Saturday, October 26, 2013

This is really good stuff!

The Preaching Notes Series Introduction


Several months ago my friend Justin Buzzard sent me a copy of some preaching notes by Tim Keller. When I shared it with my friend Justin Taylor, he suggested I do a series of posts here on the blog where I shared not only Tim's notes but also the notes of other preachers. I thought this was a good idea. I'm often asked by other pastors what my notes look like, and I'm always curious to see how other men work.

So over the next few weeks we're going to do a series of posts that feature a brief introduction to a preacher and then a link to a PDF of the notes from one of his sermons. The PDF document will show exactly what that pastor carried into the pulpit when he preached his message. I think you'll enjoy the diversity of styles. Some men do full manuscripts; others write out much less. Most type, one writes his sermons by hand. The goal is to show pastors the different ways that preachers work and hopefully encourage them in the preaching task.

The men we've obtained manuscripts from so far include:
- Mark Dever 
- Mike Bullmore
- C.J. Mahaney
- Ray Ortlund, Jr.
- Tim Keller
- Mark Driscoll
- Joshua Harris (me)
If you are, or work with any well-known preachers, and can convince them to participate in the series by sharing an actual manuscript, please let me know. I'd love to expand this list.

So if you're a preacher, an aspiring preacher or you're someone who enjoys good preaching, I hope you'll enjoy this series.

Recommended Resource: If you're looking for a good book on preaching, my favorite is John Stott's classic Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today


Behind the Sermon Lie the Notes--What Do Yours Look Like?

Darrin Patrick more from this author »

Date Published: 10/24/2013

Manuscript, outline or notes: Every system has its strengths ... and weaknesses.

Sermon Manuscripts

Preachers aren't actors. We don't have to memorize our "script," although many effective preachers take a 12-page manuscript into the pulpit. Likewise, pastors aren't stand-up comedians. We aren't required to "take the stage" armed only with a few thoughts scribbled on a piece of paper, though many good pulpiteers use only a simple outline. There are merits and drawbacks to both of these radically different approaches.
A full manuscript allows you to craft more pregnant phrases that tend to stick in the mind of the hearer. The manuscript approach protects you from tangents that might lead you away from the main points of the text. The downside to a manuscript is that you are tempted to interact more with your notes than with God and people. It’s harder to follow the prompting of the Spirit when you are locked into a specific direction.

Using Outlines

The benefits of an outline are that you keep the big picture in front of you and tend to consistently move in that direction. Using fewer notes means that eye contact and interaction with people will happen more frequently. Many folks who use outlines say they go into the pulpit with a sense of freedom and confidence that they might not get with a manuscript.
The downside of an outline is that it is easy to miss important details of the text. Outline preachers tend to preach longer because they are tempted to chase thoughts that occur to them in the preaching moment. Also, off-the-cuff humor and illustrations are usually underdeveloped and might not convey your intended meaning.

Something In Between

I use something between an outline and a manuscript. I write out certain parts of the sermon verbatim. The parts are phrases that I think will help expose the text, phrases that will stick with people. I often close the sermon by leaving people with questions to chew on. When I do this, I write them out very carefully and usually project them on a screen to focus the congregation on the questions.
But I also step into the pulpit with bullet points that highlight the big ideas I want to communicate. This allows me to keep the sermon moving forward in a logical flow, and more importantly, leaves room for me to hear from the Lord in the "preaching moment." I can camp out on a particular verse or skip a particular illustration as the Spirit leads.
There is not a prescribed biblical manner for preparing and delivering your sermon, which means you have freedom to explore your particular style as you prepare a sermon and proclaim the gospel.
You may enjoy taking a look at this blog series by Josh Harris, where he posts the preaching notes of several well-known pastors, showing you what they take with them into the pulpit.

Darrin Patrick
Darrin and Amie have been married since 1993. They have four children: Glory was born in 2000, Gracie was born in 2002, Drew was born in 2006, and Delainey was born in 2009. In 2001, Darrin and Amie moved to St. Louis and planted The Journey. Pastor Darrin's first book, Church Planter, was released in August 2010, and his next book For the City, written with Matt Carter, is set to be released in spring 2011.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

