I preach about 50% of the sermons at my church. It’s difficult to preach as often as I do without helps. Although living in the 21st Century has many disadvantages, one upside is the plethora of tools we have to empower Christian growth. For pastors, this means we have tons of resources for sermon preparation.
If you’re a pastor who could use more material to aid your sermon preparation time, I’ve put together a list below of the kinds of resources I use on a regular basis during my personal sermon preparation time, although I may not use every resource for every sermon.
Resources for Sermon Preparation
I use the ESV, NIV, and NASB.
The most important resource I use for sermon preparation is a good study Bible. I think we preachers who are theologically credentialed may feel insecure about admitting the usefulness of a good study Bible because, after all, they are incredibly accessible to laypeople as well. But we need not let our pride get in the way. A good study Bible is one of the most important investments you can make for your Bible knowledge. After consulting three study Bibles, I feel almost ready to preach.
My top three for now are:
After consulting my study Bibles, I don’t rush to the full-length commentaries. At least not yet. I first like to let things simmer with thinking and prayer. And before I examine a full-length commentary, I may use a one-volume commentary. In this way, my mind is still expanding on the information of the text without going too deeply too quickly. It’s important to let the information penetrate your heart and not just fill your mind.
Two good ones:
Greek and Hebrew
I like to know what certain words in Greek or Hebrew mean. For this step, I don’t use the Hardcover Greek and Hebrew lexicons as they are too cumbersome to use. So I purchased the BDAG/Halot set from Logos. That way, all I have to do is click on the word, and it immediately tells me what the word means in the original language, along with many other powerful functions.
I sometimes use Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics by Daniel B. Wallace, but not often. Also, the technical commentaries are invaluable for knowledge on Greek or Hebrew of the text.
Alright, here we go. Time to bust open those full-length commentaries. I absolutely love reading commentaries. Certainly those who discourage the use of commentaries are overcorrecting. I don’t think biblical commentaries should be the first resource you turn to. A seminary professor beat this into our heads: “Start with the Bible, not with the commentaries” This is a good word. But to overlook commentaries altogether is unwise. Do your own work, but don’t try to be superman during sermon prep (another one of those sayings from a seminary professor, although this one is modified). Scholars write commentaries to be read.
I consult 5-7 commentaries. Often less, sometimes more. It just depends on how much energy I have or how well I know the text or how busy I am that week. The wise pastor will differentiate the kinds of commentaries he purchases, which is usually distinguished by the following categories: technical, specialty, devotional, pastoral, and preaching. It may be wise to get 1-2 of each. Don’t just use the same kind of commentary, and don’t consult preaching commentaries first.
For a guide on purchasing commentaries, consider the following:
Or you may want to check out my post, How to Find the Best Commentaries.
Consider Philippians 2:12-13: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
If you’re preaching on this text, you should speak on the doctrine of sanctification. You should use clear and easy-to-understand language in every sermon, but we shouldn’t be afraid of teaching doctrine in our sermons. The Sunday service is for the people of God who need you to teach them the Bible and theology.
So if there is a systematic theology-related doctrine in the passage, I’ll consult a systematic theology book to learn more about that doctrine. For a guide to getting a good systematic theology book, see My Top 7 Systematic Theology Books by David Steele.
Bible dictionaries are just as useful as systematic theology books, and sometimes even more so. I think they’re a bit underrated. Every pastor should own at least one of these. In case you’re not familiar with them, they function as a dictionary (explaining what words mean from A-Z) only everything in these dictionaries is content related to the Bible.
I recently preached a sermon in which Judas played a big role in the text, so I opened my Bible dictionary, flipped to the “J’s,” found Judas of Iscariot, and read a lengthy profile on him. That was incredibly helpful and is far easier than flipping around the Gospels to try to find information on Judas.
Here are two Bible dictionaries to consider using:
Most of my sermon illustrations come to me when writing a sermon. I also have a note in Evernote called “Sermon Illustrations” and if I hear a story in a documentary or book that I think could one day be a good illustration, I write it down. I hate doing this because it’s extremely painstaking. But this discipline has come in handy so many times that the painful effort is worth the reward.
I own 1500 Illustrations for Biblical Preaching. It’s okay. Not great, not terrible. It does not provide an illustration on every imaginable topic. Using this book (or one similar to it) shouldn’t be a knee-jerk reaction, but may come in handy if you are in a pinch, especially for those of you who teach multiple times per week. If you borrow an illustration, give the credit away quickly by saying, “I read the story about a man who . . .” or “The story is told of a boy . . .” Expressions like “I read the story” and “The story is told” or “I heard” tells your audience that you didn’t come up with the illustration, and protects your integrity.
Books on Preaching
My favorite book on preaching is Christ-Centered Preaching by Bryan Chapell. It’s the best how-to book on expository preaching that I am aware of. Though dense and academic, this book is a sea of information that is hard to digest in one-setting, so I keep coming back to it and often have it ready when putting together my sermon.
I also may consult Bryan Chapell’s Christ-Centered Sermons (which is the companion to Christ-Centered Preaching) as a guide to reading actual examples of sermons. I recently used Getting the Message by Dan Doriani for sermon application and it was extremely helpful. Having preaching books and books on how to read/apply the Bible handy is helpful during sermon preparation.
Books on the Topic of the Sermon
While preaching through the end of John’s Gospel, The Final Days of Jesus by Andreas Köstenberger and Justin Taylor came in handy. Or you may use a Christian Ethics book if you are preaching on the Ten Commandments. Thinking of the passages you are going to preach ahead of time, and then finding books on those topics, is a helpful way to learn more about the text you will preach on.
These are the kinds of resources I may use for sermon preparation. I’m thankful for those who write books to resource the church.
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