Forrest Gump-ing Your Way to a “Good” Sermon

This week officially begins preaching season for me. I am very much looking forward to the opportunities that have come up so far, particularly being able to get back to see my friends out at Brussels Community Bible Chapel this Sunday and at Poplar Hill Christian Church at the end of the week (both were kind enough to have me take the pulpit multiple times last summer). As I began to move from the pew (or high school auditorium seat in our case) to the lectern, one of the things that I was completely unprepared for before I started preaching was what it takes to put together a “good” sermon.

What does it take—How much time, study and prayer? Can a guy holding down a full-time job with a lovely wife and two young kids who require my attention (which I love to give), serving in his local church, maintaining a daily blog and writing a book even do it without losing his dang mind?!? (Jury’s still out on that last one, by the way.)

Perhaps the most helpful thing you can know based on my experience is there is no magic bullet to crafting a “good” sermon. Sometimes it feels like you’re Forrest Gump; you just happen to be in the right place, at the right time to be a part of something really cool that God is doing. That said, in an effort to remind myself as I prepare a message for this Sunday, I thought I’d share a little of what sermon prep looks like for a guy like me. I’ve broken it up by day of the week. I hope it’s helpful:

Monday. Pray. Search for passage from which to preach. Pray more.

Tuesday. Settle on text. Read repeatedly, work out “big idea” for message & sub-points. Pray.

Wednesday. Toss everything from Tuesday, possibly choose new text and start again. (This happens probably 2 out of every 3 messages I give). Pray a LOT.

Thursday. Work on the flow of the message—transitions, illustrations, etc. Check commentaries to ensure no heresy. Pray, pray and pray some more. Allow wife to read. Consider starting over again.

Friday. Wrap up any changes that wife suggests or that show up as I read over the manuscript. Keep praying.

Saturday. Fret and realize my complete inadequacy for the task. Pray more. Read notes again. Try to get to bed early (but most likely stay up too late).

Sunday. Pray. Eat breakfast. Pray while driving to the church. Pray with leadership at church. Preach. Nap.

That’s typically what my sermon prep “schedule” looks like. I’m pretty odd though in how I work. Often I find myself working out everything all at the same time—so I’m studying the text, writing the manuscript, and frequently praying “Lord, don’t let me say something completely stupid or inadvertently wicked.” I’m sure that’s not the best way to do it, but this is what life allows at this point. What my prep schedule has taught me is that “good” preaching relies on the Holy Spirit and on God’s Word far more than anything else, because at the end of the day, it’s only the Word and the Spirit that are going to transform hearts and renew minds.


Question for discussion: Preachers, what advice would you give to aspiring preachers?

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  • http://twitter.com/mattharmless Matt Harmless

    I always have an element of jealousy creep up when Pastors blog about their sermon prep. I am a full-time teacher at a Public School, but I am also the Pastor at a small church.  My sermon prep is reduced to after school and in the mornings.  I sacrifice sleep and TV time to get this done.  I can’t tell you how much I long for the chance to have a full week to prepare a sermon…. ah… but God is good none the less.

    • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

      I’d love it to have a lot more time as well (typically I can manage about 10-12 hours for prep), but you’re right, God is good nonetheless

  • http://mrben.jedimoose.org/ mrben

    I preach on a semi-regular basis at our church, but I suspect that the “semi-regular” bit gives me much more leeway in my prep! A good proportion of my prep these days happens in the shower, and on my 30-minute commute to and from work. The opportunity to “rehearse” in this way helps to me to fine-tune what I’m saying, and to develop my illustrations, so that when I come to actually putting my notes onto paper, most of it is already in my head. But then – I also have anything from 2-3 weeks to sometimes even 2-3 months to prepare…

    • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

      One of the things that frustrates me is that when I have too much time or when I’m done too far in advance, the message just falls flat. I’m not sure why that is; maybe having so much time makes me over confident?

  • http://ontheirshoulders.com Aron Utecht

    I serve as Sr. Pastor, and have for about 7 months now, so I preach weekly.  Previously, as an associate, i preached about 5-7 times a year.  Though much more tiring, I much prefer preaching weekly because it allows the prep time to overlap when you can put together a series.  Plus, moving through a book removes the problem of finding a text.  I just preach what is next.  And, I’m often surprised by what I find in those passages that I might have otherwise glossed over.  Ideally, I would give 20+ hours.  though, I’m also always surprised at how many other details demand my attention throughout the week.  I start on Monday and take Fridays off so that I have longer to ruminate on things. 

    One thing for sure that I’ve found is that their is no shortcut to preaching a text well.  Even if you don’t have tons of ours to devote to ‘study,’  putting the text in you mind earlier in the week allows it to ‘soak in’ in a way that makes it a reality to my own mind and heart/will.

  • Bradley Gouwens

    Hopefully as you grow in your preaching and do it more often, it takes less time. I used to take 20 hours a week to do a message, but now I only take about 5-7. Once I began preaching every week (about 45-47 weeks per year) my process became more streamlined and I developed a rhythm.
    I spend more time reading near the beginning of the series nd then less towards the end. But, I am also constantly working ahead on them next series. I plan my preaching (tentatively of course) about 12-18 months out. Seeing the bigger picture really helps me.

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