This is the third post on sermon illustrations that I had the opportunity to write for The Gospel Coalition. (The other two are here and here.) I hope it helps you to write impactful illustrations for your sermon this Sunday!
Many pastors find illustrations to be the most challenging part of preaching. Challenges can seem hard when you don’t know how to meet them. But when you get the hang of something you discover it’s not so bad after all.
We experienced this when mom or dad unscrewed the training wheels. We experienced this as we fumbled through changing our firstborn’s diaper the day she was born. But it wasn’t not long before we were popping wheelies and changing diapers in our sleep (literally).
Perhaps illustrations seem impossible to you. Your failed attempts end up with a trash can overflowing with crumpled pieces of paper. Your basketball shot has dramatically improved, but your sermon? Not so much.
While illustrations will rarely come easy, there is a way to make them easier: using a sermon illustration template.
“A template?” you ask. Isn’t that formulaic? Isn’t that inauthentic? Isn’t that uncreative?
Before you go Muhammad Ali on templates, let me point out that you already use templates for your worship service: welcome, singing, sermon, and benediction/closing. Your sermon has a template, too: introduction, body, and conclusion.
Far from suffocating preachers, the constraints of templates focus creativity. And with focused creativity you will write illustrations faster and better.
This template lays out six steps of an illustration. Each step starts with “C,” which hopefully makes it memorable.
Hop over to TGC to read the rest.
(Image credit)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Your Unchurched Neighbors Don’t Want a Watered-Down Sermon

Carey Nieuwhof more from this author »

Date Published:

Can you craft a message series for unchurched people and still be faithful to scripture?
Can you craft a message series for unchurched people and still be faithful to scripture?
Can you preach to a room full of churched people and unchurched people at the same time with the same message and help them both take a step in their faith?
Without a doubt, yes.
The question is how.
While a blog post can’t exhaust the subject, let’s get started and tackle the biggest issues in creating a message series that connects with unchurched people: angle.
Preaching to unchurched people is not about watering down content, preaching "baby" sermons or avoiding hard subjects.
It’s really all about the angle you take on a subject.
Let me give you a recent example.
I wanted to preach through a biblical book recently, and I picked Esther.
I could have called the series Esther. But that would have been, well, interesting to people who like the book of Esther.
So, after thinking it through, I called it “Your Big Moment.”
After all, that’s what happened to Esther (and Mordecai, and Haman)—she had her big moment, when she least expected it. Because people can relate to wondering about whether or when their big moment will come, we found an angle that worked for churched and unchurched people. And I managed to cover the story of Esther in the process.
The problem with most message series is that they are focused on what the speaker wants to say, not what the listener wants to hear. If you only want to ever reach Christians, that’s a great strategy.
If you want to engage unchurched people, in my view, it’s a terrible strategy.
So where can you get ideas to find the angle?
Obviously, you should talk to unchurched people … but in addition to that, here are five ways you can stay on top of what people in your culture and community are thinking about:

1. The Amazon Top 100 List

Check out the Top 100 of 2013 to see what your neighbors are already thinking about.
Finding six books on eternity and near death experiences on the list caused me to create a seven-part series called “Afterlife.” The series resonated deeply because so many unchurched people were already investigating the issue on their own.

2. Movies

This doesn’t mean you have to do an “At the Movies” series, but it does mean what people are watching gives you a clue as to what they are thinking.
Horror movies are perennially popular. I really don’t like horror movies personally, but in crafting a series for 2014 on evil, I’m going to make sure we cover our culture’s ambiguous attitude toward evil: On the one hand we dismiss it, on the other hand we simply can’t.

3. Media Coverage

The media cover certain issues again and again. One of them, for example, is financial uncertainty.
If you’re talking about money, for example, research stories that talk about how financial uncertainty impacts average families daily. Household debt levels, being underwater on a mortgage, having expensive car payments and saving too little for retirement are issues that people are struggling with right now.
Provide solutions and talk about it biblically.

4. Google Trends

I learned about this Google feature from Rich Birch (so many helpful insights and tips on his blog and new podcast). With Google Trends, at any moment you can see what people are searching for on Google. That will get your mind racing.

5. Magazines

Next time you’re at the supermarket, scan the headlines of the magazines by the checkout. Again, you may not want to do a series on 101 sex tips, but when we did a series on sex a few years ago, it led me to call one of our messages “Sex Tricks.”
Interesting, isn’t it? In the end, it was all about how sex tricks us when we remove it from the context of marriage. The subjects these magazines cover again and again connect with people and give you clues into what’s on their mind.
Once you have started to get a sense of what’s going on around you, there are five things to consider as you draft the series:

1. Frame What People NEED To Know Within The Context Of What They WANT To Know.

There’s what people want to know. That can easily drive a topical series on issues like suffering, relationships and even creating a better life.
But then there’s what people need to know, like specific teachings, doctrines and even sections of scripture. That’s where the angle becomes everything. For example, when I read through Psalm 101, I knew I wanted to preach it.
But how do you angle a psalm? The psalm is all about how David crafted a life of integrity and how he deleted certain influences from his life while saving others. We called the series Save and Delete, and dangled this question in front of people: Can you delete certain people from your life?

