I went to the office early to work on my Thanksgiving sermon before the rest of the team arrived. I stopped by the Waffle House on the way.
As I sat at the counter, a man in a nearby booth asked, “Is that Psalm 100 on your file.” It was. I was working on several projects at the same time. And I had marked Psalm 100 real big across the folder.
I told the man I was working on Psalm 100 to preach for Thanksgiving. With a confused look, he asked, “So do you write your own sermons?” When I answered affirmatively, he was shocked.
He went on to tell me that he did not think preachers wrote their own sermons anymore. He assumed most preachers got their sermons from the Internet. He even told me about a preacher friend of his who writes and sells sermons to other preachers.
I did not have much to say in response. I didn’t know what to say.
As if he did not believe I prepare my own messages, he asked about my church location and service times to “come check me out soon.” Then he told me he would let me get back to my work.
What made him assume preachers steal their material from others, rather than doing the hard work of sermon preparation? Was he right? Do you write your own sermons?
The Apostle Paul charged young Timothy…
“Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2).
To “be ready,” you must first get ready. A commitment to preach is a commitment to prepare. A burden to preach without a discipline to study is a desire to perform.
If the Lord has called you to preach, he will give you something to say. You will not have to make it up. But you will have to look it up.
As you prepare to preach, you should learn from the wisdom of others. It is arrogant to refuse to learn from others. Any text you choose to preach has a record of centuries of interpretation. And we are blessed to have access to the thinking of faithful preachers around the world today.
There is no excuse for us to ever go to pulpit unprepared. We should take advantage of the available resources to help us mount the pulpit armed with a clear and faithful message from the word of God. But we should not build our pulpit ministries on another man’s work.
Of course, there are times when a preacher is in a jam. The week gets away from you. And you need help to get through Sunday morning. But that should be a place you visit on occasion. It should not be the place where you live from week to week.
Study the Bible for yourself.
Pick a biblical text. Ask the Lord for illumination (Psalm 119:18, 34). Gather your resources on that text. Then get to work. Read and think and study until you God-intended meaning of the text becomes clear. Don’t let distractions undermine your study time. Stay in the seat until the hard work is done. Personal Bible study is essential for effective sermon preparation. Moreover, it is essential for your own sanctification. Do not study the Bible just to get a sermon. Study the Bible to draw closer to God. Then preach from the overflow of what you learn from God’s Word. The one who steals preaching material from others robs himself of the fruit of personal devotion.
Craft the sermon for yourself.
After you study the text, your work is not done. You still have a ways to go get from text to sermon. Pages of study notes are not a sermon. Your exegetical data is the raw material of the sermon. But the truth you have learned from the biblical text should be clearly communicated. The sermon should have a crafted thesis, big idea, or main point. The message should have purpose, unity, and movement. Think through your sermon introduction and conclusion. Prayerfully work through relevant application points. Find illustrations that open windows into the text. As you have read helpful points, quotations, or stories from others, use it where it fits. Give credit where credit is due. But don’t build your message around someone else’s work. When you stand behind the sacred desk to preach, be a voice, not an echo.