Sermon preparation is to the preacher what meal preparation is to the homemaker – no sooner is one prepared and served than it is all to do over again. How old it gets. How can I prepare something fresh? Something that they will like? Something that will provide a balanced diet? How can essential but distasteful dietary elements be palatably prepared but still retain essential vitamins and minerals? Fortunately for the homemaker, there are recipe books and meal planning aids that enable her to keep attractive and nutritious meals on the table and still keep the house clean and run the family taxi. But what does the preacher do? A sermon outline book provides skeletal information and organization for themes selected by someone else for other people and other occasions. Commentaries provide more than skeletal information, but it is neither organized for a sermon nor adapted to a specific audience. How can the preacher prepare two sermons week after week, month after month, year after year, and maintain his congregation’s appetite and spiritual health?
While there are many aspects of sermon preparation that vary from preacher to preacher and even from sermon to sermon, there is one immutable rule – a price must be paid; the preacher must be dedicated to the task. It must be his first priority. The sculpting of the sermon is the work of an artist. All preachers can dream of great sermons; it requires love’s labor to make that dream come true. The preacher must constantly keep the sermon seed in his mind, water it, weed it, nourish it, sweat over it until the wording is precise and persuasive, and then get it in his mind (harvest it) for preaching. There are no shortcuts. There are no substitutes. The price must be paid. The only question is whether the preacher will pay it in preparation or the congregation will pay it in listening.
Sermon preparation is the preacher’s first priority. He has no higher duty. It is the air he breathes, the food upon his table, the life-blood in his veins. Great preaching is the result of great study. Success in preaching is no different from success in any area – ten percent inspiration and ninety percent perspiration. Great football coaches may owe some success to the inspiration of game day, but if there is no game plan, no discipline, or no execution of the game plan, then there is only a group of inspired losers. As many a fired coach will testify, adrenaline provides inspiration, not illumination.
If a preacher preaches to three hundred persons on a given Sunday morning for thirty minutes, he occupies 600 person-hours of time. That is twenty-five 24 hour days or seventy-five 8 hour work days. What right does any preacher have to step into the pulpit and consume such time without adequate preparation? An unprepared preacher steals time. It is no wonder that Paul exhorted the young preacher Timothy that he must “give diligence” (“study,” KJV) in order to be a workman who did not need to be ashamed.
Certainly preachers will more easily find preparation time in some weeks than in others. Some weeks the sermon will almost leap into the mind without the intermediation of long hours of study. Such serendipities will be more than balanced by the occasions when the river of originality turns into a desert. The late Carroll Ellis, who was chairman of the speech department at David Lipscomb University and an outstanding preacher, once said that the preacher ought to be permitted to get in the pulpit on occasion and say, “Brethren, this morning I have nothing to say.” Probably every preacher has sometimes felt that way. If he has not adequately prepared, he says the same thing in different words. It just takes him longer.
You Must Hear the Gospel
You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17)
You Must Believe
You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)
You Must Repent
You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)
You Must Confess
You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)
You Must Be Baptized
Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!
You Must Be Faithful Unto Death
Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)