2. Look For People Issues.

Churched and unchurched people struggle with pretty much the same things.
They have relational issues, financial issues, personal doubts, health concerns and insecurities. They feel like God is more distant than he needs to be. They struggle at work. And when they’re incredibly successful, they struggle with thinking there has to be something more.
When you connect on those issues, you connect with everyone. Christian and otherwise.

3. Don’t Be Trendy, Just Be Relevant.

If you talk about the current NFL season a lot or title a series after what’s number one at the box office today, your series has a tiny shelf life. It will go stale within weeks or months.
But let the trends point you to the ongoing issues underneath. Every number one romantic comedy points you to the underlying tensions of love and relationships.
Angle the series from that perspective and you will always have an audience.

4. Cover Only One Issue With Each Message.

Don’t do a three-point or 30-point message. Do a single-point message (more on that later this week). Reduce each week to a single point and make most of your series three to eight weeks.
Less than three weeks is not really a series. More than eight weeks and you’ll lose people’s attention. Covering one main idea per week makes a series far more memorable.
As is often said, the person who makes three points in a talk makes no points.

5. Title It With The Invitation In Mind.

This one’s key. If you title your series “5 Signs You’re an Emotional Disaster,” how on earth is someone who attends your church going to invite his friend to it?
So we called a series on love “Like It or Love It” and wrote it up this way:
What do you mean when you say you love someone? What should you mean? You say you love chicken wings, but you also love her. Can one emotion cover both situations? Where’s the line between liking and loving? We’ll explore Christianity’s radical teachings about love in a way that can change what you like, what you love and how you live.
So much easier to invite your friends to.
I hope these are helpful.
What are you learning about writing series for unchurched people?

Carey Nieuwhof
In addition to serving as Lead Pastor at Connexus Community Church north of Toronto Canada, Carey Nieuwhof speaks at conferences and churches throughout North America on leadership, family, parenting and personal renewal.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Preacher's Gut-Check About Your Sermon

J.S. Park more from this author »

Date Published:

After you have your three points, consulted all the commentaries and fit in your illustrations, then it's time to get real.
Fellow pastors and teachers and leaders: I know the frenzy of Saturday night when you’re scrambling to get your sermon just right.
After you have your three points, consulted all the commentaries and fit in your illustrations, here are a few checks to consider that have helped immensely.  

1. Is God Big?

People can tell if your God is small. If you quickly browse through your sermon, either He’s big or you are. Either He is in total control, the supreme authority and highest glory—or something else is.
In my first year, I made the mistake of referencing myself too much while skimming the surface of God’s nature. I randomly plugged Him in to “baptize” the sermon. 
But people want to know that God is sovereign, powerful, wise and loving. They want to climb the mountain of Isaiah 40 with you. God is the point of your sermon. 

2. Is Jesus Sufficient? 

Psychology is great, but not the answer. Stories will help, but are not sufficient. Doctrine is essential, but not enough. 
Jesus alone is the King of the Universe, the sustainer of galaxies and orbits and atoms, the fulfiller of biblical prophecy—but he’s also close to the heart of struggling believers, the single moms, the suicidal teenagers, the confused college student, the rebellious pagan. 
Your Jesus must have his feet to the earth. He is a person and not a concept. He must be for us, and more importantly, glorious in himself.

3. Is The Cross Visible?

If there is no Gospel, you’re not preaching a Christian sermon. Period.
There is Good News, which is the truth, or Good Advice, which is moralism. We do need Advice, but it must be built on the foundation of the News. Don’t be afraid to say words like sin, salvation, wrath, repentance, crucifixion, resurrection and rapture.

4. What’s My One Sentence?

In seminary, we called this the 3 a.m. test. It’s when someone were to wake you up at 3 a.m. and ask, “What’s your sermon in one sentence?”
If you’re not sure, try putting your sermon into a single question and answer. For example: “What does God say about my anger?” or “How do I know God loves me?” 

