How I Do Sermon Prep

I was at the dentist office yesterday, when asked about what I do for a living.  When I told them I was a pastor, I was met with a little bit more enthusiasm than I can honestly say I was expecting.  The dentist asked me how it was that I prepared my sermons, so I quickly explained my process to him.  I love to hear how other pastors prepare, and the fact that he seemed genuinely interested in my preparation, made me think that maybe I am not the only one interested in that sort of thing.  So here is my process:

I try to translate the text on Monday morning.  I am still learning Greek, and I have all but forgotten Hebrew, so it takes me about an hour to translate about 15 verses or so.  I try to go through the original languages and get as much out of it as I can.  That doesn’t mean that I turn into an Amplified Bible, but simply look for specific tenses, moods, voices, etc.  I want to try and grasp the truest sense of what the author is saying.  Thus, if I am translating and I see that it is second person plural, I will write out “you (all).”  Sometimes this makes a difference and sometimes it doesn’t make much of a difference at all.  There are typically three words that can be translated as “but.”  One in particular is used with emphasis, as in “not this, but that.”  If that word is used, I underline it twice; if not, I leave it be.

Once I translate the text, I go back to the ESV and compare.  Rarely are they the exact same wording, but most of the time they are close, and usually they express the same thought in differing words.  I look at the two translations and seek to understand why I chose a word or translation that the ESV translators did not.  I will go back to my lexicon and work through the variances between what I wrote out and what they wrote. I make corrections, when I deem necessary to my translation. This typically takes about another hour or so.

Once I finish here, I give my brain a rest.  I do something that doesn’t involve thinking so much for about 15-20 minutes.  When I come back I begin to write on the margins of my translation on thoughts about what I just read.  I will write out illustrations, draw pictures at times, cross-reference verses, etc.  Sometimes nothing comes to mind and so I will go to my first commentary.

At present, I am preaching through James.  My first commentary that I read is usually The New International Greek Testament Commentary, published by Eerdmans.  I find these commentaries unbelievably boring, but also extremely helpful as it walks one through the nuances of the translation and why certain people will translate a word or phrase one way while another group will translate it slightly different, all the while giving the strengths and weaknesses of both.  As I read, I may at times alter my translation again, but usually not.  However, I may make additional notes in the margins.  This usually finishes off day one.

From here I seek to read a translation a day of the text for Sunday.  Generally I will read sermon prep.jpgthe HCSB, NIV, NASB, and yes, I read the NLT.  That’s only one a day.  By day two the text has been marinading for some time and I have even more thoughts for the margins.  I read more commentaries (about 6-7 throughout the week), and work through their thoughts and wrestle with my own.  I typically do not read straight through a commentary, though some I do.  Often, I am seeking to read about a particular verse or set of verses.

On Thursday morning, I begin my actual manuscript.  There are times where this isn’t the case, but usually it is.  I sit down with my sheet of paper that has my translation and notes and begin to type.  Over the past few months, I have sought to have an opening line that will grasp a person’s attention.  I don’t start with jokes or illustrations, but a sign of what is to come.  For instance, my first sermon on James from a few weeks ago started with: “Trials are God’s way of taking away what we think we need to give us what He knows we need: Himself.  He is moving us away from that which is unstable to that which is stable.”  Week two began with: “As long as we, as believers, look to our present circumstances rather than our God-given eternal promises, we will continuously be tempted to abandon our faith, willfully giving up our birthright for a bowl of soup!”

I work through the sermon, usually with alliterations.  Sometimes they just don’t fit and so I try not to force them to do so.  I’m sure I have though.  I am an expositor and I seek to go through the text in expository fashion.

All in all, my sermon prep takes about 10-12 hours in a typical week.  If you preach and/or a pastor, I would love to hear about your sermon prep.  Send me a comment.  I’m always eager to learn.

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