By Matt Henslee
I was taught by some of the best preaching professors in the world. This allowed me to jump into the pulpit, guns blazing with passion and fire. I just knew it would last until the ripe old age of 80 years old—at least if raising four daughters did not put me in an early grave!
I had been a student pastor or worship pastor for nearly 14 or 15 years. Then I had the opportunity to step into the pulpit full-time. While student and music ministry brought me great joy and preaching brings me great joy, the absolute favorite part of ministry for over 18 years has been in the preparation.
Each week seemed like I was opening a gift on Christmas morning. A new week, a different passage, and a fresh chance to dig in for my folks. It was a thrill!
However, as time went on, I began to notice a pattern develop in my sermon prep: I fizzled. I would start strong! Exegeting the passage faithfully, handling each pericope with care, but then I got to the end. I faded.
I noticed myself begin to “mail it in,” especially as I made my way to the conclusion. At the very point I should be adding a large bow to the sermon with an exclamation mark the size of Texas, I am running out of steam.
So I made a change.
While I am a novice, I hope the change I made is of benefit to you. This change is simple, but it has revolutionized my sermon prep. It is an approach able to cross into business, sports, and life in general:
Begin with the end in mind.
See? I told you it was simple, but it works.
KNOW THE TEXT
Now, when I open up a brand new passage, my first few steps remain the same. Read the passage over and over, translate the passage, write the passage in my own words a few times, and then write it out from the Bible multiple times. This helps me to internalize the text and makes my next step—most times—a piece of cake.
SUMMARIZE THE TEXT
When you know the text deeply, it makes summarizing it a breeze. This is what many of my professors called the “sermon in a sentence” stage. This is the point where the main idea is discovered. The main point you will draw out from the moment you utter it to the time you conclude. (At 12:00 sharp, of course—since my mother might read this.)
While you will have other points, this is one point you want to stick. It will be the idea from which all your other points will flow.
MAP THE TEXT
Once I know my text, I mean really know my text and my main idea, I begin to map out my points. More often than not, it’s three points. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but I take the time to map it out in my notes to expand upon later.
This is also where my change took place. Usually, I would jump right into my explanations, illustrations, and applications of my points. Now I scroll down Microsoft Word a little bit and hit my conclusion out of the park.
CONCLUDE THE TEXT
Why do this? You certainly do not have to, but I do. When I was going through my explanations, illustrations, and applications at this point, I began to take the easy way out at the conclusion—sometimes even copy and pasting past conclusions so I could just be done. Lazy, I know.
Doing this pretty well at the beginning of my study time gives me fresher legs, so to speak. I am not tired, I am not ready to be done, and I am not (typically) out of coffee.
Instead, I am fresh. I’m as excited as I was when I began, and I’m writing with the passion and fire the text deserves. Since I know the text well and have my “sermon in a sentence,” I go ahead and write my conclusion during the early stages of my sermon prep.
This pays off in my studying. More importantly, it reflects in my preaching!
At this point, I am ready to return to the points I map out and explain, illustrate, and apply to my heart’s content. Since this is my favorite part of sermon prep, whether or not I have coffee left over is irrelevant.
In other words, I am right back to being a kid on Christmas morning. Opening a gift—often with internal (and sometimes audible) shrieks of joy from beginning to end.
This may not help you, but it continues to serve my people well. As you prepare, if you find yourself dragging in any point along the process, consider moving that part of your preparation up a little bit.
Do not make the same mistake I was making by “mailing in” any part of your preparation! From start to finish, let us leave our studies with zeal and enter our pulpits joyously prepared to proclaim the Word of God.