The task of preaching God’s Word remains a constant challenge and joy to me. One of the books that has most shaped my approach to preparation is John Stott’s Between Two Worlds. In particular, his chapter “Preparing Sermons” provides a roadmap for the journey from Scripture text to delivering the sermon.
Stott concedes that sermon preparation “is a very subjective matter” and that “there is no one way to prepare sermons.” Still, he believes that there are “six stages through which, in one way or another, most of us find it necessary to pass.”
1. Choose your text.
Possible factors for choosing a text include: the liturgical calendar, events of public interest, pastoral considerations, and personal considerations.
2. Meditate on it.
This step involves discerning both the text’s meaning (original intent) and its message (implications for today).
3. Isolate the dominant thought.
Every passage has one main theme. And every sermon must leverage “only one major message.” This is the primary way in which a sermon differs from a lecture. After hearing a sermon, people are expected only to “Remember the dominant thought, because all the sermon’s details have been marshalled to help them grasp its message and feel its power.”
4. Arrange your material to serve the dominant thought.
This involves discerning the structure (which should neither be invisible nor intrusive), and choosing words that are simple, vivid, and honest. It also involves using illustrations, the most effective of which are “anecdotes, culled from history or biography, from current affairs or our own experience.”
5. Add the introduction and conclusion.
The introduction must do two things: arouse interest and introduce the topic. The conclusion focuses the personal application of the sermon.
6. Write down and pray over your message.
Stott advises that preachers manuscript their sermons, but then “reduce the manuscript to notes, and take these into the pulpit with us.”