Last time, we looked at all of the stuff that can get in the way of sermon preparation. Now we’re going to start getting down to the nitty-gritty of sermon preparation, and we’re going to start by looking at all of the stuff that, in my opinion, ought to be happening in the background.
But before I delve into those things, let me reiterate that this is my process; yours may look different. In fact, it probably does. Don’t take away from this series that there’s only one way to prepare your sermons. However, there are certain things that should be common across the different processes and methods.
All of the stuff I’m going to talk about today forms the background for your sermon prep. All of the nuts and bolts of preparing the sermon we’ll call foreground, and we’ll start dealing with that soon.
1. Bible Reading
Brothers, read your Bibles. Yes, I know this seems so basic that it ought not need to be mentioned, but in the pressures of pastoral life, the first thing that’s likely to get squeezed out is your own devotional life. It’s awfully hard to feed Christ’s sheep when you yourself are starving. Yes, I’m being dogmatic about what our evangelical brethren would call your “daily quiet time.” I’m just going to call it personal worship. This needs to be happening daily. Ideally, it needs to be the first thing that happens in your day. Get up, get dressed, brush your teeth, and read your Bible. Before you check your email. Before you look at your smartphone. Before you check Facebook or Twitter.
I’m not going to be dogmatic about the amount you should read, but you must read.
Beyond this, read with a pen and paper at your elbow. Have some sort of writing implement and a legal pad, or notebook, or even just Post-It notes handy. It won’t happen often (unless you’re peculiarly blessed), but on occasion, you will read a passage of Scripture that will just…it will fall open before your very eyes. It’s as though it outlines itself. When this happens, you need to get it down on paper that very instant. Don’t trust your own memory.
Part of this habit, in my opinion, needs to be daily bible reading, not just in English, but in the biblical languages. My own habit is to begin my day with 30 uninterrupted minutes in my Greek New Testament, and end it with the same in my Hebrew testament. I know it seems like this is asking a lot; I know, as well, that the first things that most pastors lose right out of seminary is their Hebrew. For most, Greek is gone almost completely within 3-5 years. Brothers, if the Word is the sword of the Spirit, then the languages are the scabbard. If you can’t get the sword out of the scabbard, how can you hope to use it?
The other thing that gets squeezed out in daily life, right after personal worship, is prayer, and this is especially true for pastors. It ought not to be so, but it is. I don’t know a single Christian who is satisfied with their prayer life, and that’s no less true when that Christian is also a pastor. Couple prayer with the reading of Scripture, and do so daily, and we’re off to a good start.
3. Family Worship
It is at this point that my distinctively Reformed piety is showing. It is incumbent upon Christian husbands and fathers that they daily lead their family in worship to God. This was the conviction of our Reformed and Puritan forefathers; it was the conviction of Joshua (Jos. 24:15). God desires to be worshipped in our homes, brethren. He desires that every home be a church in miniature.
It should be your habit to sing to God, read a chapter of the Scriptures (ideally, two chapters), and offer prayer to God together with your wife, or with your wife and children if you are a parent, every single day. It will help prepare both them and you for worship, not just on the Lord’s Day, but for worship in eternity as well.
I’d like you to note that apart from my desire to have ministers read the Scriptures in the original languages, there’s nothing here that isn’t incumbent upon all Christians, not just on ministers of the Gospel.
Now that we’ve handled the daily acts of piety, next time I want to look at the other pieces of the background to your sermon preparation.