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How John Piper Prepares a Sermon

John Piper more from this author »

Desiring God

Date Published: 6/3/2011
What I take into the pulpit on Sunday is about 10 double-spaced pages that are so marked up they look like chicken scratch, and they function as my outline while I'm talking.

How do you go about writing your sermon manuscripts?

My pattern is not to be followed by anybody except those who are wired exactly like I am, which is probably no one. We are all so different. When I teach preaching to the guys, I really stress, "Look how I do it and take that into account. But please don't try to imitate me, because it might not work for you."

This is my approach. If I know my text fairly well and it is familiar to me, I don't work on it until Friday. I pick out the title and text either weeks or days ahead of time because I have to get it to the worship guys by Tuesday. But I don't study it, and I don't write or work on a sermon until Friday morning. I devote all of Friday to sermon preparation.

If I need to I will stay up all night. I've never stayed up all night on Friday, but I've stayed up until 2:00 AM when I didn't know what I was going to say and needed more time to study. Or I might get an interruption because of a ministry crisis during the day that is totally unexpected, which causes me to stay up late studying on Friday. The nights are always there as buffers; however, I almost never stay up that late.

So I start on Friday by putting the text up on my computer in English-Greek or English-Hebrew. I read through the original language, getting all the help I need with my mouse. I will also have a half-sheet of paper in front of me on the desk where I write out the text and make comments as I go. As I write out the text, I'm praying, "God, show me what's here for my people. Show me what's really here, not something in my head that I force inside the text. Let me see new things that I've never seen before."

And as I write, for whatever reason, I see things. The pen, the computer, the Greek, the Hebrew, the writing it out. I circle things and make little comments in the margin. The little half sheet looks like an absolute jumble when I'm done, and I've generally got a whole slug of questions that can be answered. I've got lines drawn all over the place.

Then I step back and say, "Lord, what am I going to do with all that? I could talk on that for three hours, but I've only got 35 or 45 minutes to do this." In prayer and thought some of those circles come together, and I say, "OK, I'm going to make those two, three, or four points." And I take out another sheet of paper and try to figure out how those points should fit together. Backward? Forward? Should I start in the middle? All of this may happen by lunch time.

Then I eat lunch, and when I get back, I put up my word document and I just start writing. I take my thoughts that I scribbled out and I compose straight on to the computer, editing as I go. As I write I think and preach out loud, feeling it and praying. That takes four, five, six, seven, or even eight hours to get written. And after it is written I print it out and go to bed, or go to be with Noel or whatever.

Then Saturday after lunch, after Talitha and I go to Leanne Chin or Jimmy John's, I come home and I really go to work on internalizing it with all my little markings. What I take into the pulpit on Sunday is about 10 double-spaced pages that are so marked up they look like chicken scratch, and they function as my outline while I'm talking.

It works for me. Most people who hear I do it that way say, "No way can I start on Friday." Or, "No way can I take a manuscript into the pulpit and not have it be canned." No problem. Wear your own armor, not mine.


John Piper

John Piper is the Pastor for Preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, and studied at Wheaton College, where he first sensed God's call to enter the ministry. He went on to earn degrees from Fuller Theological Seminary and the University of Munich. For six years he taught Biblical Studies at Bethel College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and in 1980 accepted the call to serve as pastor at Bethlehem. John is the author of more than 30 books, and more than 25 years of his preaching and teaching is available free at desiringGod.org. John and his wife, Noel, have four sons, one daughter, and an increasing number of grandchildren. 

Remember your audience are not "my people". If they are born again they are God's people. If not, they are in the kingdom of darkness and need to be delivered to the Kingdom of the Son of His love. [delete comment]
I'm also a a great believer in distracting myself while my brain gets on with the task of interpretation. An article to read, or clean, or a game to play, for 5/10 minutes ONLY. Then voila, something new! Requires discipline though, but then what doesn't! [delete comment]
Adrian L. Bacarisse of Immanuel
June 6, 2011
It's great to read that young men are still going to the orignials, praying over the Word, and actually writing manuscripts. I'm retired after 50 years, a Lutheran, and taking the opportunity to visit in a number of my Christian brothers and sisters fellowships. Many seem to be off-the cuff, ill-organized, and not too in touch with their text. Some timess 20 minutes is long, more music and entertainmnet. In my own background and and across that the spectrum. Looking forward to sitting at Platt's feet soon. [delete comment]
Rick Ramsey
June 5, 2011
That is fine if you only have 1 sermon to prepare. I have to teach Sunday school and preach twice on Sunday. It is very difficult to do all that in one day. [delete comment]
Very helpful, and level-headed advice. Thanks brother! [delete comment]
David Alderson
June 3, 2011
Pretty interesting way of approaching sermon prep. I know it won't work for me because I am still fairly new at sermon prep and I generally get started on Monday's and work on it little by little as the week goes on and I continue to pray... To each his own I guess... [delete comment]
Steve Birch
June 3, 2011
Praise the Lord for honesty, sensibility, and originality! We've all had the mantra of 10-20 hours prep time for a sermon drummed into our heads for so long, it is refreshing to find a fellow pastor who says, "God can do it in less!" Balance is so incredibly important in our ministries! We have so many other responsibilities screaming for our attention - I'm relieved to find that someone of prominence does their sermon preparation later in the week and with fewer hours involved than most sermon pundits would approve. [delete comment]

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