5. Simplify.

This is the hardest part for me. I always overwrite. I try to cram all my findings and statistics and stories into one sermon. 
But over time, I’ve learned that this can kill the momentum of the message. While I still tend to fatten a sermon, I’ve been learning to cut anything that does not support the main point of the message.
There is always next week. I don’t have to say everything on one Sunday.
I also place all the deleted parts of a sermon in an “edit” file to save for later. As they say in the writer’s world: Be willing to kill your darlings. Make every word count. 

6. Do I Love My People?

As I prepare a message, I pray over the people. I think of their faces, their struggles, hopes, ambitions, hurts and dreams. I ask God for a heart of grace and patience for them.
If I don’t love my people, Apostle Paul says nothing I do matters anyway (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). There are plenty of preachers who deliver dynamic truth without loving a single person in the congregation. 
Instead of looking for a tweetable one-liner, pray for a heart of love toward your people. I pray for God to soften my heart so I remember whom I’m talking to, and to remember they are like me: a sinner in need of mercy, thirsty for the Word.

7. Praise God After You’re Done.

I know the neurotic moment after a sermon when you regret all the things you’ve missed and all the awkward stuff that came out of your mouth.
I know how it hurts to see people not listening to the fantastic truth of the Bible.
I know the feeling of inadequacy and limitation and weakness, thinking, “I’ll never be as good as these megachurch preachers”—which is exactly what megachurch preachers think, too. 
My friend: You won’t get this preaching thing right every time. You will make mistakes. You will have missed opportunities. You will never preach a perfect sermon (only one did). 
But praise God for the mighty privilege to share God’s Word with your people. Praise God that a group of fellow human beings would even give you the time of day. 
And prepare better for next time. 
Pray up. 
Read more.
Listen to good sermons. 
Sharpen your craft. 
Love your people. 
It’s OK to evaluate yourself, but don’t stay down. Even if you don’t see the fruit of your preaching, it’s not about that. It’s none of our business to know how God is working in people anyway.
Preaching is for His glory, regardless of outcome, and God is working in you yet. 

J.S. Park
J.S. Park is a former atheist/agnostic, fifth degree black belt, recovered porn addict, and youth pastor in Tampa, FL. He has a B.A. in Psychology from USF and a MDiv from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also has a German shepherd named Rosco, can eat five pounds of steak in one sitting and gave away half his salary this year to fight human trafficking. He blogs regularly on his main site and his Tumblr for struggling Christians.


Friday, October 04, 2013

Does Your Preaching Make a Difference? Eight Transformational Keystones

Phillip Nation more from this author »

Ministry Development Director, LifeWay Christian Resources

Date Published:

Our preaching should make a difference. But where and how? Here are some critical markers.

Church leaders—particularly pastors—are constantly looking for ways to deliver transformation into the lives of those they lead. But at times the very nature of a transformed life seems to elude us. Even with a solid theological basis for stating how God transforms a life through redemption, we can feel at a loss as to what these transformed lives look like.
The early church needed these same lessons. Both a doctrinal understanding of the work to bring us to Christ and the work to shape us to be like Christ are needed—and both need to be learned. My purpose in this article is to point toward the second issue of the equation: how to help believers live a transformed life. It is an issue that leaders and followers alike must wrestle through: How do I live out the spiritual transformation that has occurred in me?

What Is "Transformation," Really?

Transformation is not about attaining a spiritual standard. A righteous standard is given to us by Christ at the moment of salvation. It’s not about the impossible task of mimicking every action of Jesus. It is about recognizing the life of God within the believer and how to respond to the work of God’s Spirit within us.
When I say “eight marks” of the transformed life, I do not mean “steps.” They are not a process for self-actualization or a legalistic path to holiness. These are signposts of God’s intention, i.e., for Christ to be fully formed in us (Galatians 4:19). The goal is Christ Himself, and as church leaders it should be our goal as well—for ourselves and the ones we lead. Once our hearts are fully set on Christ, our lives will then reflect Him in how we live.
Each day, the believers in your church struggle with the contrast of who they were, who they are to be in Christ, and who they seem to be in their daily lives. Paul wrote to the Roman believers ensuring them that the Holy Spirit would continually work to fully form the image of Christ in them. So when I say “marks,” I mean the biblical indicators of the transformation that already occurred to bring about salvation and are also regularly occurring to develop the character and image of Christ within us (Romans 8:29 and Galatians 4).
This distinction between steps and marks is not a small clarification. It’s a critical distinction and leads down two very different paths. It might be characterized as the difference between what I am doing for God and what God is doing in me. Transformation is about God doing something in me—and me cooperating with Him.
Transformation is not like a cherry tree trying to change itself into an orange tree. It’s about a cherry tree trying to grow up into what it is meant to be—a cherry tree. As believers, we are not trying to become something we’re not. At conversion, we became new creations. Our ongoing transformation is therefore about living out in real time what has been secured for all time. As Paul said about the Corinthians, you used to be immoral (1 Corinthians 6:11), but you were washed! The old has gone, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17)! Christ lives within. Transformation is living by faith in Him within us (Galatians 2:20).

