, I work from scratch), I will reuse sermons when invited to preach for another group.

These suggestions are simply that—suggestions. Whatever system you use, make sure that you use it. You will save time later by organizing now.