How You Prepare to Preach (1st edition)

February 7, 2007

Last week I threw out a challenge: share with others how YOU prepare to preach. Thanks to those of you who accepted the call and keep them coming.


This week I’ll publish the first of what I hope will be many, from Justin Buzzard (of Buzzard Blog). Its very informative, so I’ve kept in most of the detail. Justin, when I see the timings next to these prep steps it certainly reminds me that sermons are hard work! You can also find some further notes from Justin in the comments section.

Phase I: 6 hrs. Yellow pad

I. Step 1: Empty your head (20 min)
1. Pray on your knees. Throw yourself wholeheartedly into this.
2. Write down every sermon idea, and any pre-work, you already have.

II. Step 2: Study your text (3 hrs)
1. Note the immediate context of your text.
2. Determine your text’s genre and begin pestering your text with appropriate historical and literary question.
3. Read your text outloud 2-3 times, read 2-3 other translations, and examine the text in its original language. Any significant differences? Unusual or significant grammar? Word-study worthy words? Any important historical-cultural matters to explain? What stands out to you?
4. Write an ancient century, complete sentence (main & sub point) exegetical outline of your text.
5. Think through and jot down any significant biblical theology concerns in your text. How does your text fit in with the overall storyline of the Bible? What gaps does it fill? What hinges on this passage? Disclose your text’s relation to Jesus: is it predictive, prepatory, resultant, or reflective of Jesus? Consider using a crucial cross reference or two. Vary doing macro and micro biblical theology. Get to Christ via Theme Resolution, Law Fulfillment, Story Completion, Symbol/Type Fulfillment, or Contrast.
6. Think through and jot down any significant systematic theology concerns in your text. To what doctrines does this passage add light? How can you use this passage to make your congregation more theologically alert?
7. Identify and record the gospel of your text. What does this text say about man’s redemptive need and God’s redemptive provision? This hue of the gospel must color your sermon.
8. Write a one-sentence exegetical thesis of your text. Begin by stating the subject (What is the author talking about?—stated as a question), then the complement(s) (What is the author saying about that?—stated as an answer). Test the subject to see if it’s too narrow or too broad. Complements could later serve as main points in your sermon.
9. Consider memorizing your text.

III. Step 3: Study what others have said (2 hrs)
1. Study at least three of the best commentaries (1 technical, 1 preaching, 1 devotional) on your passage. Consult other works, if necesssary.
2. Listen to at least one sermon on your text.

IV. Step 4: Develop the sermon’s purpose & application aims (20 min)
1. Write a purpose/application aims sentence for your sermon that begins with: ‘To…’ Why is this text here? So what? What pastures do my people need to be led into? Climb the abstraction ladder. Consider the explicit & implicit, prescriptive & descriptive, public & private issues. What do you want your people to know, feel, and do? How has this text been addressing your life? Solve people’s problems with the gospel/your text.

V. Step 5: Decide the thesis of the sermon (20 min)
1. Write a sharp, memorable, 15 words or less, 21st century worded sermon thesis. Try including both doctrine and application in this sentence. Say it in a sentence!

Phase II: 13.5 hrs. Computer

VI. Step 6: Outline your sermon (45 min.)
1. Decide the approach of your sermon outline: a deductive (thesis stated up front and throughout) or inductive (asks a question/presents a problem, tension, or mystery in the beginning and moves toward a thesis/resolution near the ending) outline. Generally, have your outline reflect the form of your text. Depending on the form used, the introduction could set up the whole thesis, just the subject of the thesis, or just the first point. Main points could interrogate the thesis or the subject (could use the 5 W’s & H). The complements could serve as main points. Consider having an anchor clause and/or alliteration for main points. Vary between deductive/inductive text reading. Consider having a ‘background/text intro’ section, either between the introduction and the text reading or before the introduction. Vary where you place prayer in the outline.
2. Write your sermon outline. Use complete sentences and 21st century language for your main points/movements/principles (big pieces) and your sub points/movements/principles (small pieces).

VII. Step 7: Fill out your outline (3hrs)
1. Explain, prove, illustrate, or apply your points with supporting material. Possible structure: Explain, illustrate, apply; Illustrate, explain, apply; Apply, explain, illustrate. Link your language among the 3 components.
2. Explain and prove by flushing out unspoken premises. Give as much biblical info as the people need to understand the passage, and no more, then move on to illustration or application. Explain to believers and unbelievers. Anticipate listener’s questions (use questions to transition and set up points). Address a defeater belief or false religion in some way. Expose idols. Affirm the good yearnings in the culture/religion, but show how true resolution is found only in your text. Use complete sentences. Do any of my books offer helpful quotes?
3. Plug in illustrations that tap the 5 senses. Make biblical priniciples immediately practical. Freshly incarnate biblical truth each week. Aim to illustrate under each main point. Is there a prop that would help? Live life on the look out for sermon illustrations!
4. Plug in application under each main point or at the sermon’s close. Motivate by grace. Write out applications that are concrete and specific. Is there a command to obey? Promise to claim? Sin to avoid? Warning to heed? Fact to believe? Truth to ponder? What does this text say to the 4 soils in your church? Personally counsel the people with your text. Jeremiah 20:9
5. Plug in humor. Make ’em laugh in the first few minutes and again halfway through.
6. Plug in any additional material from your yellow pad that will help advance the thesis and storyline of your sermon. Cross off and disregard the irrelevant!

