Seven Ways Church Members Should Prepare for a Sermon

April 20, 2016

What if church members began their own form of sermon preparation?

For countless decades, we have heard about the role of pastors in sermon preparation. The number of hours they need to prepare. The priority of preparation. The role of prayer in sermon preparation.

But what if church members prepared for each sermon they heard? What if they believed their roles as recipients of the Word are also crucially important?

I can see incredible church revitalization taking place if church members took on their own responsibilities of sermon preparation. Here are seven ways members can actively prepare for sermons.

  1. Pray for the sermon. For a few minutes, the church member should pray for the upcoming sermon. That prayer might take place during the week, the night before the preaching, or the morning of the preaching.
  2. Pray for the pastor who is preaching. Pray that the pastor will understand God’s message for that text. Pray that the pastor will have no distractions. Pray that God’s Spirit will fill the pastor in both the preparation and delivery of the sermon.
  3. Pray for yourself as you prepare to hear the sermon. Pray that God will speak to you through the message. Pray that you will not be distracted. Pray for clarity of mind and an open heart to receive the message.
  4. Read the biblical text before the sermon is preached. If possible, read the text from which the pastor will preach. Read it thoroughly. Read it prayerfully.
  5. Take notes. Take notes as the pastor preaches. You will have a greater focus and greater retention. Review the notes at least once during the next week.
  6. Seek an application to your life. Ask God for discernment to help you understand how the sermon should change your life. Seek to understand the sermon not only in its biblical context, but in your life as well.
  7. Share with the pastor “one thing.” If possible, share with your pastor one significant takeaway from the sermon. Pastors hear countless “good job, pastor,” or “nice message, pastor,” but they long to know if God really made a difference in the lives of the church members through the preached word. If you are able to communicate just one takeaway from the sermon in person, by email, or in social media, your pastor will be greatly encouraged.

The preaching of God’s Word is central to the life of the church. It makes sense that pastors should give it the highest priority.

But doesn’t it also make sense that church members should prepare as well?

Let me know what you think.

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24 Comments

  • Brenda Eldridge says on

    Just read this on another site today and it is excellent. Never thought about this before, ever! I would like permission to print this to put in my church’s bulletin. How would I go about doing that?

  • Okay I’m a bit late 🙂 but this list is timeless. Going to share with the congregation tonight.

  • Do we have permission to print this for our congregation?
    This is great!!

  • Viriginia Copeland says on

    Prayers for your pastor are most important. Prayers for the presence of the Holy Spirit and that of discernment are very important to me.

  • Thank you, this is very useful. I will use it Sunday

  • After twenty-plus years in ministry (on again, off again) it is my opinion that pastors are not typically revealing what will be preached the next Lord’s Day. I have been impacted by the simple truths of “Halley’s Bible Handbook” (“this is the most important page in this book”, sez he on the title page). I observed it going on and being blessed in Calvary Chapel under Chuck Smith in the early seventies. I have given many copies of the handbook to pastors and never once has any credence been given the simple exhortation.
    What thinks ye?

  • It was a tremendous blessing to hear my pastor encourage and emphasize how we are ADOPTED and chosen by God!! God is not just my FATHER but he is also my DADDY, ABBA!! We are very special to him!!

  • Love it and I am printing a copy for bulletin insert for this Sunday. Can’t wait to see the reaction of my people. I will be praying that they will consider the sound encouragement and start to make a difference in how they approach hearing the word of God preached.

    • This is a good idea Frank. If I might make one suggestion. I love the list in this post, and as it is formatted for the context of the blog, the post as a whole is fine, but for something like a bulletin insert you might consider more of an invitation to these seven things than a “should” statement.

      Something like, “Seven Ways to Maximize the Benefits of Weekly Sermons”. People tend to run away from “should” statements, but show them something valuable, and invite them into it, and you might really have something.

      Just a thought.

    • I adapted Thom’s article to put in the bulletin insert as folllows:
      7 Ways to Get the Most Out of the Weekly Sermon
      As a preacher I spend many hours each week preparing for the sermon. I must read the scripture, pray over it, exegete the passage, understand the meaning and main point of the text, outline the sermon points, explain and illustrate, consider the needs of the congregation, write an introduction and conclusion, and prepare myself spiritually.
      The preaching of God’s Word is central to the life of the church. It makes sense that pastors should give it a high priority. What if you as church a member did your own form of sermon preparation?
      I believe that your role as a listener of the Word is also vitally important. Now, I don’t expect you to go through the same rigorous process that I do each week. But what if each member prepared for Sunday’s sermon? Revival might just take hold in your life and our church. You might even find your pastor will preach better!
      Here are seven ways members can actively prepare for the weekly sermon:
      1. Pray for the sermon. For a few minutes each week, please pray for the upcoming sermon. You could pray during the week, Saturday night, or Sunday morning.
      2. Pray for your pastor. Pray that I will understand God’s message in His Word. Pray that I will not become sidetracked by lesser things. Pray that God’s Spirit will fill me in both the preparation and delivery of the sermon.
      3. Pray for yourself. Pray that God will speak to you through the message. Pray that you will not be distracted. Pray for a clear mind and an open heart to receive the message.
      4. Read the biblical text. Because I preach through books of the Bible you almost always know scripture passage for the sermon next week. Read it thoroughly. Read it prayerfully.
      5. Take notes. Take notes during the sermon. You will have a greater focus and greater retention. Review the notes at least once during the next week.
      6. Seek an application to your life. Ask God for discernment to help you understand how the sermon should change your life. Bible study is not just for information, but for transformation.
      7. Share with the pastor “one thing.” If possible, share with me one significant takeaway from the sermon. I often hear “good job, pastor,” or “nice message, pastor,” but I love to know if God really made a difference in your life through the preached word. You share what God has taught you in person, by email, in a note, or in social media. This would encourage me greatly.
      Give it a try and see what God will accomplish in you and in our church this week.
      (Adapted from an article by Thom Ranier)

