Mike Stickland writes from England. He is the director of SDA Discover Centre in Stanborough Park, Watford, England.

People who take the trouble to enroll in a course on preaching usually want to know the answer to a basic and pressing question: "How do you actually make a sermon?" This lesson is the first step in providing an answer. It may not be the answer you had hoped for (if you were only looking for a quick source of sermons) but the principle suggested in this lesson provides an indispensable ingredient in the ongoing process of preparing sermons, not just for the immediate crisis but for the relentless demands for fresh sermons in the future.

Preparing to preach: A continuous study program

The art of sermon preparation has been likened to the art of horticulture. Imagine yourself with an allotment in which you plan to grow vegetables, grains, and fruits. There may already be soft fruits planted in the past or vegetables growing self-sown, which you could plunder for a quick return. Some people use that method of sermon preparation. They prepare little, sow little, but yet cream off the crop what has been previously established. What this lesson proposes is a system of preparing the ground, bringing on seedlings, transplanting and weeding, and careful crop cultivation, which will provide an ever-increasing supply of fresh produce.

  • In preparing the land to yield crops, the "farmer" must plough the ground (see Hos. 10:11-12).
  • Then he must harrow the soil to break it down and cultivate it (Job 39:10; Isa. 28:24).
  • When the soil is prepared, the seed must be sown (Gen. 47:23).
  • To avoid adulteration of the pure Word (Jer. 23:28), this seed must not be mixed (Lev. 19:19).
  • He will want to avoid wasting the seed on trodden earth or amongst thorns (Matt. 13:19-22; Jer. 4:3).
  • The good seed will yield a sure harvest when preceded by appropriate preparation (Matt.13:23, 24).
  • Then with practice, the farmer can expect to reap the fruits of his labor (James 5:7).

In the same way, a preacher must prepare the "soil" of his or her own mind and spirit. This lesson shows you how this may be achieved.

Preparing to preach: Using the talent of time

It isn't that we do not have the time. It is that we choose to use it one way or another, and it is up to us whether we choose to allocate time for this cultivation of the soul.

"Upon the right improvement of our time depends our success in acquiring knowledge and mental culture . . . Only let the moments be treasured . . . A resolute purpose, persistent industry, and careful economy of time, will enable men to acquire knowledge and mental discipline which will qualify them for almost any position of influence and usefulness." E. G. White, Christ's Object Lessons, pp. 343, 344 .

Preparing to preach: First and foremost is the study of Scripture

Since the Scripture should be the source and inspiration of every sermon, it needs to be the book we study most. But we are talking here of general, continuous preparation-not specific, concentrated study in pursuit of a particular sermon. The preacher should find fulfillment in reading Scripture often, just for the pleasure of exposure to the Word of God. He or she should read whole books or sections of Scripture at a time, just to imbibe the influence of the Spirit. He or she should read often and at length.

"Those who stand before the people as teachers of truth are to grapple with great themes. They are not to occupy precious time in talking of trivial subjects. Let them study the Word and preach the Word." E. G. White, Evangelism, p. 151.

"It is a sin for those who attempt to teach the Word to others, to be themselves neglectful of its study." E. G. White, Gospel Workers, p. 249.

This is where modern, well-established translations of the Bible come to their forte, as well as individual works by men such as Dr. William Barclay and Dr. J. B. Phillips, which have similarly received wide approval. We should tend to avoid using paraphrases (of which The Living Bible is one example) except for occasional devotional reading.

Several profitable ways to study scripture: Study by topic

Take a topic, theme, or word and trace every Bible reference you can find on it. In this case, a "study Bible" is very useful because it provides many leads and marginal references which will take you to related topics.

Study by book, chapter, or section

Sit and read a whole letter of Paul, a whole book of a prophet, or a whole Gospel at one sitting, or within one week. Read it often and from different translations.

Study by whole story or incident

Read John 7 through 10 to experience the interaction between Jesus and the people and the Jews during the visit to the Feast of Tabernacles six months before the crucifixion. Or read Matthew 12 and follow the actions and reactions of Jesus, disciples, and, people to the miracle of healing the dumb and blind possessed man. Follow through into Chapter 13 and see how Jesus use of parables was brought about by the Chapter 12 incident. Always avoid the tendency to read a verse here and a verse there without reading the whole context.

Study by biography

The Bible has many biographies. Read the life of David, the life of Samuel, the life of Ezekiel, the life of Paul. Study how God spoke to them, called them, used them, blessed them, corrected them.

Scripture should never be studied without prayer. It was the Holy Spirit who inspired men to write. We need that same Spirit to disclose what He meant, so that we may avoid unsound or personal interpretation.

Let's say it again!

Let us repeat what we are talking of here is personal study and reading of the Word with the purpose of generally widening and deepening one's personal grasp of the Scripture. This should be disciplined, purposeful reading and research during which you are seeking to expand your personal knowledge, but not necessarily with a sermon appointment in mind yet. You are ploughing and harrowing, sowing the seed, and nurturing it. You are not just looking for a quick cash crop.

At risk of sounding the drum once too often, keep reminding yourself that not all your reading and study of Scripture has to do with immediate sermon preparation. The great weight of Bible reading is for broadening your knowledge of God and the way He works with humankind. It is to create a deep pool from which your own soul is refreshed. Arising from that wide and deep reading, you will discover relevant lines of study to pursue for a variety of subsequent sermons.

Mike Stickland writes from Watford, England.

Mike Stickland writes from England. He is the director of SDA Discover Centre in Stanborough Park, Watford, England.