This post will be mostly irrelevant to many of you, but for the sake of aspiring elders, church planters, preachers, teachers, and others who might benefit, I thought it might be helpful to walk through my process of sermon preparation, using this morning’s sermon (Col. 2:1-5) as an example.
- Prayer. Mondays are sermon prep day. I begin the day with an hour of personal communion with God through Bible reading and prayer. If I don’t, preaching prep becomes toilsome instead of worshipful.
- Mechanical Outline. I ponder the text for the week, analyze its structure, and lay it out in a mechanical outline on my whiteboard. Fee and Stuart: “A text can’t mean now what it never meant then.” A mechanical layout makes sure I’m following the logic of the passage and not importing my own.
- Subject. I ask the first question Haddon Robinson taught me to ask: what is this passage talking about? (i.e. what subject is the original author writing about?) Subject of Col 2:1-5: Paul’s struggle/burden/longing for the church at Colossae and the others near it
- Big Idea Statement: I ask Haddon’s second question: what is this text saying about what it’s talking about? (i.e. what is the original author saying to the original audience? How would you summarize the text in a sentence?) Big Idea of Col 2:1-5: Paul longs for the church to know (riches/assurance/understanding /knowledge) Christ, so that no one will delude them with persuasive arguments.
- Fallen Condition Focus (FCF): I think through Bryan Chapell’s question: what aspect of our human fallenness does this text address? Or, to be more precise: What is the mutual condition that contemporary believers share with those to or for whom the text was written that requires the grace of the passage? FCF of Col 2:1-5: our tendency to be deluded by persuasive arguments
- Proposition: How would I restate the raw material of the FCF and the Big Idea in terms of a proposition? What am I asking people to think/feel/do? What is at stake? What am I saying to the person out there thinking, “so what?” Proposition for Col 2:1-5: Because we can be deluded by persuasive arguments, we must know Christ, in whom is all wisdom and knowledge.
- Contextualization: What do I need to do to connect this passage to my audience’s world? Contextualization for Col 2:1-5: what modern arguments are most persuasive to me and to the people of Coram Deo? (This step often requires the most work… for instance, this week, I had to think through the common arguments and find quotes and research to support them. I always want to state arguments a) in the person’s own language; b) with appropriate supporting documentation (i.e. I researched this in the library, NOT on Wikipedia) and c) in a way that would be fair and charitable if they were in the room. So, for instance, this morning I wanted to say things in a way that Richard Dawkins would consider fair if he were present.)
- Querying the Text: What about this text doesn’t make sense to me? What bugs me? What seems unclear? If it seems unclear to me, it will probably seem unclear to the people I’m preaching to. Stuff that bugged me in Col 2:1-5: the effeminate-sounding phrase ‘that their hearts may be encouraged,’ the ways Christians have used this text to justify a ‘fortress mentality’ that simply ignores or avoids the persuasive arguments of the surrounding culture.
- Gospel Connection: How does this text necessitate, foreshadow, or elucidate Jesus’ person and work? Gospel Connection in Col 2:1-5: knowing Jesus [and knowledge in the Bible is almost always existential/personal, never abstract/conceptual] is the key to not being deluded by persuasive arguments
- Gospel Implications: How does the grace of Jesus in the gospel help us to live out the teaching of this text? Gospel Implications in Col 2:1-5: ‘in him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ – in Christ we are freed from our idolatry of knowledge, so that we may experience the true riches of knowledge and wisdom. As a result, through the gospel, we are able to hold true knowledge with confident humility and gracious certainty.
Some weeks this process is easier than others. Sometimes I do a better job and sometimes a worse job of thinking through all these facets of a sermon. I am an intuitive person and so I don’t walk through this checklist from 1 to 10. But in general this reflects my basic process.
Much of the textual work takes place on Mondays. Lately I’ve been gathering with a group of leaders on Tuesday mornings to talk through the text and the sermon, so that helps to clarify and crystallize my thinking. This week’s sermon prep took place: all day Monday; one hour Tuesday morning; two hours Thursday afternoon; six hours Saturday afternoon/evening; and two hours Sunday morning before church (which are mainly devoted to prayer and practice). Sometimes it takes more work than this; sometimes less.