  • Sylvia Jackson says on

    I think this is great it will help the people to be more prepared and also be more focused when they hear the Word and allow themselves to be on the receiving side to get what this said the Lord!

    • I really can’t recommend number 4 enough. On the personal side, when you familiarize yourself with the text beforehand, you have your questions in your back pocket before you even walk through the door. You also likely have a good idea of where the sermon is likely to go, and even just the confirmation can be refreshing.

      The best though it’s when you have a significant portion of the body that are going through the same scriptures, and studying them for themselves as well. It makes for a really dynamic feeling for the community of believers to be wrestling through and discussing the same issues together. It is really a joy to experience.

  • Joe Pastor says on

    Wow! What an excellent article! So right! I would be encouraged if even 10% of my congregation actually did this!

  • I agree with this list, this is very nearly the way that I approach sermons myself. I think that this is very much the way that we should approach a sermon, but the pastor may want to prepare himself for some unintended side effects. By approaching the sermon in this way you are going to be creating better educated, and expectant listeners to your sermon. With education can come disagreement, and with expectation can come disappointment.

    If you have a rough week, and don’t get to put in the time in prepatation that you want to, you have created a church that is going to notice that (hopefully you have also engendered a culture of grace that can easily overlook that as well). If you latch onto an ancillary issue in a passage to preach on a pet issue in scripture, while ignoring the main thrust, they are much more likely to notice.

    You are going to have people who are going to be moved by the word and struck by the passage in significant ways that your sermon might not touch on (through no fault of your own), those people may be disappointed that this insight which was life changing to them hasn’t been shared with the congregation.

    You are going to teach on passages where there is less than a consensus on meaning, and people are just plain going to disagree with you.

    The one takeaway that someone has from the passage that week may not even be from your sermon. It might be something (as referenced before) that God revealed to them in their own reading, it may be (now that you have successfully raised the bar) from a conversation with a brother in Christ who had a similar revelation. It may be that something you said in your sermon led them down a trail to something that you hadn’t intended but was still significant and moving.

    The list in the article is a good one, and while the scenarios that I am suggesting can potentially lead to some things that might seen less than desireable, with the right attitude, and a healthy culture, they can lead to awesome growth in the body — top to bottom.

    • Sheena Rader says on

      I agree! I am also convicted by the truth of this message in that many times, even though I pray for the pastor, listen attentively and take notes, I don’t always remember or apply the truth that has been revealed! May God forgive me and help me to become a “doer, not just a hearer” of His truth.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thank you, Dallas.

      • Carolyn Roberson says on

        I would like to add, by sharing one thing, you do so in a note. I have heard many pastors say after sharing The Word, they are worn out from being filled with The Holy Spirit. A note me get be a better way to share as your pastor can read it at a later date and respond accordingly.

      • Great idea

    • Dude, this is an article about church MEMBERS, not church leaders. Judging from the comments you’ve left over the past, you seem to have a very, very low view of preaching and struggle with authority in general.

      • There are a lot of pastors that read this site, I think I saw it broken down as mostly leadership that reads here, so I thought it was a valid comment to make. I actually think this is one of the best things that Thom Rainer has written on this site. I think that all the advice in the list is helpful, and that if we all approached the word this way, we would see a drastically changed body. Changes come with growing pains, and I think that a lot of how churches are run are largely predicated on a weak, largely disinterested, disengaged body. The number below by another commenter was 10%, if just that portion of any given church would give themselves over to the advice offered here, leadership would have their hands full… in a good way, but it could take a pretty large shift in perspective to see it that way.

        Any perceived “low view” that I might have for preaching or leadership, is more than made up for by a high view of God, his word, and his people when they are encouraged to grab a hold of both.

      • I love your list. I’m a pastor and I agree. If the people I serve did this we would all be called to a higher standard. Also, if they read your comments they might realize that it is not only them I am trying to reach. Sometimes the message they are hearing seems not important to them but it is critically important to someone sitting near them. The Holy Spirit may deem one obscure part of the scripture important this week that I never expected. Often that’s when someone who seldom comments states, “you were really preaching to me today.” Higher standards are wonderful but openness to the leading of the Holy Spirit even when it won’t appeal to everyone is critical.