A Picture Of A Transformed Life

We’re not trying to conjure up transformation. It’s within us, and we are to “live toward” it. But in doing so, it helps to know what the transformed life looks like. So what does the transformed life look like?
My mind turns to Romans 12 to find a picture of a life transformed by God. Paul wrote eleven chapters of deep doctrine outlining the mystery of the gospel, and then, with Romans 12:1, he launches the early believers into a rapid-fire understanding of living out their spiritual transformation. This chapter displays eight marks that can serve as guideposts in directing believers toward a transformed life.
1. Surrender
Teach surrender rather than treaties. The first verse of Romans 12 tells us to be “a living sacrifice.” The problem with living sacrifices is that they squirm on the altar. We need to remind believers to utterly surrender to God’s plans, not strike a treaty for trading favors.
The lesson of surrender often begins with leaders. Whether as a pastor or in a different role of leadership, your life must be an example of living for God’s agenda first, allowing personal desires to fall away. The example of worship as a living sacrifice is where much of our transformation begins. As the leader, be the first to climb on the altar each week.
A transformed life is marked by willing surrender.
2. Renewal
Renew their thinking. In 12:2, the transformation is highlighted as an exercise of the mind. Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount that murder and adultery are committed internally long before acted upon externally. For believers to live out the change brought about by redemption, a spiritual mind is required.
How often has a member of your congregation or Bible study asked, “How can I know the will of God?” The simple solution is to give them the proper starting point—renewing their minds. As we point them toward the life of Jesus in particular and the Scriptures as a whole, their minds will come into alignment with the thoughts of God.
A transformed life is marked by renewed thinking.
3. Service
Help them embrace and activate their gifting. As Paul transitions from doctrine to practice, his thoughts jump quickly to how all are gifted to serve the church and Christ’s mission (vv. 3–8). But serving in the mission of God is too often understood as a “one size fits all” endeavor. And most believers do not feel as if they fit.
Living the transformed life means participating in the disciple-making process for others in the way God has personally called and equipped you. Empowering believers to serve in the place for which they were designed allows every Christian to aid in others’ transformation.
A transformed life is marked by humble service.
4. Love
Push love to the forefront. The word “love” is terribly abused in our language. Perhaps it is because we only have one word to refer to our love for a spouse, children, sports team and pizza. The emphasis necessary for living out our transformation is to understand the purity involved with the Christian ideal of love (vv. 9–10). It is the love more associated with a hero’s death than a romantic comedy’s fairy tale ending.
For most of us, it is the removal of hypocrisy that must come first. And one of the most effective means to do this is by guiding believers into closer community with one another. As they are forced to honestly deal with one another’s lives, the character of Christ at work in them will force the choice between love of others and self-preservation. Ask them to look for ways to “outdo one another in showing honor” (v. 10). Love is essentially the choice to value the need of another rather than our own. Though simplistic as a definition, it becomes a manner of living that runs counter to the world.
Transformation shows up in many forms in believers’ lives, but love is one trait that Christ clearly said would distinguish our lives from the rest of the world.
A transformed life is marked by genuine love.
5. Diligence.
Help them be determined. The triplets of verse 11 say, “Do not lack diligence; be fervent in spirit; serve the Lord.” It feels cliché and trite to say that the Christian life is not a sprint but a marathon. However, it is still true. The imagery throughout the Scriptures shows that God’s people must persist. In our culture, determination is rarely the norm.
Christians sometimes need help understanding how discipleship has much to do with delayed gratification. Over the summer, I traveled twice to Europe: once to do mission work with refugees, and once to speak to a group of missionary personnel from eight countries. In both instances, I appreciated the determination necessary to work in that region of the world. Ministry to refugees in Eastern Europe who have escaped from oppressive regimes is not quick work. It requires patience to win their trust and lead them toward Christ. Similarly, the work by leaders and pastors in Western Europe requires patience to crack through the irreligious cultures of places such as Belgium and Portugal. Rarely do they encounter people ready to accept any form of spirituality. It requires a determined spirit.
