Sermon Help for Pastors

In this issue of Pastorpedia, pastors Knute Larson, Jeff Bogue, and Jim Brown talk about how good study habits help in preparation for a sermon.
Jeff pastors Grace Church in Akron, Ohio. Jim pastors Grace Community Church in Goshen, Indiana. Knute is the former pastor of The Chapel in Akron, Ohio and now coaches pastors.

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We all get into ruts about sermons and getting them ready.
Most of these ruts we call habits, which can be very good or maybe okay.
Perhaps the habits and helps from the three of us can serve to affirm you or urge you to try something a bit different.
We all say together that the high privilege of preaching is a cherished joy. Here we say some things that help us do it with passion.
Knute, for Jeff and Jim

What gives you the most help in preparing for your sermon?

Jeff Bogue

  • Define what questions or needs are present in the audience:
    • Was there a tragedy in the congregation?
    • What is dominating the news? (9/11, for instance)
    • What are spiritual weaknesses of the congregation?
    • What doctrinal teachings have not been addressed for a while—Holy Spirit, end times, etc.?
  • I have an “ideas” team. They help me think through how to creatively address questions or needs and how to restate familiar subjects like Christmas and Easter.
  • I listen closely to “20 something’s” in order to stay in touch with the current trends and conversations in our culture.
  • Anything that “keeps the well fresh” is important. I read widely, listen to pastors of different theological perspectives, and I like to watch one or two episodes of the most popular TV or Internets shows. Know the biggest songs. It is important to have the pulse of the culture.
  • Biblical preparation is very important, but as teachers we have to realize that our audience is not dominated by the Scriptures. They are dominated by the culture. They come into our teaching times dripping wet with the culture—and that is the place that we meet them. This should figure into our prep.
  • When I actually go to “build the sermon”:
    • I lock myself in my office with a Do Not Disturb sign on the door.
    • I get out my favorite commentaries and Bibles and dig deeper into the passage.
    • I turn on loud music and study away…

I take the rough sermon before a team for feedback and help**:

  • Does it make sense?
  • Does it inspire?
  • Do they have a better idea?
  • Any creative input?

**I make notes of their ideas…

  • I put everything away for two days.
    • After two days I look back over the rough draft and add any of the input I was given that I feel is valuable.


  • I put it away again until about three hours before I actually preach it.

Jim Brown

  • I am always prepping for the message I am preaching that week. It helps me be fully committed to that sermon and not have to divide my thoughts on various sermons.
  • I read the local newspaper every day. The best way to know what is happening in your community is reading the newspaper. I subscribe to many magazines.
  • I rub shoulders with people younger than me so I can understand better how they think and what they are doing.
  • I use social media for good. It is amazing how much information is passed around through Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. I utilize these tools to stay fresh.
  • I keep note pads in my Jeep, on my nightstand, and on my phone so I can jot down fresh ideas that come for illustrations. My wife often writes them down while we drive. I leave audio messages on my phone so I don’t forget them.
  • I am always—yes always—looking for ways to illustrate sermons. I spend gobs of time praying for creativity and freshness.
  • I will often stand in my garage and look around my workbench and even peruse art to gain ideas.
  • It is so very important to have springs on your team. Let me explain: There are two kinds of people, springs and reservoirs. Springs create ideas on their own. Reservoirs collect ideas. So even in my hiring process I makes sure I find out if they are one or the other. Even now as I type, I can tell you what each of my staff members is.
  • Be a student of culture. There is nothing worse than a preacher who does not know who he is preaching to, so I visualize the people that I am talking to and prepare my illustrations to hit home for them.
  • I recognize that the majority of listeners are visual learners, so I use lots of visual illustrations to drive a point home!

Knute Larson

  • A weekly master schedule that has certain hours each day for steps toward the finished sermon, and keep it except for tragedies and family.
  • Read the English text over and over at the start, writing down what stands out and is starting to form the Big Summary Statement that captures it.
  • This Big Summary Sentence of the text or topic becomes the outline for the sermon.
  • Do what Haddon Robinson has always taught—imagine 5-6 people sitting around your table as you plan your sermon, a 14-year old, a single adult, a divorcee, a normal family, a retiree who is 75. Bring them all in.
  • Practice smiling and loving people and applying truth as you plan the delivery of the text. Some of this is spontaneous but much is planned.
  • Pray for wisdom and the love and ability to connect with the listeners.

Helps for sermon study and illustrations

Jeff Bogue

  • I like to read widely…I try to read two books a month—many of these books are not that life-changing, but they keep the ideas fresh and insights new.
  • I like to listen to other speakers, to hear their ideas and different takes on passages.
  • When I am thinking about illustrations, I try to let the sermon produce them. My illustrations are often spontaneous and/or very simple. I am not looking to be cute or dramatic, just visual. If illustrations do not come “from” the sermon, they feel forced. It is when they are simple that they are effective.

