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When a pastor friend confessed that he frets before preaching a series in another church—"Should I preach this? Or that? Or the other?"—I smiled in memory of doing the same. I must have given myself ulcers from the anxiety of those days.

What cured me? Prayer. I'm not in the least implying my friend does not pray sufficiently; I'm only confessing that prayer changed everything for me. Once I know what the Lord is telling me to preach, I do not ask again but get on with the preparation.

Second is doing the Bible study. Let me illustrate from a real-life example of preparing a message from Romans 12. I already had the basic outline: this chapter, I am fully convinced, is a well-rounded description of a healthy church. The first two verses—"present your bodies a living sacrifice"—deal with the most basic of considerations, the personal commitment of every person to Jesus Christ. Verses 3-8 describe a congregation in which the members all have spiritual gifts, know what they are, and are exercising them well. And verses 9-21 present the various kinds of relationships among the members. I aimed to intertwine and interrelate these themes so the listener could easily see how God's people are to be related to Him and to one another.

Clearly, just the Bible study portion of this sermon could easily take an hour. However, a pastor simply cannot tell everything he knows about a text in a single sermon. Otherwise, the pastor's preparation will extend beyond reckoning, and the actual sermon will extend into Sunday afternoon.

As I reflected on the Romans 12 text each morning during that sermon's preparation, it occurred to me that I am the product of a healthy church, which was the role model for the seven churches I've served over nearly a half-century of pastoral ministry. What's more—and this was the insight which made me realize it was from God—I was present the night that church began to self-destruct. I actually witnessed my home church beginning to die, and even today, the memory of the experience saddens my heart.

Telling these two stories in a sermon could take 15 minutes each, easily. And I did plan to tell them. These two experiences were crucial in the formation of my heart's burden about this message—and that's often something that does not appear through the fog of my brain until a couple of weeks into the preparation. Only with this realization could I settle on the message's focus of helping the congregation treasure, work for, and protect the health of their internal relationships.

I should interject here that this was not the only message I was working on at the time, nor do I usually work on only one sermon at a time. Each morning after working on the Romans 12 sermon, I would move on to other messages, all of them in various stages of preparedness.

Finally, on the Thursday before the Sunday I preached the sermon, the Lord showed me the outline for the sermon. (I am not saying loosely or casually that "the Lord showed me." I believe He is in charge of every detail of a sermon, if the preacher will lean on Him sufficiently.) He gave me three points to illustrate the themes from Romans 12: Foundation, Framework, and Finishing. I organized the supporting statements from the passage for each of the points, and only then did I begin to craft the actual text of the sermon.

Now, was the sermon ready to be preached? Not even close. If I had stood at that moment and preached the sermon as it existed in my head and heart, it would have easily taken two hours. I was a long way from preaching it.

At this point in the process, I typically take some walks or a drive—solitude in the car is a great time to go over a sermon—and preach through the message several times. Each time, I get a better feel for what needs to be included, emphasized, or omitted in the sermon. I also comb the books in my study looking for supporting insights, in this case on church health. Some were helpful, but most were not. This research does not comprise a great deal of time; it is frequently done in spare moments when I am taking a break from something else. This last portion of the preparation—practicing and refining the message—is just as Holy Spirit-dependent as any other part. "Unless the Lord build the house"—and that's what I was trying to do in this message with the Foundation, Framework, and Finishing—"they labor in vain who build it." (Psalm 127:1)

Suffice to say, preaching is hard work and not for sissies. It's definitely not for the faint of heart or couch potatoes. Now you see why we keep encouraging churches to pray for their pastor!



Dr. Joe McKeever is a preacher, cartoonist and the retired Director of Missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans. Currently he loves to serve as a speaker/pulpit fill for revivals, prayer conferences, deacon trainings, leadership banquets and other church events. Visit him and enjoy his insights on nearly 50 years of ministry at JoeMcKeever.com.

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Dr. Gordon Myrah

commented on Aug 17, 2009

Dr. McKeever is right on the mark. I have served God, as a parish pastor, for an equal amount of time. It is truly incredible how the Holy Spirit has led me to preach His thoughts having a profound effect upon the hearers. Right on! Preaching is not for the faint of heart, but the rewards for a good job are simply out of this world! :)

Tom Shepard

commented on Aug 17, 2009

Two very simple processes that can not be ignored: Prayer and Bible Study. Our preaching is a reflection of our walk with God. Thanks Dr. McKeever.

Jeff Strite

commented on Aug 17, 2009

An excellent article. In addition to what Mr. McKeever has said, I've always been helped by building my sermons on questions: Why did God do something "this way" rather than "that way?" Why does God mention what one person coes versus what another person accomplished? I list all the questions I can think of and then list all the possible answers I can think of. The insights this gives me allows me to preach sermons that work on my heart as much as on the hearts of my audience.

Sam Peters

commented on Aug 17, 2009

Excellent topic, excellent description. My wife and I were just having this discussion yesterday after the morning message. Some believe that a pastor can stand there and open their mouth and words come flowing out. Few appreciate the many hours of preparation needed to prepare an appropriate sermon for the day - "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver".

