On Preparing Sermons: Stott’s Wisdom

From Josh Harris, from John Stott (reduced for this site):

Steps for Preparing a Sermon

1. Choose your text and meditate on it.
- Read the text, re-read it, re-read it and read it again.

2. Ask questions of the text.
- What does it mean? Or better yet, what did it mean when first spoken or written?
- What did the author intend to affirm or condemn or promise or command?
- What does it say? What is its contemporary message? How does it speak to us today?

3.Combine diligent study with fervent prayer. 
- All the time you study cry humbly to God for illumination by the Spirit of truth. Like Moses, “I pray you, show me your glory” (Exod 33:18), and Samuel, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Sam 3:9).
- Stott: “I have always found it helpful to do as much of my sermon preparation as possible on my knees, with the Bible open before me, in prayerful study.

4. Isolate the Dominant Thought of the Text
- Every text has a main theme, an overriding thrust.
- A sermon is not a lecture, it aims to convey only one major message
- The congregation will forget details of the message, but they should remember the dominant thought, because all the sermon’s details should be marshaled to help them grasp its message and feel its power.
- Once the text’s principle meaning has been determined, express it in a ‘categorical proposition.’

5. Arrange Your Material to Serve the Dominant Thought
- The goal is not a literary masterpiece, but organization that enables the text’s main thrust to make its maximum impact.
- Ruthlessly discard irrelevant material

6. Remember the Power of Imagination–Illustrate!
- Imagination: the power of the mind by which it conceives of invisible things, and is able to present them as though they were visible to others. (Beecher)…
- Beware of illustrations that draw too much attention (to themselves instead of the subject) or which actually take people away from the main point.

7. Add Your Introduction
- It’s better to start with the body so that we don’t twist our text to fit our introduction.
- Stott: A good introduction serves two purposes. First, it arouses interest, stimulates curiosity, and whets the appetite for more. Secondly, it genuinely introduces the theme by leading the hearers into it.

8. Add Your Conclusion.
- Conclusions are more difficult. Avoid endlessly circling and never landing. Avoid ending too abruptly.
- A true conclusion goes beyond recapitulation to personal application. (Not that all application should wait till the end–the text needs to be applied as we go along.)

9. Write Down Your Sermon

10. Edit it Again

11. Pray over Your Message
- Stott: “We need to pray until our text comes freshly alive to us, the glory shines forth from it, the fire burns in our heart, and we begin to experience the explosive power of God’s Word within us.”

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://www.dennisredwards.com Dennis

    I still like this. should #12 be “memorize it?” just asking

  • Rob Henderson

    Good stuff. I especially like #6 and find that more of challenge for me personally.

    I find that my preparation for sermons is ongoing year around. Some ideas make the cut and others don’t. My advice to younger pastors is this: read, read, read- your Bible especially; know your congregation; be in tune with God constantly.

    Sermon ideas from the Holy Spirit can come from anywhere. I have a friend who was at a fast food joint and when the cashier asked, “Is this for here or to go” he was suddenly struck with inspiration.


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