Jim Brown

  • I am always prepping for the message I am preaching that week. It helps me be fully committed to that sermon and not have to divide my thoughts on various sermons.
  • I begin thinking about the next sermon on Monday evening. I sit with my staff on Tuesdays with an idea of where I am headed for that week. Wednesdays, I begin to process the big idea, Thursdays, I break down the passage and study it, and Fridays I lock down my office and always have the message written before I leave the office. Saturdays, I am running it through my mind. Sundays, I wake at 4 a.m. and read through it a few times, then begin preaching the first service at 8 a.m.
  • After the sermon is written on Friday, I sit with my pastors and unpack the sermon and let them speak into it and offer extra material. They also help me to unpack how the service will close and offer many creative elements. We use a variety of altar calls and service endings. We don’t like to get into ruts in the ways we open and close our services.
  • I spend a lot of time each day in prayer asking the Holy Spirit to reveal fresh creative ways to deliver the message.
  • I regularly place myself in the middle of the text asking questions as if I was in the story. Questions: How was he feeling? What is the tone of the conversation? What are the action words used by the speaker? Whom is he talking to? Is he upset, happy, encouraging the audience? How would I talk to them if I were in the shoes of the speaker?” This allows me to feel what is happening.
  • I am a visual learner, so I mark my Bible up and hand-write my study notes on a yellow pad so that I can recall it. The finished sermon is typed and highlighted in yellow with points that I will drive home. Plus, I hand-write all my illustrations in because they often come on the weekend.
  • I begin my study by jotting down the first thought that comes to mind when I read the verse. I have notes scribbled all over my yellow pad. I rarely look at a commentary until I have had my own time with the Holy Spirit and the text. I desire to be influenced first by the text and the Spirit. After this,
  • I grab other input on the text from commentaries and other preachers.
  • One thing I have come to learn is that the modern-day commentary is often audio or video. Let me explain: some of the best exegesis I have come across is not in a book but a sermon preached on that same passage. Hard copy commentary is not always the best tool to add to your exegesis process, though it often is.
  • I have to use study breaks and move around during the preparation time. Often I need to go to another area, even outdoors, to refresh my mind. It is very common for me to have fresh insight on the passage while I am running. I have to go shoot hoops, jump rope, exercise, and run and keep my cardio healthy to be at my best for sermon prep.
  • My food-diet impacts my study time as does my sleep patterns, so I work hard at being the fittest I can be when prepping for the sermons each week. This is a high calling and I long to always give my very best—too much is at stake with this calling!

Knute Larson

  • Every Friday write down 3-5 current events or big news issues—to refer to briefly or just mention. This will help to keep attention.
  • Read the local newspaper and USA Today before CT.
  • Think always “the three hearts of preaching”—God’s (what did He mean when He had it written?), mine (do I really practice this and can I be passionate about it?) and their hearts (how will I help them?).


Jeff Bogue

  • It is important to understand the culture but not be controlled by it. We teach the Word of God alone…but we are often translators for the biblically illiterate culture.
  • We should never preach a passage until we are changed by it. Follow Jesus first!! Let God change you…and He will use you to change others.
  • Remember, we get to represent Christ, so do your best to represent Him well. Work at your “craft”, it is your job! Never “blow off” preaching and never take for granted the privilege of doing it.
  • Preaching is a spiritual act, so be in prayerful conversation with God throughout the process. No illustration or insight will ever outweigh the power of the Holy Spirit in you.

Jim Brown

  • Never wing it! Too much is at stake and the Word of God is a precious gift to us. We must handle it that way!
  • Don’t try to be someone else. Be you! God has uniquely made you so be the best you can be.
  • Work hard at your exegesis because you never want to lead people astray!
  • God is the one who gives the gift of preaching to you, and He can take it away at any moment if you use it for your glory instead of His!
  • Rely on the Holy Spirit and not on you!
  • Lastly, this book is alive and active and a life-changing book, so let it change you first. Then deliver it with passion as if you really believe that to be true! Your posture and facial expressions allow others to see that you love this book and love your God. We have way too many dead preachers in the pulpit!

Knute Larson

  • This can become a job! Be careful. Stay alive with our Lord.
  • Learn to read your audience. Boring speakers stop realizing when they are disconnecting from the people sitting out there.
  • Believe the Spirit of God can help and guide you on Tuesday or Friday as you work hard in preparation. Some pastors think He is awake only when they are in the pulpit so they do not prepare as well.
  • Avoid what some people will do to you—put you up on that pedestal. Humility is not something you claim—it is a servant’s heart of love.

Vol. 2, Issue 1
Produced by CE National

Pastorpedia is produced monthly by three experienced pastors: Jeff Bogue, of Grace Church, in several locations in the Bath-Norton-Medina areas of Ohio; Jim Brown, of Grace Community Church in Goshen, Indiana, a church known for its strong growth, family and men’s ministries, and community response teams; and Knute Larson, a coach of pastors, who previously led The Chapel in Akron for 26 years. Pastorpedia is brought to you by CE National. Visit for more issues and to read the bios of our contributors.