A Look at my Sermon Preparation

A few weeks ago Chad Ashby, a pastor in South Carolina, wrote a helpful post on Preparing a Sermon from the Original Languages. Not only was this post a thorough explanation of what Chad does week-by-week for his sermon preparation, but also he gives the reason why pastors, who have training in the biblical languages, should begin their sermon preparation with them.

My reasons are pretty simple. First, I want to get my people as close to the original text as possible. If I’m studying in an English translation, I’m once removed from the original text. Then when I preach, my people receive it from me now twice removed from the original. But when I study the original Greek and Hebrew, that means my people are only once removed from the original text.

Second, as a pastor I am the resident expert. I don’t say this to be prideful, but let’s be honest: if I don’t understand Greek and Hebrew, no one else in the church will. After all, that’s why they pay us the big bucks!

Third, American pastors are extremely privileged compared to pastors of almost any other country or era. Most of us have been to seminary. We have had the opportunity and resources to take Greek and Hebrew. Hopefully we will try our best to show our gratitude to the Lord for his astounding grace by putting our education to use. (This is why it irks me to no end when seminarians talk about “just trying to get through Hebrew.”)

Inspired by Chad’s post, I’ve decided to write my own post about how I work on my sermons in preparation for Sunday morning and night.

Laying the Foundation

Since I preach both Sunday morning and night, I like to work from both testaments so that we can have a healthy diet of Scripture. Our summer series right now has us in Book 4 of the Psalms (90-106) on Sunday morning, and on Sunday nights we’re studying the Gospel of Mark. Once I finish the Psalms, I plan to preach through a Pauline epistle in the morning and then return to 1 Samuel on Sunday nights.

I begin my sermon preparation by reading through the text in the biblical languages. Typically I will use my Readers Greek and Hebrew texts during this time, and my main goal is simply to get a flow of the text and how the respective passage is structured. After my read through, I then move to my computer to diagram the text. For my Greek diagrams I use various diagramming methods (Grassmick/Guthrie&Duvall/Fee) depending upon the genre of the biblical text. I have found that its difficult to diagram in the Grassmick method in narratives, so I began to do phrase diagrams that focuses primarily upon the verbs of the biblical text.

You will notice that I have the verbs color coded. This coding helps me to see the narrative flow better and what tense the author is using over others. Primarily in mind here is the discussion of verbal aspect and how it affects interpretation. I also color code Hebrew as well, and if you’d like a copy of my explanations you can find it here. My Hebrew diagram is similar to the above, but slightly modified.

Formulating an Outline

Once my diagram and syntax observations are complete, I then move to formulating an outline based on the original text. Here, I look for noticeable changes in the thought of the biblical author, transitions, and anything else that may jump out at me. Normally the text naturally provides an outline, but I’ve found that narratives will throw a wrench in the works sometimes. I’ll also check the cross-references in the ESV and NA-28 for any textual clues the editors saw.

Outline to Sermon

When I write out my sermon, I do so primarily from the English text simply because that’s what my people read. I’ve also found that, in order to keep things simple and easy to follow, I’ll use the division breaks from the English version so that my people can track with me easier. I’ve done this for the Psalms, but more so with James as well.

Here is where my preparation works comes to fruition. Up until this point I have spent copious time in the original languages, but I have also consulted various commentaries as well. Typically I will read through no less than two but no more than 5. I do not want the sermon to be too convoluted with information that is not necessary, but I also want to see what other, more seasoned, scholars have observed as well.

After I make my outline, I begin to fill in the lines underneath each point. I will type out full sentences of observations that come to my mind, quotes, and cross references. This method helps me think through my points clearer since I no longer manuscript my sermons.

Lately, after a recommendation from Patrick Schreiner, I’ve been using this helpful application grid that Mark Dever uses. Application has always been one of the most difficult parts of sermon preparation, and this grid has helped me immensely.

Preaching Aids

When Sunday morning comes, I typically wake up around 4:30 in order to read, pray, and review. This time allows me to make any changes to my full outline before I handwrite it into a moleskin notebook. I use an extra large notebook for a few reasons. First, I experimented with taking a full manuscript into the pulpit, but found that my default preaching style became less engaging and more concerned with what is typed in front of me. I did not read it the entire time, but I found myself to be less engaging with the congregation. Second, I would take a smaller moleskin notebook in the pulpit with me, but I’ve found that a larger one affords me the opportunity to be more thorough than a smaller one. This article by Michael Kruger was helpful for me in this process, and it is now my default go-to preaching style. Third, I found that handwriting my notes out rather than printing them from a computer also provided another reinforcement for my mind. I have preached without notes before, but I like having an aid in the pulpit just in case I forget something.

I should also mention that I space my sermon preparation throughout the week. On Monday I work on Sunday morning exegesis and Tuesday is set for Sunday night. Wednesday I read the commentaries for both sermons, and on Thursday I’m preparing for Sunday morning, and Friday for Sunday night. I try to spend 9:00-12:00 on sermon preparation so that I can have the afternoon for other things to do, whether they are jobs at home, visitations, or anything else that may happen.

Concluding Thoughts

I do think it is important for the pastor to work in the biblical languages as much as he is able, especially if he has taken these courses in seminary. One should remember that a translation, as helpful as they are, is a step removed from the biblical languages.