Send Network Blog
Preacher Notes: John O
I love teaching God’s Word. With that being said, let me throw out three disclaimers before I unpack what a typical week of sermon prep looks like for me.
First, my affection for preaching far exceeds my ability to preach. I love it, but I’m still learning how to do it more effectively.
Second, this blog post is all about the ideal situation. As a pastor of a church less than a year old, every week without fail something come up that threatens to sabotage my process. That’s why it’s important for me to have both these mini-goals (or checkpoints) along the way as well as times blocked off in my calendar for study. This way, I don’t schedule meetings or anything else when I should be devoting myself to study. I guard this time just as much I guard any other time.
Third, I’ve borrowed many tips from guys I respect through the years. As you read through this post, I want you to know that this amalgamation of helpful pieces of advice I’ve picked up through the years has become my own little system. You should do the same thing. Don’t copy any process wholesale. Take what works; forget what doesn’t. So here’s what the best-case scenario looks like for me, outlined by the days of the week.
Monday & Tuesday: studying the sermon text in my quiet time
When preparing to preach, I need as much time with the text as possible. I want to familiarize myself with it, but I don’t want to immediately come to the text thinking, “I need to preach something.” Therefore, the sermon text becomes my quiet time for the week. On Monday and Tuesday, I wake up to read, think and pray through the text. No pencil, no paper, no computer--this is merely a time for me to let the text work on my heart. Sometimes I take a long time with the text; other times I have about 15-20 minutes in the morning before my day begins. I really just want to read God’s Word and pray about how to address what it's doing inside my heart.
Wednesday: me, God & the text
Every Wednesday, from now until Jesus comes back, I have 8-11:30 blocked off in my calendar. This time is used to study the text. I spend the hours (with a few breaks in between) working through the text of the sermon, making observations, coming up with ways to outline the text, etc. There are no outside resources, commentaries or aides. Just me, my coffee, my Bible, my computer, a pen and a journal wrestling with the text, constantly calling out to God when I feel stuck. By the end of the day, my goal is to have an exegetical outline of the text, understand what it means and be able to communicate it in one sentence. Once I’m done, I’ll then pull in resources, aides, commentaries, etc. to ensure I’ve rightly understood the text.
Thursday: sermon outline
From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday is all about producing a sermon. My goal for Thursday is to create the sermon outline. I finish doing work with commentaries, and it’s here I’m thinking about objections and creating my introduction, body, arguments, specific applications and praying before I write out each point. I invite other people to do this with me. Young guys from my church come through sometimes and provide great insight (I've
stolen learned from Dhati Lewis and Mark Dever). My sermons have been much better when I realized that preparation doesn’t have to be a solo effort. My detailed sermon outline is somewhere between six to eight pages, or 2500-3000 words.
(A helpful tool for application that has been a life saver has been this application grid that I adapted from Mark Dever.)
Friday: day off
I try not to think about the sermon at all. I spend time with my wife, go to the movies, hang with friends, catch up on Netflix shows I’ve missed, etc.
I get up early on Saturday morning and spend somewhere between three to four hours with my outline and write out my entire sermon word for word. I NEVER take a manuscript into the pulpit with me. I usually take a brief one/two page outline. The manuscript is written for my eyes only. What I’ve learned through the years is that an outline gives me the illusion I’ve actually thought through my points completely. A manuscript forces me to actually think through and write clearly. Thoughts have a way of becoming concrete when you write them out. Before I go to bed at night, I’ll read through it a few times and make notes.
Sunday morning, I’ll wake up at six and spend about two hours drinking coffee, reading through my manuscript and praying. I leave my house at 8:50, get to the church at 8:55, pray with our church at 9:00 and go over my notes from 9:15-10. I pray with the pastors and service starts at 10:30. After I preach, I remind myself that God’s ability to use preaching is greater than my ability to preach (I forget who said it first, but as all preachers know, once you say it twice, it becomes yours), and I’ll relax the rest of the day, ready to start again the next week.