In the U.S., determination is still required. In a culture obsessed with instant-everything, fervency seems to be something best left to the Puritans of yesteryear. But someone changed by the gospel learns to persist. Transformation brings about a steadiness that eventually results in the internal fruit of maturity and the external fruit of new disciples.
A transformed life is marked by determined diligence.
6. Perspective
Show them the proper perspective. How you view life is how you will carry out ministry. Where verse 11 deals with persisting in service, verse 12 carries the impact of moving through difficulties. “Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer.” These three statements all require the initiation of faith in our lives.
True gospel transformation requires faith. We believe that, through faith in God’s grace, one becomes a disciple of Christ. But faith does not have its ending point at the moment of conversion. Faith is required to please God (Hebrews 11:6). It is through the lens of faith that believers should see the work of God and their own lives. Knowing that we are often bruised by life, the perspective of faith allows us to see beyond present circumstances. In showing believers the life of faith, it must not only be painted as a hope for things to come in eternity. Faith is an active portion of how we view the current condition of life. It is the recognition within the community that life is difficult, but not impossible.
Living out transformation requires the perspective that “my” strength and ingenuity will never be sufficient. They were not sufficient to secure my soul for eternity, and they will not be able to get me through the years of this life. Faith is being convinced that God is there and He is for us. Maintaining a perspective of faith will keep believers in a state of reliance on Christ, and it is in this active reliance that living out our transformation is possible.
A transformed life is marked by a perspective of faith.
7. Community
Keep believers in community. The bulk of Romans 12 deals with how believers relate to one another. From verses 13-20, a model is given to us for remaining close to one another. The language of the passage points to the needs we have: sharing, hospitality, blessing, weeping, peace, hunger, thirst. Meeting these needs for one another is where transformation shows itself.
But for needs to be met, community must be valued. I live in a place called a community. It has geographic boundaries and a name. But I can promise you that we are not all in community with one another. The citizens of my community argue about how tax money is to be spent, in what order the roads should receive repair and where the next school should be built. We are a community that is not often in community with one another.
But as a leader of believers, you have a unique opportunity. It is your place to bring together those who are individually transformed by the gospel, so they may share their lives. Though people show an inherent desire to be in community, they will often substitute proximity for relationships. In order to weep with someone (v. 15), you have to be more than physically near them. We must pursue transformation in order to take on the heart of Christ, who wept at the tomb of a friend. Community is the place that catalyzes change.
A transformed life is marked by living in community with believers.
8. Righteousness.
Model for them a life worthy of the gospel. The final verse of the chapter reads, “Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good” (v. 21). Having served small, mid-sized and large churches, I can sympathize with you that evil seems to hang around churches. In fact, it seems to have a particular fondness for church leaders. Evil tempts us, goads us and mocks us. And in moments of weakness, we come close to throwing our hands up and walking away. But we do not, because Christ has done too much on our behalf.
The very nature we have been given is that of righteousness. In his second letter to the Corinthian church, Paul taught that we had been given the ministry reconciliation because God “made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Our lives—both lived and in leading—should show that we are more interested in displaying Christ’s righteousness than gaining a transitory victory over someone’s ill will toward us. We are guaranteed righteousness, so don’t waste your life messing about with sin.
We are taught, “For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29). The issue of “Can I be righteous?” is to be removed from the minds of the believers. Instead, our thought each day can be, “How will Christ’s righteousness be displayed in me?”
A transformed life is marked by righteousness.

