There are many ways to prepare a sermon. When preparing a sermon on a passage of Scripture, though, I’ve found that there are ten questions that every preacher must answer. Not every answer will show up in the sermon, but every answer is important to the shape that the sermon takes.
The first four questions center on the text. The next six questions center on how to communicate the text to our audience.
Four Questions for the Text
- What did this text mean for the original audience? One of the biggest mistakes that we make is to ask what the text means for us before we know what it meant for the original audience. Forget about your audience for now. Until you answer this question, you’re not ready to proceed.
- What is the central idea of this text in relation to the original audience? There are many ideas in the passage, but there is a central idea. Until we understand the central idea of the text, we’re not prepared to move forward.
- What does the passage reveal about God? Is there an attribute revealed? What implications does the author draw from what’s revealed about God?
- What does the passage reveal about humanity? In particular, what does it reveal about human need? How does this passage reveal our failures (i.e. sin) and finitude (i.e. that we are limited)?
Because I’m usually in such a rush to get to my listeners, I have to force myself to spend the time in these questions before I’m ready to move on to the next set.
Six Questions for Preaching the Text
- What does all of this mean for my audience? How does the central idea, as well as what’s revealed about God and about us, intersect with our condition today?
- How can I express the central idea practically and memorably? How can I express the central idea of the sermon so that people remember it, and so that it applies to people today? How can I structure the sermon so that it has one main point, with (when necessary) supporting points, rather than many different points?
- How can I raise the need? The sermon will address a need. If the listener is already aware of that need, how can I hook them? If they aren’t aware of the need, how can I make them aware? It’s good to show sympathy in how we raise the need. It’s not their need; it’s our need.
- How does the gospel answer this need? What is there in Jesus that answers this need? How does he become more beautiful and desirable in this passage?
- What does this look like today? What are the implications for how we love (desires), think (mind), and live (actions)? Important: don’t overemphasize actions at the expense of desires and thoughts.
- What objections will my hearers raise? How can I express these objections well, and answer them?
These questions take quite a bit of thought. At this point, you haven’t even begun to write a manuscript (if you do that). If we answer them, though, we’ll be ready to prepare a sermon that’s biblical and that connects.