I was asked to write on the proposed topic: Preparing Yourself to Preach. I will write from my own subjective experience in the preaching ministry. I will begin with my theology of preaching, then discuss my philosophy of preaching, and finally, write about my sermon preparation process. Due to the space constraints of blogging, I will be concise on this topic.
My Theology of Preaching
Phillips Brooks defines preaching as “the communication of truth through a personality.” From this simple definition, one can say that preaching has two essential elements: truth (message) and personality (messenger). It is my conviction that preparing to preach begins with a theology of preaching, which includes the preparation of the preacher (messenger). In my Ph.D. dissertation entitled, Spirit-Empowered Witness: A Lukan Theology of Preaching, I argued that Spirit-empowered preaching is characterized by two marks: Spirit-word and Spirit-work. For a preacher to experience these outcomes in his ministry, there are certain conditions that must be met. The conditions every preacher must meet are a conversion experience, a pursuit of holiness, a call to ministry, a preparation for ministry, a commitment to Christocentric mission, and a desire for Spirit empowerment. All these conditions are achievable through the merits of the redemptive work of Jesus, not because of a person’s piety or discipline.
My Philosophy of Preaching
In preparing to preach, it is crucial that every preacher finds a preaching philosophy that honors the Triune God, the Bible, and benefits the church. Expository preaching is considered the best approach to preaching by most homileticians. Exposition simply means to expound or set forth the Word of God before the people of God. There are many expository preaching philosophies: Christocentric, Christiconic, theocentric, text-driven, Spirit-led, etc. Of these philosophies, I tend to integrate the Spirit-led model espoused by Greg Heisler and the text-driven preaching championed by the preaching faculty at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS). In the Spirit-led preaching model, the focus is on the dynamic of the Spirit and the Holy Writ. Heisler writes, “The Spirit drives the sermon along the predetermined path of the biblical text. Spirit-driven preaching culminates in Christological witness and Spirit-filled living” (Spirit-Led Preaching). Text-driven preaching, on the other hand, gives the text priority over theology. David Allen, Director of the Southwestern Center for Text Driven Preaching at SWBTS (my Ph.D. Supervisor), a strong advocate for text-driven preaching writes, “Text-driven preaching stays true to the substance of the text, the structure of the text, and the spirit of the text” (Text-Driven Preaching). It is my conviction that the Holy Spirit should drive and guide the preacher in every aspect of sermon preparation and the preacher should come under the authority of the Scriptures.
My Sermon Preparation Process
Now let me share with you some vital things I do in my sermon preparation process. Every preacher should develop a sermon preparation process or template that works best for him. This is not an exhaustive list, neither is this a sequential order. Also, keep in mind that I am still evolving in my preaching ministry.
- Text selection. The Holy Spirit has led me to many sermon texts from a plethora of sources: Bible reading and meditation, prompting in prayer to preach on a biblical book, suggestions from my wife and friends on a particular topic, or an assigned text given by a congregation. Also, a sermon text may come from events like Good Friday, Christmas, funerals, weddings, etc.
- Bend your knees in prayer. I always begin sermon composition with prayer. In prayer, I ask the Lord to prepare my heart and mind. Also, I invite the Holy Spirit to illumine and guide me in the process.
- Study the text from the original language (Hebrew or Greek). Since I am proficient in biblical languages, I read the text in the original language at least 5 times. If you are not able to read from the original language, use five different English translations.
- Engage in exegetical questions. I spend time deducing facts about the text. Grant Osborne says, “Exegesis means to ‘draw out of’ a text what it means.” In a nutshell, good exegetical questions fall into two basic categories: questions that deal with content (what is said) and of context (why it is said).
- Determine the main idea of the text. Some homeliticians call it “Central Proposition of the Text” (CPT) or “Big Idea.” This is the main heart of the text, which every preacher must discover. Haddon Robinson said the CPT should have a subject and a compliment.
- Determine the sermon objective. I believe that every sermon must have an objective. Robinson says, “No matter how brilliant or biblical a sermon is, without a definite purpose it is not worth preaching.” Is the sermon purpose evangelistic or ethical? Is the sermon purpose devotional or doctrinal?
- Determine the sermon structure. The form should be derived from the structure of the text. H. Grady Davis writes, “we cannot have a thought without its form” (Design for Preaching). In dealing with an epistle, I usually diagram the passage. This helps me visualize the flow of the sentence or paragraph. It also helps me in choosing the best form for my message. If I am dealing with a parable or narrative, I follow the plot structure.
- Develop sermonic components. After exegesis, I spend time developing the body of the sermon. Sermonic components like explanation, illustration, application, transition, conclusion, and introduction are carefully weaved.
- Write a sermon manuscript. Although I am a proponent of extempore delivery, I always write a complete sermon manuscript for every sermon. Writing helps put final touches on a sermon, and aids delivery.
A proper understanding of the theology, mechanics, and dynamics of preaching are non-negotiable. We may be experts in homiletics and preaching, however, without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, there will be no transformation in our ministry. Therefore, a Spirit-empowered witness is bent on wrestling with the biblical text not merely gathering information about the text. Conscientious searching of the Scriptures and listening to the voice of the Spirit is mandatory if one is to speak with authority. Through hearing and seeing from Scriptures, the preacher is able to speak with authority, which compels the audience to respond.
David Gambo is Assistant Professor of Christian Ministry at Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee, Oklahoma.