Beginning Again

The marks of a transformed life are merely the signs of Christ’s presence in us. They are the witness of the Spirit’s work in our lives. When we see these marks, it is because God keeps His covenant to conform us to the image of His Son. It is the place to which many of us should return in how we lead the church.
It is a great privilege to walk in the midst of those given new life in Christ and see God’s constant work in their lives. As we lead the believers and churches entrusted into our care, let’s do so with the mindset that God is not hoping to initiate transformation, but that He has guaranteed it for His people. Leading people from keeping rules to enjoying Christ will once again deliver them toward His transformation.

Phillip Nation
Philip Nation is the Director of Ministry Development for LifeWay Christian Resources. He has served in pastoral ministry as a church planting missionary. Philip is the co-author of Compelled by Love and the author of Live in the Word.

Last week I surveyed how long well known pastors – like Keller, Piper, and Driscoll – take to prepare their sermons. The discussion in the comments was fantastic. One commenter, Andrew, posted an interesting thought:

“This was really interesting. I’d also be interested to hear a similar breakdown from faithful, small church pastors. May give those of us who are not outrageously gifted a more helpful barometer!”

So I emailed faithful pastors who I know personally to see if they’d be willing to shoot me a couple short paragraphs of how they prepare. They each gave me a detailed description of their process, and I offer their thoughts here for you, and I list some ways they surprised me at the end.

These guys are not lead pastors of megachurches. They have not any published books. They don’t have atop 200 church blog. But they are good pastors who shepherd their people well.
How does their process compare to yours? Is there anything you can take from their sermon prep methods and incorporate into yours? Do they do anything you disagree with?

Jeff Brewer (@jnjbrewer), Lead Pastor of Hope Fellowship in Lombard, IL
My normal sermon prep for Sunday starts on Tuesday mornings in our staff meeting. We ask questions about the text, look for a theme, and talk briefly about application. After the staff meeting, I read the passage, start a Scriviner document, and begin to write down initial thoughts and outlines. I also try and read books that I think might be helpful to my thinking. I don’t read commentaries at this stage. On Wednesdays I’ll get in the text and read the passage again. In the mornings during my devotionals I’m praying for my heart to be softened as I prepare and study.

I typically block out all day Thursday and Friday for sermon prep, hoping to have a manuscript done by mid-day Friday. On Saturday night after dinner, I edit the manuscript and print out my first draft. I wake up at 5:00a.m. on Sunday morning and read through the manuscript as I am making coffee, marking in the margins what needs to be cut, fixed, or moved. I also typically scribble some additional application that has been on my mind through the night. I type out the changes, print out a new copy, read it through one more time, and head off to church to worship with the congregation.

Chris Spano, Sr. Pastor of Trinity Community Church in Bowie, MD
Although it’s not “sermon preparation” per se, the most important part is prayer. In his excellent (but now little known) book, Homiletics and Pastoral Theology, W.G.T. Shedd describes the ideal prayer life of a preacher:

“The most holy and spiritual teachers and preachers in the church have been remarkable for the directness and frequency of their petitions…Some of them began their day with hours of continuous supplication, and then interspersed their [study] with brief petitions.”

I plan my week to imitate this ideal. I’m not a great preacher, but without lots of prayer, I would be a terrible preacher.

During the week, I spend 12-18 hours preparing a sermon between Tuesday and Thursday. Sometimes I slip into Friday. I begin with exegesis from the original languages. Then I consult commentaries, formulate a sermon outline, theme, and aim, write a full manuscript, give the manuscript to both my wife and my father to scrutinize, heed their wisdom, and then finish the sermon. On Sunday morning, I arise early to pray and mark up my manuscript like a Greg Beale/Scott Hafemann overhead (let the reader understand).

Jason Hill (@pastorjasonhill), Lead Pastor of Gospel Life Church in New Braunfels, TX
I generally spend 15-20 hours on the sermon. My prep time is concentrated in the later part of the week. The closer I am to Sunday, the more I am able to focus. As crazy as it sounds, I do real well Sunday mornings getting up at 3 am. I’m not one to sit at a desk for hours on end. I like to go for a run, a walk, or a hike, and I stop and type a note on my iPhone when a thought comes. I can’t tell you how many times while running that I get an “aha!” moment.

I do not look at the original languages, not because I don’t care to, but because I only took two days of Greek in Bible college. I observe the text, crying out to God for help to locate the main idea. I consult commentaries for help when needed, but I try to wait as long as I can to do so. The excitement of studying God’s word is seeing something that you discovered personally, with the Spirit’s help. When this happens, I find myself more eager share with my church. I preach from a manuscript to keep my train of thought.

Brandon Levering (@BrandonLevering), Lead Pastor of Westgate Church in Weston, MA
I spend roughly 18-22 hours preparing my sermon each week. My preparation is usually spread over several days, here and there in between meetings and other responsibilities, with usually at least one day set aside entirely for writing.

