I took several courses in sermon preparation while at college and seminary. These courses, at least at the introductory level, taught students the mechanics of sermon preparation and delivery.
Despite what some church folks might think, sermon preparation requires hard work; that is, if the preacher or pastor is doing what she is called to do.
Sermon preparation normally involves a number of steps, some of which include:
1. Selecting a biblical text or texts from which one will preach. For lectionary preachers this is made somewhat easier, although not without its challenges.
2. Reading and interpreting that text, ideally by translating the text from its original Hebrew or Greek and by consulting authoritative commentaries written by biblical scholars.
3. Formulating a working outline of the sermon, along with a specific direction the preacher wants the sermon to go.
4. Writing the sermon manuscript from which the preacher might deliver the sermon either from memory or from reading the manuscript from the pulpit.
One of the challenges that a preacher faces each week is how to make a sermon applicable.
After all, some texts do not easily translate into applications for congregations living in our modern, scientific and technological world.
I have always hated the concept of drawing an application from every biblical text. The process seems, at times, to force something from a text that isn’t there.
On a personal note, I recall being criticized for not drawing out an application while leading a study on a book of the Bible. The person commented that we need to know what each verse means to us.
I replied, somewhat snarkily, “Not every word in the Bible has to do with you.”
But still, Sunday morning worshippers gather and expect a good oration, as well as what God may have to say to them about their lives and their struggles (even though many may disregard the message if it makes them uncomfortable).
In preparing sermons, I wonder how many of us allow a biblical text to speak to us personally before we start making applications for those who will hear our sermons.
Do I read texts with an expectation of what God may be saying to me before I concern myself with what God might want to say to others?
I am not questioning the thought process that preachers go through each week when preparing sermons. I have not talked to enough pastors to determine what the majority does for sermon planning and writing.
But I wonder how many of us preachers write sermons that apply to our congregations but allow a text’s message to pass us by.
Would we not be more authentic in our preaching if we allowed the text to take stock of our own lives before we presume to say what we think God might want to say to our congregations?
For me, sermon preparation involves an introspective process in which I read the text and allow it to penetrate my mind.
Yes, I perform the mechanics of sermon preparation, much like I was taught in seminary. But I do not treat the text as an object outside myself.
Rather, I try, though not always successfully, to allow the biblical text to become a part of me, and I a part of it.
This is one reason why I am partial to biblical narratives. I think the narratives, whether those of the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament, present plots and characters that resonate with us even though we are separated by a chasm of time and culture.
I recall a college professor telling our class that the characters in the Bible were there not for historical purposes, but to help us see who we really are.
He meant that when we read about these characters, we often find that we can be very much like them, both in accomplishments and deficiencies. These characters become mirrors in which we can see ourselves.
The plots and characters of biblical narratives give the preacher a gateway to the introspective process of sermon preparation.
The preacher thinks not how the text applies to the future audience, but rather she thinks and struggles with how the text infiltrates her own spiritual psyche and how it draws out her own humanity before God.
I believe that such an introspective process of sermon preparation makes for more authentic and passionate preaching. And, as preachers are inclined to say, “Now, that will preach.”
Assistant Director of the Honors College at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.