John Piper has a very interesting sermon preparation method that reminds us that sermon preparation is not a science, but it is an art. You can read his article at this link.
He knows what he is going to preach about early because he has to let the worship leaders know. So he picks a title and a text early.
He says that if he is familiar with the text, he will begin working on it Friday. Yes I said Friday. (This is definitely not what you hear about in the seminary homiletics courses.) Piper begins Friday morning and works till late at night. Piper notes that he hasn’t had to work all night before, but has been up till 2:00AM.
So what is his method?
- Pop up the Text on the Computer in English and Greek (or Hebrew).
- Read the text noting on a half sheet of paper important points.
- As Piper writes he prays “God show me what’s here for my people. Show me what’s really here, not something in my head that I force inside the text. Let me see new things that I’ve never seen before.”
- Piper writes the things that he sees in the text. He circles things, points to things, and notates.
- Piper then prays for turning the paper into a sermon.
- Piper then finds the two, three, or four points he will make in the sermon.
- Piper gets another sheet of paper and orders the points. Answering the question: “How will I fit these points together”
- Piper then takes a break…comes back and writes out the sermon manuscript which normally is 10 double spaced pages.
- Go to bed.
- Internalize the sermon by marking it up and working through the manuscript. Essentially the marked up manuscript is an outline that he takes into the pulpit.
Analyze The Method
Piper begins by asking the question “what does God want the people to hear?” He emphasizes the “text only” by reading the text in Greek and Hebrew. I am not sure where other materials fit in, such as commentaries, dictionaries, and other sermons. These materials must fit in by simply being a part of Piper’s general knowledge of the subject that no doubt comes from other reading, but that is only my guess.
So Piper’s exegesis is simply reading the text closely and writing out the things that God told him the people need to hear. This is an important consideration. Both prayer and also to attempt to find out what the people need to hear. There are a lot of things in the text, and not all of it is needful at this time by your congregation.
Another important point that I emphasize often is that exegesis is simply a close reading of the text. There are different methods, but you should come up with one that works for you. I would however suggest that you intentionally look at various aspects of the text. For example, the use of power, the theology of the writer and the people in the text, etc… No doubt Piper is calling on his vast knowledge of these subjects as he reads the text.
How Can We Supplement The Method?
Newer preachers probably must start earlier in the week. While it works for Piper, starting on Friday is one unimagined disaster away from a “Saturday Night Special” where you have to throw something together on Saturday night before getting up in the pulpit Sunday morning. I would strongly suggest, especially for the new preachers, to move intentional sermon prep earlier in the week.
Next, at least do some initial analysis of the text before giving the sermon title to your worship leaders or the bulletin creation personnel. How many times have you read the text and it took a totally different turn than you expected?
Finally, find a way to intentionally interact with (not necessarily agree but interact with) your traditions (ethnic, ecclesial, national, etc). Now this should be done after the initial exegesis, but probably should be done.
I would not take it upon myself to attempt to correct any preacher, especially one as accomplished as Piper, but I do think that just as he said “what works for me may not work for you.” Come up with your own method as you struggle with the text and the preparation process.