The Six Best Books on Sermon Prep
My wife doesn’t complain much, but most of the time when she does it is because of dinner.
She loves dinner.
She enjoys cooking and feeding our family nutritious meals, but the constant demand of thinking up something to eat is sometimes exhausting. Add to that the inevitable complaints she will hear from our kids any time she tries something new. Mix in the silent rejection of the picky eaters at the table and I can understand her discouragement.
Any task you have to complete on a regular basis can start to feel like a chore.
Even if it is something that is necessary and important–even if it is something we enjoy– the continual pressure of performing a task again and again can make it tiresome. This is especially true when people complain when you try something new and others choose to not partake.
This is how I often feel about preaching.
Don’t get me wrong, I love to preach.
I really do, but sometimes the pressure of choosing a text and preparing a message is exhausting, mentally and spiritually. Especially when I know that some people are going to complain about it and other people aren’t going to be there to hear it.
When I find myself in that place, I find it useful to get some guidance.
Sometimes that guidance comes from a trusted friend or mentor, sometimes it comes from books on preaching. Here are six books that help inspire and guide me to prepare sermons.
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#1 – Sermon Preparation (The Preacher’s Toolbox)
I have developed a process for writing sermons.
It involves prayer, sweating, reading, writing, and copious amounts of McDonald’s coke. I don’t particularly like my process, but it is what I have fallen into.
This book has challenged me to look at my preparation differently and deliberately.
The book is largely a series of articles written by a who’s who of contemporary pastors, like Matt Chandler, Timothy Keller, and Kent Hughes. Most of the articles have a particular message like, Writing a Good Message in a Bad Week or Planning a Sermon Series. These are great resources that can be readily accessed when needed.
The other section is made up of interviews.
This was fascinating to me.
Each of the pastors talks about the process they use to pull their sermons together. Some of these pastors are famous and some of them I had never heard of before or since. Noting some of the commonalities and distinctions in their processes really spurred my thinking and made me more introspective about my own process.
#2 – Preaching Killer Sermons
This book is incredible, and with a title like Preaching Killer Sermons, it had better be.
This is a full-bodied approach to sermon preparation that is full of practical wisdom and actionable steps.
Most sermon writing books are about one of three “Ds” of sermon preparation: design, development, or delivery. Most books target one aspect and give a little guidance on the other two.
In Preparing Killer Sermons, Lane Sebring has given a strong approach to each of the three.
As I read, I felt as if the book was giving words to things I had believed and practiced in my preparation but had never written down. There was also wisdom in the book on topics I had never considered.
For instance, the second chapter teaches a team approach to sermon preparation. Like most pastors, I have always prepared by myself expecting God to communicate to me directly and explicitly. Sebring describes the exact ways to seek input and how to incorporate that input into your message. He even goes so far as how to ask for and receive feedback well.
This book is well worth your time.
#3 – Communicating for a Change: Seven Keys to Irresistible Communication
Andy Stanley is one of the foremost communicators of God’s Word working today. His messages are clear and effective. I can remember sermons Andy Stanley preached years ago better than some that I preached this month.
In Communicating for a Change, Stanley gives the philosophy and steps he employs to craft his messages. He breaks his approach down into seven steps that cut through a lot of the fluff of so many sermons. At the same time Lane Jones crafts a narrative to make the instructional portion of the work easier to process and remember.
This is an amazing book for anyone who is looking to convey a message to a group. You see that? This isn’t just for pastors, and it isn’t just about the Gospel. Anyone with a message to deliver will find something here to improve their presentations and streamline their preparation.
#4 – Preach: Theology Meets Practice
My main takeaway from Preach is that expositional preaching ought to be central to the pastoral ministry. The Word of God is central to every aspect of our faith and practice and it ought to be preached faithfully. Authors Dever and Gilbert make the case powerfully.
The first section of the text gives an explanation and definition of expositional preaching that is not just informative, but instructive. The authors explain expositional preaching in a way that begs for good hermeneutics while allowing for creativity.
They point to the importance of sound doctrine, but also the theology of sound. We serve a God who is heard. We believe through hearing. Our message must expose the truth of God’s Word to His people.
The thing I found most refreshing about this book is that Dever and Gilbert discuss the same topics and each shares their unique vantage point. It keeps the text from seeming dogmatic while it still carries the passion of the authors. There is a tendency among pastors, myself included, to portray the way they do something as THE way to do the thing. Hearing them discuss preaching in a sort of “chat over coffee” way avoids the dangerous idea that there is only one way to preach.
#5 – Preaching and Preachers
This book is legendary. Author Martyn Lloyd-Jones was the minister of Westminster Chapel in London for 30 years and is considered to be one of the greatest preachers of all time. You can find his sermons on iTunes and every single one that I’ve listened to has been phenomenal.
Lloyd-Jones begins the book by calling preaching the “highest, greatest, and most glorious calling to which anyone could ever be called.” While there have certainly been some Sundays that I’ve not felt like I was doing anything glorious, I love the sentiment.
Preaching and Preachers answers some of the most basic questions about preaching like What is preaching? Why does biblical preaching matter? How do you prepare a sermon? How do you take your preaching to the next level? How does the messenger prepare himself to better deliver the message? Are you called to preach? How can you be sure? What role does the congregation play? Where does a man find the unique preaching ‘fire’?
He also dives into much deeper material like what is at stake for pastors (the salvation of souls) and the practical issues that pastors face. I’ve heard it said that if you could choose only one book to read about preaching, this would be it, but I’m not sure I agree. This book is really good, but I have one reservation.
I have one caveat about this book. Lloyd-Jones’ thoughts about humor in preaching run very counter to my approach. I use a lot of humor, and he sees very little space for it. I can certainly see that humor must be kept in check, but for me, it is a tool to connect people to the Word. I’ll use it.
#6 – Christ-Centered Preaching
This book is a complete guide to preaching.
Chapell effectively covers the three Ds of preaching (design, development, and delivery) and a lot more. Throughout the text, he is standing on the shoulders of giants like Calvin, Spurgeon, and Broadus, but he also brings modern insight to the task of preaching.
Chapell holds a PhD in Communication Theory and has served as a pastor for many years, so he is uniquely qualified to speak to the theoretical aspects of preaching as well as give practical wisdom from his years preaching.
This book points to the primacy of the Cross in our preaching.
We preach Christ crucified or we preach nothing.
We take up the mantle of John the Baptist, not Jesus. We testify about the light, but we are not the light.
The book is littered with brilliance, but be warned. This is not an easy read. It is a slow slog through thigh-deep waters that is best undertaken after getting into shape with some of the aforementioned books on this list.
What other books should be on our list of the best books on sermon prep? Tell us in the comments!
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