Sermons are perhaps the most important element in a church service. Worshippers have sang their songs, tithing has been received, and the congregation is filled with the Holy Spirit. They are expecting the sermon to be God centered and effective. What God has led the pastor to preach this Sunday must be executed showing proper preparation, reflection, and time spent seeking God’s input. Stan Toler says of preaching, “Preaching is a craft- a craft that demands craftsmanship.” How one prepares and crafts their sermon lays a firm foundation for how the sermon will be delivered and ultimately pan out. In following this thought, here are several principles for sermon preparation that are useful and vital for an effective sermon.
Methods for Research
A good sermon is well researched. Often times God leads a preacher to speak on a specific topic which may or may not be that pastor’s strongest area. For example, a pastor may be very knowledgeable in the topic of forgiveness (perhaps from personal experience or spending extra time on that topic in the Bible in the past), but far less knowledgeable on rituals in the church. Often times, God can call pastors to speak on topics such as this that challenge the pastor to step beyond their comfort zones and dive into topics that require extensive thought. Whether the topic is familiar or somewhat foreign to the pastor, the pastor must still research the topic to ensure the sermon is delivered as God intends.
The pastor must begin in prayer. God has led the pastor to preach on this topic for a particular reason. The pastor must consider the current situation within their church. Is their church suffering spiritually as a result of misplaced focus? Is the pastor them self struggling with some of the issues within their church? Maybe there are people within the pastor’s congregation that are going through struggles, but staying silent about it. God would know their needs because He can read their heart. Prayer opens the door and acknowledges that the pastor has discerned God’s intent for the sermon and the pastor is seeking God’s input and guidance on the sermon.
A pastor must approach the topic with an open mind. Remember that even if the topic is familiar, God often intends to reveal a new aspect of it through its reintroduction. An open mind encourages unbiased thought and full dedication to the topic and ensures a positive outcome in research and preparation. The mind is an important element to preparation, but the pastor also needs an open heart. The pastor must be ready to receive God’s message in their heart in order to ensure the sermon has a level of emotional content in its delivery on Sunday morning.
Tools for Research
The pastor has prayed for discernment and approached the topic with an open heart and mind. Now it is time to research the topic. Any relevant books relating to the topic should be considered. Using the Bible is a given, but a suggestion is to use multiple Bibles of varying translations and styles. Apologetics Bibles connect the information to skeptics, life principle Bibles connect the information to everyday life, and commentaries provide insight and opinion on a particular topic. Suggested Bibles are Max Lucado’s Life Lessons Study Bible, Lee Strobel’s The Case For Christ Study Bible, Holman Christian Standard’s Apologetics Study Bible, and The Barker Illustrated Bible Commentary edited by Gary Burge and Andrew Hill. Bible translations a pastor should definitely use are the New International Version, the Holman Christian Standard, and the New King James Version. These three translations ensure a good grasp on the text. Other translations are beneficial and should be pursued, but these translations are most effective when sharing the verse selection with the congregation, so being familiar with them is very important.
A great deal of personal reflection is also involved in sermon preparation. Though a pastor may not be knowledgeable on a certain topic, they have probably had experience with it at some point in their lives. The pastor should take time to reflect on times in their lives they dealt with the topic and what God revealed to them through it. Maybe the topic brought hurt, maybe it brought healing, and maybe it even brought both. Whatever the case, God revealed that aspect of the topic to enable the pastor to share it with others. Whether that experience becomes the theme or element of the sermon is up to the pastor, but a healthy balance is preferred.
The internet is also a great source for research.Biblehub.com is one of the most effective study tools there is. The site features numerous translations and commentaries. It also has other highly effective study tools such as encyclopedias, dictionaries, atlases and concordances. Commentaries provide valuable insight while encyclopedias and dictionaries provide detailed information. A concordance is a must. It is important for the pastor to know the meaning of the topic word they are speaking to. A concordance allows the pastor to see what the author’s original intent was in a given passage. The suggested concordance for effective research is The Strongest NIV Exhaustive Concordance by Edward Goodrick and John Kohlenberger.
While information is very important in a sermon, remember the words of Stan Toler in regards to the final product, “Don’t utter a single word that doesn’t drive home the point of your message.” In other words, stay relevant and concise. The congregation is not full of Ivy League scholars, they are looking for a message that is easy to grasp and applicable to their lives.
Developing the Sermon Structure
Sermon structure is important and is the final step in sermon preparation. The best sermons start with a reading of the scripture and a prayer for discernment. Before a preacher starts preaching, a funny story can be used to ease any tenseness within the congregation. Toler states, “Humor is a wonderful way to get attention, put people at ease, hold their interest, and clarify truth.” Next, the pastor should ease into the elements of the passage itself using their research from Bible dictionaries, encyclopedias, or informative commentaries to explain the important issues in the passage. This should lead into a quote from a study Bible, a Bible commentary, or a relevant book. This provides a bridge to a more detailed interaction with the text that emphasizes the focal point of the sermon. After the details, the pastor should provide another quote or reiterate the prior quote if it provides consistent flow. This paves the way for a life application segment in the sermon. The commentaries, life principles Bibles, or relevant books should be used here. The pastor’s experience with the topic may be felt here, though not always necessary to announce it. The pastor should find one last quote from the research to include at this point. This sets up the conclusion of the sermon which should effectively wrap up the message and drive the point home to the congregation. Pastors should always end the sermon strong with one last quote or a simple idea that came from personal reflection.
Sermons don’t just write themselves. It takes prayer, research, and dedication to ensure a sermon is effective and delivered as God intends. Suggesting a time frame to complete a sermon would imply a constraint of time which can hinder the progression of the sermon, so a pastor must be careful to manage their time effectively and discern when God is fully revealed in the sermon. A pastor should always approach the topic from an open mind and heart to ensure proper discernment. While sermon preparation can be very time consuming, the end product can leave lasting impressions within the congregation and win people to Christ. The most important thing to remember is that the best sermons are still being written, because a sermon is never truly done. Events and callings will change perceptions and approaches to topics preached on thousands of times with a new aspect of God revealed each time. A pastor should recognize this and strive for God’s glorification instead of sermon perfection. God has called the pastor to deliver His message; the pastor must ensure that he shows up prepared. These tools presented are just the groundwork as new tools are becoming available every day. A pastor can use these tools to craft an effective sermon. More importantly, the pastor can use these tools to reveal the timeless Word of God.
 Toler, Stan. Stan Toler’s Practical Guide for Pastoral Ministry. Indianapolis, IN: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2006. p. 264
 Lucado, Max. The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible. Thomas Nelson Inc, 2010.
 Strobel, Lee. The Case For Christ Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009.
 Cabal, Ted. The Apologetics Study Bible. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007.
 Burger, Gary M. and Hill, Andrew E. The Barker Illustrated Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2012.
 Biblos. “Bible Hub”. Biblehub.com. http://biblehub.com/
 Goodrick, Edward W., and John R. Kohlenberger. The Strongest NIV Exhaustive Concordance. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004.
 Toler, Stan. p. 277
 Ibid., p.282.