Preparing a sermon is one of the most gratifying and the most difficult tasks you’ll ever face. There is joy in finding meaning in the text, in finding structure, in developing just the right outline, in discovering the perfect illustration. But there is also labor and, at times, intense spiritual warfare. I am a relative newcomer to preaching, and as I’ve prepared sermons I’ve relied on others to teach me how to pray and how to prepare. Here are two lists that have been very helpful to me. I combine them into what I affectionately call my Preacher’s Cheat-Sheet.
Praying for a Sermon
A couple of years ago Mike McKinley shared "8 Ways to Pray During Sermon Preparation." I found those eight ways to pray tremendously helpful and have been following them ever since. I pray in these ways at the beginning, middle and end of my time of preparation.
1. Lord, please help me to understand the meaning of this text and how it points to Christ.
2. Lord, please increase my love for the people who will hear this sermon.
3. Lord, please give me wisdom to apply this text to the lives of the people in our congregation.
4. Lord, please use this passage to help me grasp and love the gospel more so that I might help my hearers do the same.
5. Lord, please help me to see how this passage confronts the unbelief of my hearers.
6. Lord, please help me to be obedient to the demands of this passage. Help me to enter the pulpit having already submitted my life to this truth before I preach it.
7. Lord, by your Spirit please help me to preach this sermon with the necessary power and with appropriate affections.
8. Lord, please use this sermon to bring glory to your name, joy to your people and salvation to the lost.
Preparing for a Sermon
Along with praying during sermon preparation, I also wanted to develop a checklist of sorts—but not a guide to help me exegete the text or make sure I have properly found and preached Christ from it. Rather, I wanted something to use as I near the end of my preparation to ensure what I have prepared is well-structured and will avoid missteps that may prove hindrances to my listeners. I spoke to seasoned pastors to find what they do, then I developed this checklist which I like to run through when the sermon is nearly complete. I also return to it shortly before I preach the sermon.
1. Have you prayed for yourself and your listeners?
2. In one sentence, what is the point of the sermon?
3. Does the sermon have a clear, easy-to-follow outline?
4. Can you express your outline in a way that makes sense and explains the big point?
5. Has every theological concept or term been defined or explained?
6. Is there a clear gospel call that expresses the gospel in a fresh way?
7. Have you spoken to the children?
8. Are there places you have planned to pause, or to decrease or increase volume?
9. Is there anything that can be removed for the sake of clarity and concision?
10. Does every point have at least one helpful illustration?
11. Have you included some good turns-of-phrase?
12. Have you considered how the sermon will speak to people who are: discontent, divorced, abused, addicted, mourning, in a difficult marriage or other difficult circumstances?
13. Is there something to jolt the regular, committed sermon-listener?