Thoughts on Sermon Preparation

I have frequently heard men express reservations about listening to other men’s sermons on a particular passage upon which they are preparing to preach. While I understand the desire to do one’s own work and to wrestle with the text before God, I find it hard to believe that the same individuals would not read commentaries or written sermons on the passage they will preach. Why then is there a reservation in regard to listening to sermons? It might be an overly scrupulous desire to be careful not to plagerize, or it might simply be pride. Whatever the case, it is a real tragedy that ministers do not make more use of the resources available to us in this technological age.  In fact, there is perhaps no more urgent need at present, for the church of Jesus Christ, than for ministers of the Gospel to learn how to preach with  theological depth, clarity, urgency, and passion. I would strongly recommend that any man currently in the ministry, or preparing for the ministry, spend a large portion of their time listening to sermons online by such men as Sinclair Ferguson, Eric Alexander, Derek Thomas, John Piper, Edward Donnelly, Ligon Duncan, Ian Hamilton, Phil Ryken, Rick Phillips, Joseph Pipa, John Carrick, Tim Keller, Joel Beeke, Kent Hughes, D. A. Carson, Mark Driscoll etc. Listening to these men will certainly help shape a much needed theology of preaching and teaching.  You will find The Gospel Coalition, Sermon Audio, and Monergism to be wonderful sources for ministers in this regard.

That being said, we need to beware of a cult of personality. While I am certainly not bothered when I hear a minister say something that he has obviously learned from another minister (this is inescapable if we are really in a constant posture of learning), I can hardly stand to listen to a minister copy the verbal intonations and manner of preaching of another minister. That sort of imitation is ineffective and counterproductive. Just as each of the biblical authors had specific personalities that God worked through in the inspiration of Scripture, so each minister of the Gospel has a particular personality that the Lord uses in the proclamation of His word.

On the other hand, I have noticed another trend in the 21st Century church. Young ministers are rushing headlong to read and listen to other living ministers. This is, again, a good thing. But it is an insufficient route of preparation for preaching. We have a vast reservoir of sermons and books from the history of the church. As technology advances, these resources advance as well.

Google Books has made hundreds of thousands of books in the Public Domain available for free download. Using the PCA Historical Society’s Sermon Archive, Spurgeon’s Commenting and Commentaries, and personal catalogs we can more efficiently look for sermons on a particular text. The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University has a very helpful sermon index as well.

All this would be incomplete without giving ourselves to the books written to help men think through the construction and delivery of sermons. While there are so many that are beneficial, I have personally found the following to be most profitable:

1. J.C. Ryle’s Simplicity in Preaching

2. Feed My Sheep

3. J.A. Alexander Thoughts on Preaching

4. Arturo Azurdia Spirit Empowered Preaching

5. Kent Hughes edited Preach the Word

6. Eric Alexander What is Biblical Preaching?

7. Edmund Clowney Preaching Christ in All the Scriptures

8. Edmund Clowney Preaching and Biblical Theology

9. Al Martin What’s Wrong With Preaching Today?

10. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones Preaching and Preachers

11. John Carrick The Imperative of Preaching

12. Dennis Johnson Him We Proclaim

13. T. David Gordon Why Johnny Can’t Preach

14. Alexander Vinet Homiletics: or the Theory of Preaching

11 Responses

  1. Good post, Nick! Thanks for this! I always encourage young men to listen to the great preachers. Not to imitate them slavishly, but to pick up tips. You can learn an awful lot of tips by watching and listening to great preachers. Also, I encourage men to listen to or watch great orators. This can be beneficial provided the man is well grounded in the theology of preaching and realizes that flashy showmanship is not what makes the preacher. Nevertheless, a man can learn a great deal about how not to be boring in his presentation of the gospel. While natural eloquence is not of the essence of the preached Word, I’ve never been persuaded that the more a man stumbles over his words and speaks in a monotone the better the preacher he is!

  2. Matthew Holst


    Thanks for this; you are right of course that there are many sources both current and historic, verbal and written which are open to ministers of the gospel and students.

    I’m one who doesn’t read or listen enough to other men, I want to dig into the text on my own and do the wrestling that you talked about. I know you like to do your own work also – let me ask you this: what percentage of a sermon is work that you have done yourself. I’m always a bit disappointed when a man tells me that most of the work is not his own.

