How I Prepare for Preaching
I would normally preach through a Bible book. I am currently preaching through Colossians. Hence, this is what I have done:
1. Read the entire epistle to the Colossians a number of times, using the NKJV (the version the church uses) and other versions like NASB, NIV, ESV including the Bible in Chinese. We are so blessed today to be able to access different versions of the Bible on the internet. Besides reading, I will also play the audio available via the internet to hear it read to me.
2. Lay my hands on whatever materials I can get on the book of Colossians and read them – commentaries, sermons, introductory materials, articles, etc. Hear sermons on Colossians, hear lectures on Colossians, read overviews of scholars who have studied this epistle.
1 and 2 would be done about 1-2 months before I start the series on Colossians, so that by the time I begin to deal with the actual passage each week, I would know the overall structure of the book, and I would know what is said in the next section and the next chapter.
For the sermon to be preached this coming Sunday, I will start working on the text on Monday (unless hindered by urgent pastoral matters). This is what I will do:
B. Read the passage a few times, using different versions of the English Bible.
C. Use the Bible software that God has provided through kind souls to check the various Greek words found in the text. For example, I have to preach on Colossians 3:18-4:1 this Sunday. I will want to know what are the words for ‘submit’ and ‘love’ in Greek. (It is enlightening to know that the word ‘submit’ is the same word used for Jesus subjecting himself to Joseph and Mary in Luke 2, and the word ‘love’ is not eros or philia, but agape.)
I have no formal training in Greek. So this is the best I can do. I would of course check my results against some good commentaries that provide detailed analysis of Greek words. They will help further by telling me the tense and mood used.
D. I will scan the passage again to see if there is any ‘special ‘feature’ in it. For example, in Colossians 3:18-4:1, it has a list of 6 directives – to husbands, wives, parents, children, masters, servants. It looks like a parade square with the sergeant shouting out his commands to his soldiers! Yet side by side with the directives (which occupy the first part of the verses), we have Jesus Christ as the reason, motivation, encouragement and goal (second part of the verses) for doing what we are called to do!!
This important observation points me to the way the sermon should go – not as a ‘How to’ message but as a ‘Gospel’ message. We do what we do because of Jesus, for Jesus, to Jesus. He is the reason. He is all that matters.
E. I will normally write out my sermon, though I will not read it during preaching. (I have found myself saying more than what is written as well as less than what is written during preaching).
I find it helpful to write the sermon because (i) I know how long I will go on for, though I will be sensitive to the Spirit’s guidance in the actual preaching and (ii) I can rework my sentences, to make them shorter and simpler as well as to correct grammar mistakes. [Why preach a sermon full of grammar mistakes resulting in some people not hearing the message but counting the mistakes?]
F. As I write out the sermon, I will be looking out for places where I can put in an illustration. Illustrations can come from books I have read, daily life experiences or even from the internet (although I find those from the internet less and less helpful).
G. Choose the closing hymn and produce a simple outline to help the congregation follow the preaching.
H. Thank God for his help in preparing the sermon and ask for his blessings.
I. Go through the sermon again on Sunday morning, to prepare my heart, to remember my points, and pray for his blessing.
On Sunday evening, ask my children to tell me what the sermon was about. This exercise often provides me with good feedback, so that next morning (Monday), I know what to do for next Sunday’s sermon. (If there is a senior/mentor minister, get him to give feedback while assuring him that we will remain firm friends afterwards!)
Recently, I was asked to preach on ‘The Parable of the Good Samaritan’ at the youth fellowship of another church. This is not the normal preach-through-a-Bible-book situation. This is what I did:
Read the relevant passage more than once.
Use my six friends to help: Who?, What?, How?, When?, Where? and Why?
Who are the main characters? What did they do, or not do?
How (to what extent) did the Samaritan help?
When did he help?
Where did all this take place?
Why did Jesus tell this parable?
In ‘The Parable of the Good Samaritan’, the ‘why?’ question was very revealing! This parable was told to answer the question ‘who is my neighbour?’. The issue of ‘neighbour’ arose because the 2nd Great Commandment was mentioned. The 2nd Great Commandment was mentioned because the question ‘how can I inherit eternal life’ was asked!
So the parable was told and then the lawyer was told to go and do likewise, in order to bring him to see his inability to keep the 2nd Great Commandment. (No one can do what the Good Samaritan did, to all the people all the time, which is what the 2nd Great Commandment requires). His inability to keep the 2nd Great Commandment implies his inability to keep the 1st Great Commandment, which further implies his inability to inherit eternal life by his own effort!!
In other words, Jesus points him (and us) to the Law to show us our sins. And the fact is the One who told the parable is the only Person who can and has kept both commandments! By faith in him alone can we have eternal life!!
By now, the direction of the sermon is clear and I proceed to do as outlined above.
One last word – I believe in the Holy Spirit. This is a statement in the Apostle’s Creed. To me, it is more than a statement. It is my firm belief as I step out to preach each time. I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe in his power to regenerate, in his power to build up, in his presence, in his ministry. I have prepared both the sermon and myself. Now he must be pleased to do his gracious, glorious work or it is all in vain!
Revive Thy work, O Lord,
Thy mighty arm make bare:
Speak with the voice that wakes the dead,
And make Thy people hear.
Wei En Yi is Pastor of Shalom Church in Singapore. Taken with permission from Preaching & Preachers, August 2010.
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