My preparation begins with exegetical work (3-4 hours). Lately I have been working in the original languages less than I would like, but I consult the Greek or Hebrew for difficult questions or differences among English translations. My goal at this stage is to get a feel for the structure, identify the main theme, aim, and fallen condition focus and raise interpretive questions to wrestle with (1 hour). I then move on to commentaries. By the time I’m halfway through a series, I look mainly at four or five that have been most helpful (2-4 hours). I create a general outline of the sermon, including where I need to illustrate and apply points (1 hour). The bulk of my time is given to writing the sermon. I produce a full manuscript, and follow it pretty closely on Sundays. I write a sermon once (as opposed to writing and rewriting), so it’s a slower process, especially as I work out bringing the passage to bear on life (10 hrs). I try to finish by Thursday or Friday. I invariably tweak a few things after a day or two (1-2 hrs). On Sunday mornings I spend time in praying over the manuscript, and familiarizing myself with it so I’m not enslaved to it.

Jeremy Vander Galien (@jvandergalien), Lead Pastor at Trinity Evangelical Free Church in Ripon, WI
I have been lead pastor for six years, preaching at a rate of 46 sermons per year. At about year four I settled into my current sermon prep groove. I spend between 12 and 15 hours on sermon prep. I begin Monday morning and end two hours before I preach on Sunday. Monday through Thursday I get into the office at 8 a.m. and study until 11 a.m. This time consists of prayer, reading about preaching, and actual sermon prep.

My method of sermon prep is nothing spectacular. On Monday I read the entire book I am preaching out of (currently Revelation), and then read and re-read the text I will preach on Sunday (Revelation 2-3). I take notes in Evernote. On Tuesday I re-read the text and work on context: how the text contributes to the book and local context, how the local context contributes to my preaching text, the main idea of the text, and how the sub-points contribute to the main idea. I conclude Tuesday with an initial attempt at an outline. Wednesday I read and re-read the text, and then read between 2 and 5 secondary sources and commentaries. By the end of Wednesday I have a complete outline. On Thursday morning I read and re-read the text, and then write a full 4-6 page manuscript, which takes 2-5 hours. Friday and Saturdays are off days for me, though I am constantly mulling things over in my head. I get into the office by 6 a.m. on Sunday morning. After a time of Bible reading and prayer, I read the manuscript and make necessary adjustments. I take the full manuscript to the pulpit on my iPad.

Garrett Nates (@garrettnates), Pastor of Discipleship Ministries at College Church in Wheaton, IL
The number of hours that I spend on preparing a sermon is between 12-15 hours. I find that I have to marinate my soul in the text, having an internal dialogue with God and His word on an on-going basis. I typically begin my sermon preparation on Monday afternoon, and then spend the bulk of Wednesday and Thursday in sermon prep.

 I read the English text and it’s surrounding context multiple times, and then print out 2-3 copies of the text from and mark it up like crazy. I list numerous initial observations and end the day with a first shot at an outline. On Wednesday, I continue to make observations, but move towards interpretation and in depth word studies. I am not proficient in the original languages so I use Logos. I nail down a theological proposition, main points, and how to preach the gospel from the text. Finally I consult one or two trusted commentaries. By the end of the day I have a solid outline. Thursday is a big day for me, as I write out a full manuscript of my sermon. Throughout the week I look for ways to illustrate the text, and now I pull those out of the toolbox. My goal is to end the day with a full manuscript. On Friday, I go over and over my manuscript, almost to the point of memorization, so that I deliver it naturally. I have recently begun preaching from my iPad and I use Adobe Reader. That app allows me to highlight in various colors to represent a main point, supporting biblical passages, and illustrations. I can also write directly on the sermon manuscript.

 Some surprises

1. Each pastor writes a manuscript. I thought for sure there would be some disparity here. Not so much.
2. Two guys, Jeremy and Garrett, preach from an iPad. Has anyone else done this with any success? I’m personally scared stiff of the idea!
3. Everyone in this post prepares throughout the week, with Sunday morning playing a key role in most of the pastors’ schedules. This is the case for me, too. I thought I’d a few more end-of-the-week types like Jason.
4. I expected more tech talk, but there was a definite lack of focus on apps and programs. They were mentioned, but not emphasized as much as I thought they would be. (Although I didn’t expect this from Spano. He’s not even on Twitter!)

Some takeaways

1. Don’t rely on commentaries to do your interpretation for you. Each of these pastors does their own work first, and then digs into their books.
2. At the very least, have a really good idea of exactly what you are going to say on Sunday morning. You don’t have to manuscript, but none of the pastors above are winging it either.
3. Be yourself! I was comforted that no one in this post apologized for the preacher God has made them to be. By God’s grace we are what we are.
4. Pray! Prayer was a common theme in these vignettes, and for good reason. Preachers don’t change people’s hearts, God changes preachers hearts. He just happens to do it through preachers. To him be the glory.