Kurt Skelly is pastor of Harvest Baptist Church in Natrona Heights, Pennsylvania. We asked him about his sermon preparation and what it means to develop a thoroughly biblical message.
Where do you begin when studying for a message?
The origin of my messages is always the text. I like to preach through a series because the people are not only hearing a message, but they are getting the entire context of several passages. For instance, I recently preached through the life of David. Each week, the background for that week’s message came from last week’s message.
What do you first do in your studies?
In preparing the message, I saturate myself with the text. Before I would ever preach a series, I will have saturated myself with the larger context. For instance, I read through 1 and 2 Samuel multiple times for our recent series. I want to know those books intimately before I preach the chapters separately.
What role do commentaries have in your preparation?
I never start preparing for a message by going to a commentary, and when I do use a commentary I never rely on one author. There are authors who I might refer to at the end of a process for supplemental information. The best commentary on the Bible is the Bible. When you saturate yourself with the Scripture, other verses will come to mind.
After saturating yourself with the Scripture, what is the next step?
I’ll start with a sheet of legal paper (or blank Word document), write out the first verse of the text, and jot down all the thoughts I have from that verse. Remember that this process is made profitable through reading, rereading the verse, paying attention to the sentence structure, and getting the main idea. This is a process I call gathering. I’m not trying to force the thoughts or make the Bible say something, I’m just gathering what it has to say and writing it down.
When do you develop the outline?
When I’m gathering, I’m still not developing an outline. In the gathering stage you will have a million thoughts, and you will never be able to preach them all. But a theme will begin to emerge. The outline is just a way to organize your thoughts.
How do you develop individual points?
Let’s say that the message has three or four main points and a couple sub-points for each. It’s imperative to explain every point, and immediately connect that point to where you found it in Scripture. This builds in accountability for the preacher.
I’ve found that sometimes my good thoughts have nothing to do with the Scripture. Throw those out! Tether your thoughts and points to the Scripture.
Then illustrate the points. The best way, of course, is to use another Bible story. Sometimes personal illustrations are appropriate as are illustrations from books. I’m certainly not against illustrations. They are windows to let the light shine in.
Thirdly, apply it—how can I make this a part of my everyday life? This is where you have to think about your audience. There might be one application for a teenager but a different application for a nursing home. Consider your audience and try to make those applications readily accessible to the listener.
What do you do when you have more than you can preach?
If you have really saturated yourself with the text and meditated on each verse, the message becomes more about what you choose to take out. If you have to throw something out, you have a choice to simply not say it, or decide to preach more than one message from the passage.
The preacher needs to decide how deeply he is going to deal with a particular passage of Scripture. Truths of the Bible are limitless–one could preach an entire lifetime on John 3:16 alone. The idea is to cover the material in a systematic way, and to derive from scriptures the points you are making to your audience. If you have to throw something out, throw out your thoughts.
Preparing Bible messages is something that anyone called to teach or preach can do. It involves saturating yourself with the Bible, gathering thoughts from the passage, organizing them into a structure, and presenting the message in a powerful way.