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Tips On Preaching
From Fred G. Zaspel

Preparation for Preaching

I am often asked by young preachers and young Christians who show some promise of possessing a possible teaching "gift", what my study procedure is when doing expository work. Here's a summary I have often given.

First, some general remarks on expository preaching.

The essence of expository preaching lies in expounding the author's theme of the passage within its context.


This raises several important points:
*It must be the author's theme that we are expounding
*It must be this theme as developed in the passage itself
*It must be the passage within its context -- both close (immediately surrounding) and far (larger book, larger corpus of author's writing, larger context of canon).

Sinclair Ferguson comments in a book on preaching that expository preaching has nothing necessarily to do with how this week's sermon connects with last week's or next week's sermon (ie, whether it is a series verse by verse through a book over a series of weeks).  What makes it expository is that it treats the theme of the passage, working it through the passage, in its context.

It it certainly legitimate at times to take an idea that is embedded in the passage and expound it alone. But what makes it truly expositional is it treats the authors theme itself as it is developed in the passage in its context. And this, at least in the main, ought to characterize our preaching. This is how we can speak God's Word today.

The most important thing to keep in mind in sermon preparation is to capture the theme of the passage so as to be sure to be speaking God's Word.  To do this successfully will require reading, re-reading, and re-reading the passage in context -- hence G. Campbell Morgan's advice (see below). What is the author saying?  How saying it?  Why here? Why now? How relate to previous context?  Following?  Historical setting?  ie, what is he driving at? What is his concern as he writes this paragraph, etc.  Once that is discovered we might construct the outline syntactically or themeatically or however it seems to work best. But it must the the author's theme worked out through the passage.

Now on to some general procedural matters:

1. Prayerfully read, and re-read, and re-read, and re-read, and re-read, and re-read, and re-read the text and context both in English and in the original (multiple English translations will be helpful also, particularly if he cannot work with the original). Repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat this step. Then repeat again. And again. And again, and again, and again..... etc. (G. Campbell Morgan said that before he preached from a passage he read that entire book 50 times. Wonderful advice an ideal which I confess I seldom achieve but would be much the better for it if I did.)

2. Prayerfully make a preliminary outline, determining your approach, theme, etc.

Aside: It is important here for the preacher to know his *theme* (singular). Far too many sermons hit like a 12 gauge shotgun at 75 yards generally ineffective and much too scattered to make the kill. A preacher should have a point to make, and he should make it. And the listener should be able to recognize it and go home with it. And this his point must derive from the text!

3. Check out the commentaries

  1. to sharpen your precision in the text
  2. to deepen your understanding of the text
  3. to check & evaluate your preliminary interpretations
  4. otherwise to help your interpretation / application of the text

4. Prayerfully finalize your outline and approach introduction, main points, transitions, illustrations, conclusion.

Aside: (Especially for younger preachers) I recommend manuscripting (or nearly) the message. This forces you to be thorough, and more importantly, it forces you to be precise and clear in your explanations and applications. Whether the script is memorized and recited verbatum or not (and sometimes at least parts of it should be, particularly on the most difficult or technical or thorny issues and on matters of most important application), at least this has forced you through the process of becoming as clear as possible. The general rule of thumb if you can think of it "on your feet," you can think of it better in your study.

5. Pray. Pray. Pray. Ask God to attend His word to pursue it and own it to the hearts and minds of his people. And pray also that He will first use it to move and shape the preacher himself.

6. Preach!