Preaching is hard work, but it is joyous work. Ask anyone who preaches on a regular basis and you will find someone who loves the process of preaching, prepping a sermon, thinking through a series creatively and then standing up to communicate God’s Word to a group of people. It is an awesome task and responsibility.
In light of that, here are eight questions you should ask yourself before getting up to preach a sermon:
1. Have I studied enough? It is easy to study too much for a sermon, but it is equally easy to study too little. So much happens in a week; so much has to happen. Life happens for you personally as a pastor and in the life of your church. There are meetings, appointments and opportunities that call for your attention. Then there are all the ways you can waste time as a pastor.
You should never step up to preach until you are prepared. This means you will sacrifice some opportunities to give enough time to the task of preaching. How much time that takes and when that happens will depend on the person, the series, the church size and ability. You should not step up to preach and be unprepared. There are weeks you will feel inadequate. In fact, that will be most weeks, but unprepared should not be what you feel.
Yes, you could always study more. You could tweak more. Many times you need to stop studying and spend time with people or take a nap. Pastors are notorious for overdoing it in sermon prep.
2. Have I prayed enough? Have you confessed your sins, prepared your heart to preach, prayed through your notes and for the people who will be there? Have you asked God to move on your behalf? Don’t just ask for a crowd. God is interested more in movement than a crowd (I believe).
3. Do I care about this topic? You won’t feel passionate about every topic to the same degree. Some will come easily, some will be your soap box topics and sometimes you will preach a passage because it is the next thing in the book of the Bible you are preaching through. Sometimes you will preach on a topic because your church needs to hear it.
Another way to think about this is, do I care enough about the people in my church to tell them what they need to hear this week? Not in a mean, berating way, but in a loving, shepherding way.
4. Is this relevant to my church? This can be tricky, but you need to think through how a topic is relevant to your church. What do they think about the topic? What is their pain point as it relates to the topic? Sometimes this is obvious, and sometimes this takes more work on your part as a pastor.
5. Has this passage and topic impacted me personally? This is like #3, sometimes you are impacted deeply by a truth you are going to share, sometimes you aren’t. The Word of God needs to do its work in you before you stand up to preach. You need to preach from the overflow of your time with God, not regurgitate a commentary. One of the best things that can happen in a sermon is when you say, “Let me share how this has worked in my life or heart this week.”
6. Do I know what I am trying to communicate? This seems obvious, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a sermon and it became obvious that outside of a verbal Bible study, the speaker had little idea what he was trying to communicate. Here is one of the most important words in sermon prep: edit.
Do your best to nail down your sermon to one line. That’s all most people will remember. This is hard work because some weeks it isn’t obvious. You owe it to your people to do that hard work.
7. Do I know what I want people to do with what I’m about to say? Going along with having your sermon be about one thing, you aren’t ready to preach until you can articulate, “In light of this truth, here’s how we should live.” This isn’t to put a burden on your church but to show them and help them apply the truth of the Bible. Don’t end with, “I’ll just let the Holy Spirit bring about the application for you from what I just said.” No lie, I heard a guy say that once. Your goal is not a how-to self help talk, but your people need help applying something, seeing through the fog of their life to see how the Bible impacts them.
8. What barriers will keep people from applying this to their life? We all have barriers to the Bible, believing God, believing in God, and applying truth. During the week think through what those barriers will be to what you will preach. What will keep someone from applying this text? Why will someone walk out and disregard what you say? Talk to them, talk to that. Say, “You might be thinking ____.” That person will think, “He is talking to me.” Maybe talk about your struggles to apply something. This will show a human side to you that your people will love.
There are more questions you can and should ask before preaching, but these will hopefully get you started.