6 Pillars of Strong Sermon Preparation

preaching May 12, 2023

It’s one thing to prepare a single good sermon. It was a good week. You felt refreshed. And your preparation flowed. But what about doing that week in and week out? That can be far more difficult.

Luckily, consistently strong sermon preparation consists of some key pillars and when you focus on building each of those pillars week in and week out, you’ll more consistently prepare life-changing sermons.

6 Pillars of Strong Sermon Preparation

1. Teaching

The first pillar of strong sermon preparation is, of course, teaching. Teaching that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, illuminates the text for those listening. 

Skillful exegesis must be present for a sermon to be worth listening to. 

But it’s not just a matter of exegetical precision to teach well but you must also recognize where your congregation’s starting point is when it comes to their knowledge base. After all, teaching a subject well must take into account the people you’re teaching to as well as what must be taught.

A skillful teacher of the text will give the congregation insights they can walk with and wrestle with.

Teach them what God is saying in the text. Teach them how Jesus changes things for them in light of the passage. Connect the dots. Help them see.

If you believe you need an upgrade in this area, don’t miss this article: 7 Questions to Help You Teach the Bible Better

2. Tension

Most preachers would make an immediate upgrade on their next sermon if they spent more time praying and reflecting on how to identify and expose tension in the sermon.

What is tension?

Tension is the dissonance between the two narratives that are always at play when we preach:

  1. The narrative of the Bible
  2. The narrative of our lives

When there is dissonance between what the Bible says and what we live like, that’s tension. 

When there is dissonance between the message of the Scriptures and the message of our heart, that’s tension.

And those who are committed to preaching to the heart make sure they identify and expose the tension in every sermon.

Because tension is the driveway to the heart. It’s the key to the deadbolt that opens up people’s attention and imagination.

  • We’ve all dealt with bullies but what happens when the bully isn’t out there but it’s in you? What do you do about the bully living inside of you?
  • We all want to do relationships well, but we often feel like we’re flailing about merely trying to survive.
  • God is good but grief is wildly hard. Where is God when I’m hurting?
  • No matter how optimized your life is, without Christ, you will always be controlled and coerced toward darkness—slaves of sin—and fearful of death.
  • Sex isn’t bad but we’ve made it harmful because we’ve misused it.

These are all examples of tension points. They’re the set ups for lean-ins. 

In your next sermon, take the time to pray and reflect on the tension points that are present from the text and in life.

And if you want to dig deep on this subject, one of the premium masterclasses in Advanced Preaching Bundle is all about identifying tension and communicating powerfully.

3. Takeaway(s)

Application is all about connecting dots. And a takeaway is merely the big-picture application you’re giving. It can also be the sub-points that support your main takeaway for the message.

Your takeaway is not only what the entire sermon builds toward but what it propels people toward.

The takeaway should create the opportunity for movement. Movement of action, belief, change, and repentance.

This can be a statement. It can even be a question. But either way, it should be short enough that it’s portable. People can put it in their pocket and walk with it into their week.

If you’re not sure what your takeaway is, you’ll struggle to prepare a strong sermon. Here’s a question to wrestle with: what’s the most urgent, most important thing for people to know and/or do in light of this passage?

Let that guide you to giving people a takeaway they can (and must) take with them.

And if you want to go deeper on this, I’ve included a full masterclass on the power of preaching like a sniper: one pivotal, powerful, single point and takeaway in the Advanced Preaching Bundle.

4. Questions

I’m becoming more and more convinced that we must preach with more questions. Because questions open people’s minds and hearts to hear the truth.

When you ask someone a question, their mind immediately begins answering it whether they verbalize their answer or not. And when you do this in a sermon, you’re inviting them open their hearts up to the work of the Spirit.

So when you’re preparing your next sermon, what questions can you ask people to help them consider God’s power and purpose from the text? What questions can you ask people to help them evaluate whether they’ve surrendered to King Jesus in a certain area of their lives? What questions can you verbalize that are merely questions they’ve been wrestling with and help them answer those questions in light of what God’s word says?

Questions are powerful when you use them.

Need some more convincing? Here are 3 reasons why you should ask more questions when you preach.

5. Images

This was Jesus’ specialty. The kingdom of heaven is like… I am the vine, you are the branches…

Jesus taught through metaphor and simile often. And we should too. When you tap into images, you’re setting up your sermon to be balanced and to the whole person. After all, images require people’s right-brains to engage. And when that happens, beautiful things begin.

By giving people metaphors and similes, you are giving them new faith connections. New ways to not only understand, but new ways to see. And when people see in a new way, that’s the precursor for a paradigm shift.

How can you do this? By spending time reflecting and praying through possible images to use. It just takes intentionality and some creativity.

Here’s some examples:

  • Your life is your eulogy. What eulogy are you living?
  • Imagine with me… You’re on a hike with your Heavenly Father and He offers to carry anything you want. What do you give Him? And no, I’m not talking about your canteen or your sleeping bag or your bag full of clothes. He’ll take those, but He’s also offering to carry… anything you want Him to carry. Maybe:
    • Your identity
    • Your worship
    • Your future
    • Your plans and desires
    • Your needs
    • Your regrets
    • Your wounds
    • Your safety
    • Your heart
    • Your life
  • Prayer as a tuning fork. Back in the day, people would tune a piano with a piano fork. They would match the sound to Concert A by playing the piano's "A" key while ringing an "A" tuning fork. The piano tuner would be able to get that piano in tune by matching it with a standard—the piano fork.In the same way that a piano needs retuned back to the standard… We also need to be retuned—quite often actually. When we get alone with God and open our heart and let Him search us and know us and when we bring our worries and thoughts and concerns to Him, we are tuning our heart to the Father.

6. Stories

Again. This was Jesus’ specialty. He often used imaginative stories to connect with people’s hearts. Parables, specifically. In our own sermon preparation, we would do well to be miners of stories that connect to the text.

These could be personal stories, stories from other people’s lives (accessed through books, news stories, interviews, videos, etc.), imaginative stories (yes, that you make up), and stories from pop culture (movies, tv shows, videos, podcasts, etc.). 

When you’re praying and reflecting on possible stories you could tell, you want to make sure that your story has a thematic connection to the text and a takeaway that brings the story back to the text.

Be a miner and a collector of stories. They will serve you well because stories are the key to the heart. Jesus knew this. And He utilized stories often. We should too.

Strong Sermon Preparation Makes for a Strong Sermon

When you leverage these 6 pillars in sermon preparation, you’re in a great position to turn those raw materials into a strong sermon.

But one of the most pivotal steps you still need to take is outlining your sermon.

To help you do this well, I created this teaching on How to Outline Your Sermon (7 Templates). Be sure and check that out.

And if you want to dig deep into optimizing your sermon preparation process and outlining process, don’t miss the free download below.

Grow Your Preaching

If you want to be faithful to the text, prepare efficiently, and craft your sermon memorably, I’ve got just the thing to help. It’s called the 10-step guide to writing a sticky sermon and it’s yours for free. Just click here to grab your copy.

Write sermons that stick!

Learn the 10-step process to crafting and writing a memorable, transformational sermon. Download this free guide today.

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