Johnny Wilson

commented on Aug 17, 2009

My first encounter with Pastor McKeever was through his cartoons. They were "prophetic" in the most Biblical sense, cutting through my pretensions to challenge me toward holiness. I also either heard Dr. Bisagno make his comment at a convention or heard a tape of it at some point. It's always bothered me. God usually has me spend more than two hours just dealing with the text (usually translating it to help me "hear" it better). And, I often spend time during at least the week leading up to a message by taking looks at what other people say--not to grab quotations or illustrations, but to feed me (and sometimes challenge or confirm the direction I sense God leading). And I never consider a sermon to be complete until God gives me the assurance that it has come together. Thank you, Joe, for showing that there is more than one way to be open to God than to expect instantaneous (2-hour ready) sermons. I have preached with only a few minutes notice and believe God guided me to text and gave general direction very quickly (building on what God had already given me at other times), but to make a practice of "extemporaneous" preaching is, in my view, irresponsible. Hope that doesn't spook anyone else's horses. ;)

Grant Mathes

commented on Aug 17, 2009

Thank you. Dr. McKeever is correct, prayer & Bible study. I do the same I go over my sermon until I own it& yes I depend on God's Direction. After all I am the messenger & I bring the King's message, not mine. Thank you again.

David Henderson

commented on Aug 17, 2009

I am definitely a fan of Joe McKeever. My good friend Ken Gabrielse served with Joe on staff in Louisiana. I have met Joe on seneral occasions. He is the real deal!

Bill Butsko

commented on Aug 17, 2009

I want to personally thank Dr. McKeever for his comments concerning sermon preparation. I thought I was the only "slow poke" in sermon preparation. Prayer and study are certainly mandatory if one is going to properly and respectfully present the Word of God. Dr. McKeever's article was outstanding. Dr. Bill Butsko

Warren Lamb

commented on Aug 17, 2009

How timely this is. Ironically. the Lord lead me to preach the same passage yesterday, focusing on the same theme. Perhaps there is more than meets the eye happening here. My own preparation takes a considerable amount of time as well - it is more a matter of God preparing me than me preparing the message. Thank you, Dr. McKeever, for your timely, honest, and challenging contribution once again.

Wayne Lawson

commented on Aug 17, 2009

Dr. McKeever, I really enjoyed your article. I just shared with the church yesterday that I spend 7-10 hours in preparation to preach a 30-45 minute sermon. I was sharing with them the "behind the scene" life of a Pastor/Minister. It warmed my soul to have read your article. Every Blessing On You, Dr. Wayne A. Lawson

Sligo Baptist Church

commented on Aug 18, 2009

Sat in seminary chapel and heard a speaker tell the student body that a Sunday morning sermon should take 60 hours of preperation!! Would be hard to get much congregational/community-care accomplished.

Elizabeth Smith

commented on Aug 18, 2009

My two favourite occupations are preaching and cooking. I have a small, but Word-hungry congregation.I can spend quite a long time preparing a special meal for my loved ones. I spend at least 8 to 10 hours, and sometimes more, preparing what I hope is a healthy spiritual meal for our hungry people.Dr McKeever has just reassured me that this is fine. I too begin by seeking God's guidance. When the inspiration seems slow in coming, I remind Him that it is HIS word for HIS people. He always passes on the info!There have been times when I have not been listening or concentrating. I've decided on a subject, and then had to revise my choice to keep in line with HIS plans. What an amazing God we have. Thank you, Dr McKeever for your most helpful article. God Bless You.

Keith B

commented on May 24, 2012

Thank you sir. Good article, and some good things to think about.

Anthony R. Watson

commented on May 24, 2012

Wonderful article. I spend about 12 hours in sermon preparation. For me, it's a labor of love. I have a prescribed system that I follow, and it works for me. I did pick up a few pointers from this article, for which I am truly grateful.

Paul Barreca

commented on May 25, 2012

Great words Joe. Thanks for sharing your personal experience. Every preacher can relate to the things you shared. Keep praying, studying !and preaching the Word.

Jason Williams

commented on May 25, 2012

What's interesting to me is that, for smaller/medium sized churches especially, is that people want the pastor that delivers the 'home run' message each Sunday, while at the same time, visits every sick person, teaches a class, goes on mission trips, etc. If only they could understand how much effort goes into a great, well-delivered and properly prepared message! Thank you for this post!

Steven Farless

commented on May 25, 2012

<<What cured me? Prayer>> amen. we don't talk about it enough, but our best sermons do not come from the study, but from the closet.

Brad Brought

commented on May 26, 2012

Although I am not a pastor, it is not because I don't want to be. I fill the pulpit when my pastor is away. I wiill be graduating from Bible college (Bachelors) in Dec '12. I usually take about twenty hours to prepare a sermon or a SS lesson. My struggle comes from my insceurities as a person/man of God. I think that this inadequecy pushes me to "better" in other ways, such as "over-preparedness" to make up for the inadequecy of insecurity. I get so nervous before/during my presentation that I am afraid to let my indwelling Spirit out to reign and have control over the delivery. So, all that to say this; it takes me a long time to prepare a sermon/SS lesson and I have found (am learning) that prayer is the best tool of all, FAR AND ABOVE EVERY Hermeneutical class I have ever had to take. ( And I am in one right now!!) To God be the glory!!!!!

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