In this series of posts, I am revealing a practical guide to go from a blank page to ready for Sunday in seven steps. If you work through the seven action steps in this series, you’ll have a sermon written and be ready to go. In Part 1 of this series we looked at step one which was to determine a topic, title and hook. If you haven’t checked out that post yet, find it here. For today, let’s dive into step two:
Once you’ve selected a passage of scripture to work from you should begin studying it first. If you are working with a topic and you need to find where the Bible addresses it you could use BibleGateway.com, YouVersion.com or Biblehub.com to search for passages that deal with that topic. It’s good to anchor your message to a particular passage of Scripture and then pull in other supporting texts as needed to support and bolster your points.
In Howard Hendricks’ Living By The Book: The Art and Science of Reading the Bible, he details a simple three-step process to study any passage of Scripture. I have used this as a basic framework for years. It will streamline your process of studying a passage and really grasping what it teaches. Here is Hendrick’s method:
In this step you simply read the passage and make notes about everything you see. What is it saying? What arguments does it make? Look for connecting words like, and, but, therefore, and so that. These show cause and effect. Look for verbs as they show what’s happening. In short, spend a lot of time reading and re-reading the passage as many different ways as you can and write down everything that comes to mind about what you see. It’s important to pray through this process and let the Holy Spirit teach you something about the passage before you move to other sources such as commentaries and Bible handbooks.
This step takes it to the next level and asks, What is the meaning behind what it says? What truths does it point to? This is when you look for the way it fits into the whole of the Bible. You’re looking at context: what comes before it and after it in the Bible. You’re looking at the history and culture of the time it was written to get an accurate picture of what it means. This is when you would begin looking at commentaries and using the helps in a good study bible. I recommend the ESV Study Bible and IVP Bible Background Commentary for the New Testament to get you started. You can also check out the IVP Bible Background Commentary for the the Old Testament if you’re working through an old testament passage. But there are a lot of free resources online at the websites I mentioned above.
Lastly, in this step you are looking for how the passage applies to everyday life. The great thing about this process is that if you’ve done the two previous study steps you will have a rich understanding of what the passage says and what it means. It will naturally flow that you see all the variety of ways it applies. It is important to consider people in all different spiritual conditions, life-stages and from all different backgrounds and experiences. Write down everything the comes to mind about how your listeners could be able to apply the scripture. Some questions to consider: Is there an example to follow? Is there a command to obey? Is there a truth to embrace? Is there a next step to take? These questions will help you get application ideas flowing.
Let’s take a look at our example sermon on Worry. For this sermon I focused on Philippians 4:6-7 which reads:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Working through the steps above I studied intently what this passage says, what it means and how it works. I’ve discovered among other things, that there is a command “Do not be anxious” which has a actionable step attached to it “In prayer, give your concerns to God.” which has a corresponding promise “God’s peace will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” I’ve determined what it means in context and studying the culture of that time. I’ve checked with commentaries to make sure my assumptions are not off course.
Finally, I’ve written down a list of ways people can use this passage in their lives and put it into action by obeying the command, embracing the promise and as a result experience peace.
If you want to discover more in-depth how to put these methods into practice, check out my new book Become A Preaching Ninja: Sharpen Your Skills, Hone Your Craft, Maximize Your Impact as a Preacher. It dives deeper into this topic and provides you with a systematic, streamlined approach to sermon prep and delivery that will save you time and help spur your listeners toward life-change.
A quick note before we move on to the next step. You will not use EVERYTHING you discovered in your study and that is fine! You want to be working from a wealth of knowledge on the topic not a deficit. If you attempt to preach on a text about which you have only a cursory knowledge you will find yourself stumbling through it trying to solidify your thoughts on it in the moment. This is not good for you or your listeners.
Typically I will use 25-30% of what I studied. Why not 100%? Because the sermon would be three hours long. So why study so much? The more you gain a command of the subject matter the better you’ll be able to teach on with ease. Your biggest problem will be overcoming the curse of knowledge which we dealt with in another series of posts.
In our next post we’ll dive into step 3. For today, take a passage and work through the steps outlined above. What did you discover? Is this different than how you’ve studied the Bible before?