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Preparing Talks and Sermons: Peter Adam

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Peter Adam offers some valuable tips to continue our Preparing Talks and Sermons series


Time

Don’t be surprised if a sermon takes you a long time to prepare. Most of us take 8-10 hours. If you are starting to preach or do so infrequently it will take you longer. One-off sermons also take longer to prepare. Most people find it best to use 1-2 hour blocks of preparation time over several weeks. I usually spend half my preparation time on steps one and two, and then half on steps three and four.

Task

‘Sermon’, and ‘Bible talk’ are words that describe what you are doing. ‘Exhortation’/’encouragement’ are the Bible words which describes what you are hoping to achieve. You may be preaching a sermon, or giving a Bible talk, but your aim is to: correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction (2 Tim 4:2).

You may be preaching a sermon, or giving a Bible talk, but your aim is to: correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction (2 Tim 4:2)

This is because the purposes of the Bible are: to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus … teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness … (2 Tim 3:15,16).

Step One – Pray!

Pray that God will give you:

  • Love for his Spirit-inspired words, the Bible passage you are serving. Pray that you will study them carefully, learn them deeply, and serve their particular meaning and purpose in your ministry. Pray that you will not distort them or misuse them or misquote them.
  • Love for his people, those you will serve in this ministry. Pray that they will receive, retain, respond, remember, be transformed, learn how to read the Bible themselves, and be trained to teach others what they have learnt.
  • Love for God’s glory, so that you will not serve to meet your own needs, worry about your own reputation, or do this ministry to win the approval of others.

Step Two – Focus on the Bible passage!

  • Choose your Bible passage. It may be given to you, or you may have to choose one. Make sure that it is not so short that it is meaningless, nor so long that it is unmanageable.
  • Find the meaning of Bible passage and its intended impact. Work through the passage word by word, asking yourself, ‘What does this word mean?’, ‘Why is this sentence here?’ ‘What is this and why is it here?’ You may find the commentaries a help at this stage. Or discuss the passage with some friends.
  • Find the theological meaning of the passage. Ask yourself: ‘What basic and important theological themes are reflected in the passage?’ ‘What particular aspect is expressed through the passage?’ ‘What does the passage say about God and his purposes?’ Go deeper than immediate practical application.
  • Look not only for the meaning, but also the purpose, the intended outcome, the respected response. Look for the God-given intented impact of the passage, as well as the God-given meaning.

Look not only for the meaning, but also the purpose, the intended outcome, the respected response. Look for the God-given intented impact of the passage, as well as the God-given meaning.

Step Three – Focus on the people!

  • Pray again for the people who will hear your talk or sermon. If you know them, pray for them collectively, and pray for individuals you know. Pray again that you will serve them, and pray again that they will receive God’s words with faith and obedience.
  • What questions will the congregation have when they read this passage? Think of the people who will hear this sermon, such as enquirers, new believers, mature Christians, wandering Christians, Christians from other Christian backgrounds, outsiders, atheists. Think of the full range from people with high Biblical literacy, to those with no Bible knowledge. When they hear this passage read-out? What questions will they have, what will they find difficult? What are they likely to misunderstand? What do they need to know, and how can they be encouraged to respond?
  • How it applies. This is the stage where you have the passage before you and you ask yourself the question, ‘How does it apply to the particular congregation to whom I will preach?’ It may help you to think of particular individuals or types of people, and ask yourself the question, ‘If they lived according to this passage what difference would it make to their lives?’

Step Four – Make it as effective as possible! 

  • Decide what aspect you will preach. Almost any passage you choose will have far more in it than you can possibly cover in one sermon. You have to decide which one aspect you will preach on. Write a one sentence summary of your theme ‘What I really want to preach on is …’
  • Write your one sentence. Write down the aim of your sermon in one sentence, and that sentence will include the content, the means, and the end or the purpose of the sermon. Use interactive language; not ‘my topic is … ‘, but, ’I want you to … because … so that … ‘Unless you can give the purpose of your sermon in one sentence, your congregation will never understand it. Write your ministry aim in preaching the sermon. Don’t just teach the word: reprove, rebuke, encourage, remind, train, exhort, and teach with love, and lots of patience.
  • Find the key words in the Bible passage, and use them in the title and theme of the sermon. This will help the congregation see the connection between the Bible passage and your sermon. Make them active instructions. Find one or two relevant pithy sayings, like ‘saved to serve’, ‘God first’, ‘loveless, lifeless’, ‘grace or disgrace’ etc, and sprinkle them through the sermon to clarify the meaning.
  • Use applicatory illustrations, which both clarify the meaning and prompt and show the right reaction.
  • Clarify and intensify the emotions, the choices, the drama, the conflict, the characters, the contrasts.
  • Prune away the rest This is a most important step where you discard what you will not preach on this time. You have to prune away what you won’t preach on, so that what you will preach on is left in simple clarity.

You have to prune away what you won’t preach on, so that what you will preach on is left in simple clarity. Clarity of thought and expression increases intensity of emotion and likelihood of response.

  • Shape what remains. Here your task is to organise your material according to the one sentence purpose you have just decided, for within that one sentence there will be a number of steps – now is the time to choose and shape those steps.
  • Arrange the application. Decide whether to leave all the application to the end of the sermon, or whether to integrate it into the body of the sermon, so that you are continually moving from the passage to the people in front of you. Or you could begin with the application, to give the congregation motivation to listen to the rest of the sermon.
  • Write the conclusion. You are now ready to write the end of your sermon which will include a summary of the sermon, that one sentence repeated, and the specific action which you expect to occur on the part of your hearers.
  • Write the introduction. Now that you written the body of the sermon, and the conclusion of the sermon, you can write the introduction. It is good to begin with a question, or a statement of the problem that leads directly and naturally into the sermon.
  • Check back to the Bible passage. You have your sermon before you. Now check back to the Bible passage to make sure that you have picked up what the passage is saying and have not read your own ideas into it.
  • Pray again. Praise God that he will use your hard work for his glory.