VIII. Step 8: Write a rough draft introduction (45 min)
1. Write a rough draft introduction. Come up with an involving introduction that surfaces need/tension/mystery/humor (gospel need), that makes them say, ‘Hey, I need to hear this.’ Consider using a human interest story, simple assertion, startling statement, provocative question, a catalog of information, or creating a conflict/problem.

IX. Step 9: Write a rough draft sermon (2 hrs)
1. Write a perfectionism-absent rough draft. Write like you talk. Manuscript the vast majority of the sermon, but where you don’t need to spell it out, don’t.
2. Write a conclusion. The conclusion could be the last main point. Consider reviewing, returning full circle to the introduction, or creating a climax. Don’t introduce new concepts.

X. Step 10: Write a final draft sermon (7 hrs)
1. Write a final draft. As you write, pretend you’re preaching: speak your sentences out loud and have them pass the out loud test. Emphasize nouns, verbs, and short sentences. Write with imagination.
2. Get Taylor’s take on the sermon. Good preaching should always be a little hard to take.
3. Revise your manuscript, quickly, once. Leave some things unsaid. Eliminate what doesn’t contribute to the sharp thesis of the sermon.
4. Underline.
5. Practice/edit sermon in the pulpit.
6. Get the final manuscript into your hands ASAP. Travel with it and absorb it. Internalize my message. Read before bed, read after waking up. Practice it. Memorize the 1st page. Be yourself. Free your face. Emote what the text says in pitch, punch, progress, & pause.

XI. Step 11: Preach it!
1. Give your sermon to Jesus: ‘Father, make me look good, but make yourself look even better.’
2. Preach it! Always preach with authority, joy, and humble confidence.



  1. Wow! What a great post! I really appreciated the thoughtfulness and comprehensiveness of this approach. In my own experience with doing just about anything, I have found that having a plan of approach can help me to codify my thinking better than if I just acted on my random thoughts.

    Looking at these guidelines, there’s one thing I don’t see that seems to be absent from many preachers’ planning process: input from others you trust on the final draft. I recently read about this on Josh Harris’ blog (http://joshharrisblogson.blogspot.com/2007/02/my-sermon-coaches.html). Letting others read your final draft not only brings a great perspective that one may have lost in planning, it shows great humility by allowing others to critique that which took so much work. And for someone like me, I constantly run short on humility. I usually don’t want to be corrected by others, but I always grow when others do it.

  2. Good insights! Thanks Justin and Colin!

  3. Hey Colin, glad you were able to use this.
    I imagine that some of the guys reading this post could feel overwhelmed by how lengthy my sermon prep. process is. I hope they can be encouraged to know that:

    1. This preparation outline developed over time and has been influenced by a host of sources since I first began putting this together 4 years ago. So, I didn’t sit down one day and just develop this. It’s been a work in progress for a long time. I began writing this after reading Gordon Fee’s Exegesis during my Greek exegesis class in seminary, and then over the years I’ve poured everything I’ve learned about preaching into this outline.

    2. The time allotments listed next to the steps are maximum time allotments. I can get pretty absorbed in the preparation process and so I use these times to keep me moving along, ensuring that I don’t spend more than the max on any one step.

    3. The thoroughness of the preparation outline is a reflection of 1) my high esteem of the reality that God transforms lives through the preached Word and 2) my own weakness as a young man who has a lot of learning and growing to do as a preacher.

    Maybe you could mention in the post that I’ve given some further explanation about my prep. outline here in the comments. Also, some text that isn’t really a part of my outline, but simply quotes that I like to re-read whenever I prepare a sermon made it into your post and you may want to delete them (that’s anything that appears in italics on the paper I sent you–for example, #4 under Step 10).

    Good point about getting final draft feedback. That’s #2 under Step 10 for me.

  4. Justin,
    Thanks. I obviously missed the step about feedback that you get from Taylor (your wife?). I certainly appreciate the amount of detail you put into sermon preparation. I would certainly be very glad to know that my pastor took preaching that seriously.

    Thanks for such a great site on preaching. I find this to be a very encouraging site!

  5. Great preparation checklist/sheet. I read an excellent book entitled, “Preaching with Freshness” by Bruce Mawhinney. The book is a story based on a elderly preacher helping a young, burned out preacher.

    At the end of the book, Mr. Mawhinney gives a example of a checklist to place in your Bible to remind you during the week. It is different than Mr. Buzzards.

    I may take ideas form both of them, combine them and make a new one.

    Just my thoughts…great post.

  6. Colin,
    While I think this is an excellent post featuring Justin’s preparation, I’m not sure you should slander Justin with the ugly mug in that picture! Justin is deserving of far better treatment than that! 🙂
    Grace and peace,


  7. Thabiti,

    I just wanted to show that, contrary to popular preconceptions, preachers can be handsome 😉

    Sounds like you were at an exciting conference? I look forward to reading (and listening to) more about it.

  8. Wow! I wish I had that many hours to prepare!

    Good outline however…I just have to half everything.

  9. very good,but am a begingne i have the passion to work for God,pls i need your guardians and encouragement to fifull my purpose in life.
    God be with you in Jesue name amen.

  10. my comment is that God will increase the grace and annoiting to do his work.

    • amen

  11. thanx

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