Believe it or not, I have never taken a seminary class. However, I have listened to more seminary classes and more hours of expositional sermons than a seminary student would ever listen to or sit for throughout their academic experience. You may then ask how I learned to prepare expositional sermons.
Honestly, if you have good hermeneutics (the art of proper Bible interpretation) and have had expositional preaching modeled to you, anyone can prepare a proper sermon. So whatever you do, never buy a sermon, steal a sermon, just give your own stories and call it a sermon, hand-pick verses to support your own thoughts, or put little preparation into a sermon. I would rather you never preach again if any of those are your “outs” instead of proper Bible sermon preparation. Because you will be judged by God according to how you prepared.
Now if you never preach in your lifetime, this post will not be worthless to you because this is the same approach that I take to my study of the Bible in my everyday life. I think God wants both preaching and daily quiet time to be glaringly similar in order to demonstrate that it is ultimately only the Word of God that has the power to change hearts and minds.
1. Read. Read the text over and over and over again. This takes time, it takes persistence, and it takes discipline. Read the entire book, chapters before, chapters after, and read the text you are going to preach on continually. Pray through the passage. Ask the Holy Spirit to open your understanding and begin to love the text that God has written to you and the congregation you will preach.
2. Context. Study the text and its context. Study its author, its intended audience, its grammatical and historical and literary structure. Find everything about the context so that you interpret the text rightly.
3. Observe. This is where you start to write down a lot. Write down every observation of the text you can. Write down your questions. Write down difficult words or phrases. Write down cross-references to the Old or New Testament. Simply observe.
4. Research. Research and find out every observation you wrote in part 3.
5. The Body. Start to write the body of the sermon. Begin by simply explaining the passage and let your love of the passage and the explanation of the passage come out while you write.
6. Introduction, Outline, Illustrations, and Culmination. I like to think of a great introduction to the sermon – one that applies in context to the main point of the passage and will truly grab your audience and prepare them to hear God’s Word in context. This should not be a joke or a funny story as much as a way to transition into the text in an engaging fashion. Many preachers like to get their outline before the body of the sermon, however I like to get my outline from the sermon itself. I find this keeps me honest to the main points of the text and therefore, anyone who studies the passage could have created the exact same outline. Adding illustrations to illuminate your points of focus are integral to explaining a text. And the culmination is how you want to end the sermon, what one point or implication do you want to leave with your congregants.
I do not like to simply give the gospel at the end like a “tack-on” as many preachers do. I give the gospel throughout my sermon (beginning, middle, and end) as I am preaching God’s Word and I give the call to repent and believe throughout my sermon as is appropriate. However, I do not take for granted that everyone listening is a born-again believer, so I never miss an opportunity for the call to put one’s faith in Christ alone for salvation.
7. Edit. I edit and edit some more and edit some more throughout the week. I also read through it and begin to love the sermon I am about to preach. There is nothing greater or more satisfying than preaching, teaching, or expositing God’s Word…and if I never take the pulpit on that Sunday, the work I did in study is not in vain.