By Adam Bailie
In his first inspired letter to the Corinthian church, the Apostle Paul says,
“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5 ESV)
Fellow preachers, I propose to you that the best preaching ends up with people who are meeting with God and who are amazed with the power of God through the message delivered to them, more than they’re amazed at a messenger or deliverer. I am convinced that applicational expository sermon preparation is essential to the aims that Paul embodied with the Corinthians. The sermon we must prepare can then be defined as “public, biblical proclamation that derives its message exclusively from the intent of the author and conveys implications specifically for the life of the hearer.” In order to help us toward that end of applicational expository preaching, I want to encourage you with five sermon evaluation questions that will directly inform your preparation for the next sermon you are entrusted to deliver. I will then give you ten steps to better prepare to preach.
1. Is the sermon accurate?
Was what I preached accurate? Did I get the text right? It’s an uncomfortable question, but it is the right one because we are heralds of the King’s words. Exegesis and hermeneutics are not the disciplines of the ivory tower, but are the constant tools in the herald’s hands in every sermon preparation engagement.
2. Is the sermon authentic?
Did the text get me right? Did I deliver this, having been moved by the Spirit with the meaning of the text and its direct impact on my life? Or did I merely deliver a lecture or disperse content detached and disengaged from the Spirit-intended implications on life? As Mike Bullmore has often reminded me, God intended to say something and get something done with every text we preach.
3. Is the sermon articulate?
Did I make the meaning and implication of the text clear? Simple and clear do not necessarily mean simplistic or dumbed down. Nor do complex and complicated necessarily mean deep or sophisticated. Clarity is an often-overlooked aspect of preparation. Think deeply, connect dots relentlessly, and tie the knots of logic and reason as tightly as possible so that the hearer has every opportunity to understand and be affected by the Word of God.
4. Is the sermon accessible?
Did I make the text contextually attainable? Did I know my audience? While preaching, did I assess and adjust to the hearers’ non-verbal communication from the pews? The preacher who merely delivers a speech is far less concerned with accessibility than the shepherd who is feeding the flock, the discipler who is discipling the hearers, and the evangelist who is evangelizing the crowd. If accessibility is prioritized the most underdeveloped listener can grab the truth of the text, and the most mature will be shaped further by the text they have perhaps encountered on various occasions. Illustrations, humor, applications, and even delivery style will be the watermarks of accessible sermons.
5. Is the sermon applicable?
Did I connect the dots from learning to living? Having been trained in a deeply exegetical and explanation-weighted preaching context, I’m terrified of Christians erroneously thinking that they’re growing merely because they know more about the Bible. Knowledge without love (application) ends up pumping pride (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:1; 13:1-3). Be sure to actually bring the text to bear on the lifestyle of the hearer.
With those evaluation questions weighing in on your preparation, now we begin the step-by-step process:
1. Prepare your heart.
Start with prayer and permeate your preparation, guys. Preparing a sermon should be a rich and powerful aspect of your walk with Christ. You’re with him, and the Spirit is with you. If you’ll engage that way, he is as much involved in the prep as he is in the proclamation.
2. Examine the text.
Exegesis is the observation and examination of the text. Find and record all that you see in the grammatical, logical, theological, and contextual connection points in the passage. See John Piper’s Brothers, We Are Not Professionals (chapter 6) and learn to query the text thoroughly.
3. Compile the truth.
Sketch out the formation of the argument and the elements. Determine the primary truth or the big idea of the text. You can ask, “What is lost if this portion of the Bible is removed from the Bible?” So the implication of that text ends up becoming central to the big idea.
4. Organize the structure.
You have an exegetical outline by examining the text. You have an explanatory outline—what the text is saying—by compiling the truth. Now move into an applicational expository outline by connecting this text to the life of your hearers. That’s organizing the sermon structure from What? to So what? to Now what?—which personalizes it.
5. Inspect the framework.
This is the first time in preparation where commentaries should be used. Technical commentaries help answer technical questions. Expository commentaries help answer explanatory questions. Applicational commentaries help answer applicational questions. Devotional commentaries help answer the devotional questions of what you’re supposed to feel and believe and what’s supposed to happen. Inspect with commentaries; don’t plagiarize them.
6. Confirm the sermon.
Take the sermon to a meeting to get feedback about how best to bring it home in the context where you will preach it. One voice should talk about the connections in the text. One voice should talk about the verbiage and what is said and how words are used. One voice should talk about applicational elements in the text and how it can come home to hearers. Do not come to that meeting hoping to get a sermon. Come with a sermon that the meeting is going to help make better.
7. Color the sermon.
Add to the sermon sharp hooks and tight buttons. Sharp hooks are introductions that create the need to listen. Tight buttons are conclusions that close loops and send hearers toward response and life. Illustrations, commercial breaks to discuss a pertinent topic, humor, and quotations can all be used to further color the sermon.
8. Construct the notes.
I’m not going to tell you how I do my notes. Work and rework notes until you figure out how your brain works so that your notes serve you. You are not a servant of your notes. Your notes are a servant of your brain. They’re there to help your brain.
9. Consecrate the sermon.
Pray it hot. Linger with the Lord for boldness, for tenderness. Consecrate that sermon to the King and His agenda. Devote it to him. Pray through the big idea with him. Pray that you would love the people listening. Pray for boldness that comes from a vertical engagement in your preparation with the Word of the living God.
10. Proclaim the sermon.
Proclaim it. Preach it. No biblical preaching is devoid of teaching, but there’s plenty of teaching that is devoid of preaching. Preaching is a heralding ministry that finds its heritage in the prophets. So preach. We are not having a talk, and we’re not having a conversation. We’re not welcoming everybody into a conversation. We actually are spokesmen for the King. Manage post-sermon interactions and sensations carefully. You are not as good as your highest praise, and you are not as bad as your harshest critic. Just don’t believe either one too much.
Finally, I’ve got some resources that have shaped my life as a preacher and might do the same for you:
• Biblical Preaching by Haddon Robinson is the most influential.
• Preaching by John MacArthur
• Preaching and Preachers by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. I love, love, love that book.
• Christ-Centered Preaching by Bryan Chapell
• Preach the Word by Ryken and Wilson
• Grasping God’s Word by Duvall and Hayes
• Between Two Worlds by John Stott
• The Supremacy of God in Preaching by John Piper
• Brothers, We Are Not Professionals by John Piper
• Famine in the Land by Steven Lawson
Adam is Senior Lead Pastor at Christ Church in Gilbert, AZ. He planted Christ Church in December 2012. He earned his M.Div. from The Master’s Seminary and previously served on the pastoral staff of churches in California and Texas. Before training with Harvest Bible Fellowship and coming to Phoenix, he planted and was the lead pastor of Grace Church of the Valley in Kingsburg, CA. He and his wife Renee live in Chandler with their two daughters and a son. They are thrilled to be in the East Valley for the sake of Christ’s fame.