    Blessings brother


  3. Matt,

    I’m not sure. I listen to and read so much, that it would not be fair to say that a lot is “my own” work. But, if you mean, “How much of the sermon structure and wording is my own, I would say most of it. It would be a false dichotomy to say that knowledge is somehow both mediate and immediate. All knowledge is mediate. Certainly the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit is necessary in all this. But even that is mediated through the text of Scripture. We never come to a text as a blank slate. We come with all that we have learned before, heard in sermons, and read on our own. We come with biases and convictions. This is inescapable. Paul told Timothy to commit biblical truth to other faithful men that they may in turn teach others. I am wary when men say that they want to “do their own work,” and mean by that statement “I personally came to the conclusions I came to without consulting other works.” This is ridiculous. Why would I not want to learn as much as I can about every passage of Scripture, from everyone who has something to contribute. I am constantly building on the leads that I get from other men. But, if you mean, how much of my work is diligent, prayerful, personal wrestling with the text, I agree that this is necessary. I am doing that from the moment I start sermon prep until I get in the pulpit. I’m meditating on the text, context and audience all throughout the week. But I do not categorize my sermon preparation as some men do. I do not have a structured “this then this” mentality. The Bible does not bind my conscience to that sort of program, and I do not believe we should bind others to it either. I generally consult exegetical commentaries first, however, to make sure I have exegeting the passage appropriately. Even if a man said he wanted to do exegesis on his own without commentaries, he is still forced to use other men’s work with a lexicon. I study, read works on, listen to sermons on, pray through and meditate on a passage the entire week until I preach. I do my own outline, but sometimes find one in someone else’s work that is by far the best. I have even used the headings from the New King James Bible before as the sermon points. Why reinvent the wheel, if it is a beautiful wheel?

  4. Matthew Holst


    That is the answer I expected and one with which I agree. When I refer to one’s own work, I was really thinking of the textual examination and wrestling you referred to in your initial post.

    Thanks for the post.


  5. Hey Nick,

    Thanks for the post. I have found great benefit in my own teaching and preaching, listening to sermons/podcasts and written sermons. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


  6. jason hayes

    Hey Nick, great post and as you most often do post excellent articles and thought provoking segments; I do have to ask why you added Mark Driscoll in with those wonderful preachers of God’s Word? Sorry if he seems to get picked on, but lets be serious…he’s asked for it on many occasions and has mishandled the text so many times and even made a mockery of Lord’s great name so many times! Men such as Eric Alexander, Joel Beeke, Edward Donnelly etc. never turn Christ’s Word or character into a joke! I wonder if you would reconsider Mark Driscoll as a great preacher, or is it just because of the popularity of the”New Calvinists” that keeps this guy around? I’ll take “Old Calvinists” any day over the so called new if they are anything like Mr. Driscoll. If I’m being to harsh my apologies but we need to hold Christ and His Word to the heavens! Anyways Nick keep up the goog work and I appreciate your input on the Reformed Forum greatly, we need more Pastors along with the thinkers if you catch my drift! Thanks. In Christ.

  7. Hi Nick,

    This is a good post. But as someone that mostly has to listen to sermons rather than prepare them, I am also looking for the supernatural gifting of the preacher. I’m looking to hear the voice of The Shepherd. Christ has given gifts to the church and although listening to other sermons is an excellent way to check ones own idiosyncrasies or bias it’s not a substitute for the specific calling of the preacher – or hard work. In this regard I would recommend Geoff Thomas in Aberystwyth and my own Pastor Paul Watts at Lower Ford Street Coventry. These men have ministered in their churches for over 40 years in Geoff’s case and my own Pastor celebrates 25 years this year. To last that long in one church tells me they need something more than good preparation and the listening of other peoples sermons as good as that is. You make some excellent points though.

  8. Cris A. Dickason

    Nick – Good suggestions. An alternate source for public domain books besides Google is http://www.archive.org. Skip the Grateful Dead archives (during working hours anyway) and go to the Texts section. I advise Advanced search if you know author & title. Many volumes from Princeton digitized and available there. I downloaded Hodge’s Systematic Theology, the B.B. Warfield’s copy donated to PTS library!
    The have a “Collections” feature, so you could browse all items from Princeton, etc. Recently did a Heidelberg search and found a delightful little German-Latin-English editon available. Texts are avail as PDF, B/W PDF, and some formats like Dejavu and Kindle. Sometimes you can get the .PDF and then save it as a text file for copying/pasting quotations.

    As for listening to notable preachers such a you’ve cited, I agree. I would add this: it’s all about timing. Listen to some of these men (Ferguson, Ligon, Mark Dever too), but not necessarily on the same thing you are preaching on. If you’re organized and know your preaching schedule 6-months out, then listen on the same/related passages 6-months out.

    Ministerial students, hopefully you are in a church under good preaching and should let your pastor minister to and mentor you, while you check out other men as well. Not unlike playing Mandolin, you’re going to have to absorb and account for Bill Monroe & David Grisman, but you must find your own voice/style.
    Ordained ministers: listen to some of these guys, because you need to sit under good preaching too.
    Respectfully – if long-windedly,


  9. Keith McIlroy

    Hi Nick,

    I’m new to the blog and found this post very interesting. I remember listening to a sermon by Dick Lucas on Romans were he said, that unlike some ministers, he would head straight to the commentaries to see how other godly men had illuminated a particular passage. He lamented the fact that there were too few expository commentaries available (at the time of his preaching) and that he’d love to see more preachers taking up the pen. Oh, and he was saying all this to Pastors at the EMA conference in the UK.

  10. Pingback : Sermon Preparation Resources - Feeding on Christ

  11. of course like your website but you need to take a look at the spelling on quite a few of your posts. Several of them are rife with spelling problems and I find it very troublesome to tell the truth however I’ll surely come back again.

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