Anyone who faithfully preaches God’s Word always desires to grow in his ability to communicate Scripture’s timeless truths. Preaching the Bible is a high calling and tremendous privilege. It is a task reserved for qualified men, and it is means of grace for Christ’s church that must never be treated flippantly.
I’ve only been preaching since 2006, so I am by no means an expert. But I hope to share a little wisdom from things I’ve learned and things I’m still learning over the last 14 years of preaching and 10 years of pastoral ministry. I hope you find these thoughts beneficial to your own preaching.
Preaching begins and ends here. Most preachers begin and end a sermon with prayer, but I have in mind three specific ways to pray in order to focus your preaching. First, the preacher must pray for his own soul. We must remember God doesn’t accept us because of our ability to preach but on the merits of Christ Jesus alone. Pray first that your own soul would be refreshed in the gospel.
Next, pray over the text you are preaching. Pray for understanding (Psalm 119:18). Pray for proper exposition and application. Finally, pray for your hearers. Pray for them as a whole and by name. Pray that they would have open hearts to hear what the Spirit has to say through His Word.
Preaching must be a priority in our ministries. This means (usually) carving out intentional time for study. For me, the mainstay of my study is on Tuesdays. I try to mark off Tuesdays as best I can for this important task. If we don’t make a priority of preaching, it will get put off till the last minute, and let me assure you, most of you aren’t Spurgeon (who did his sermon preparation on Saturday nights)!
Let me also add this. There will be times in your ministry that preparing for preaching is less of a priority than something at hand. What I mean is, if an emergency comes up and someone in your congregation genuinely needs you, it is far better to set aside study and serve the flock. The Lord will honor this. As a general rule, 30 hours of study per preaching engagement is simply not sustainable for someone who wants to be involved in the lives of his people.
Now that you have your time set aside, whether it’s a certain day or block of time over a few days, it’s time to prepare to preach. This must begin with meditation on the Word. Generally, it’s much better to begin with saturating yourself in the text first before digging into commentaries. Work with the original languages as you are able. But if you have no skill in them, do not despair! Keep looking through the text, and it can be helpful to check a couple of translations. I like printing out the text so that I can mark it up, circle things, make notes, underline things, etc.
Good commentaries are an invaluable tool, but they can be overdone. Practically, I’ve found 3–5 commentaries workable during a given week. And really, for most weeks, it’s closer to three. Now, at the beginning of trying to learn the book well, you might consult more commentaries or resources. But if you are going to spend time working through the text and really spending good time with the better commentaries, then it will be unreasonable for most of us to try handle ten commentaries every week. Of course, there may be times when more difficult portions of texts require more time with commentaries and tools.
Organize your outline in such a way that you explain what the text means as precisely as possible. Anticipate questions your audience may have. Remember, if something is murky to you, it will be even murkier to those who hear you. Do your best to explain the text in such a way that the mind can absorb what it is you are communicating and follow the logic of your outline, and most importantly, the logic of your text. Precision is more important than a cute outline (and I am guilty here at times!).
This can be abused, but what I mean here is the preacher must preach the text in such a way that it is understood he really believes it. I don’t mean that you need to put on a “show.” And I don’t necessarily mean you have to raise your voice or whatever. I think God has equipped preachers in a variety of ways, and uses them all uniquely. Although definitely not the exact same, consider how God used James, Paul, John, and Peter to all write His Word, yet each had their own unique personalities.
So, the general rule is, preach your style. And remember that preaching isn’t merely to the hearer’s mind, but also the heart. Yes, it is the Holy Spirit’s job to deal with the heart, but it’s your job to preach the Bible in such a way that those who hear you know your affections are set upon Christ.
Here I mean, preach to your congregation. Shepherd the flock of God that is among you (1 Peter 5:2). Don’t preach to the congregation who’s not there. And don’t preach for the internet crowd (if you record your sermons). Preach to the people God has entrusted to you. This means you must know them well. It means the applications you make should be relevant to your own people.
The other thing about preaching pastorally is understanding what your congregation is ready to hear. There are hard truths in Scripture. Yes, you must not skip over any passage of Scripture! However, there are wrong ways to preach right texts.
In all of this, remember the purpose of your task. You are a herald of the King! And your ultimate goal is preaching for the glory of God. At the end of the day, we must not be so concerned that the people are impressed with our preaching. Ultimately, it must be our desire that our people are delighting in God. Of course, this means the gospel must shape our preaching—not just tacking it on to the end of a message either, but seeing the whole Bible through a gospel lens. If you, the preacher, need the gospel for your right standing with the Lord, don’t your people, too? Do not deprive them of the precious truth of Christ’s finished work on their behalf.
This has just been a quick list of things I hope you find helpful to growing in your preaching. I’d love to hear your thoughts or tips as well!