An old-time evangelist, on his death bed, gave a friend of mine this advice, “You preach the word and let the word preach to the people.” That’s some of the best advice I have ever heard. So, in looking for something to preach, keep in mind that you are preaching “the word,” not a sermon that uses the word to get your point across! The Holy Spirit will apply the preaching of the word to everyone in the congregation in ways that you could never accomplish by forcing the application yourself. Here are some helpful ideas:
Read and listen to other men’s sermons. Read or listen to some of the preachers who have gone on to be with the Lord: Sam Jones, T. DeWitt Talmage, Bob Jones, Sr., D.L. Moody, Billy Sunday, R.G. Lee, B.R. Lakin, Charles Finney, Dr. Peter S. Ruckman, M.R. DeHaan, J. Wilbur Chapman, R.A. Torrey, Harry Ironside, etc. Study sermons by Dr. Sam Gipp, Pastor Rick Sowell, Pastor Rick DeMichele, Pastor Adam Thompson, Pastor Brent Logan, Pastor Joel Logan, Pastor David Peacock, Pastor Vince Massa, Pastor Joe Cammilleri, and so forth. The reason for studying their sermons is to simply unlock your brain. They reveal how other men treat texts in the Bible and they give you inspiration.
Read The Preacher and his Preaching, by A.P. Gibbs. Pour over the chapters on sermon preparation. Do exactly what he says. He knows how to get sermons together.
Read non-fiction books. Of course, you must read your Bible daily. Also, read books about war, history, and other things that interest you. Read some periodicals and listen to factual podcasts. These will help you keep your mind on words. Your occupation as a preacher is words. People today don’t know how to communicate with words very well. You’ll see how authors cause their readers to “see” things with words. You will also learn many valuable illustrations that will help you get your points across.
Practice building outlines. One preachers’ weakness today is that they are tied up with an abundance of things and don’t practice what they are called to do. We were teaching five men weekly on the preparation and delivery of sermons. They had to work through texts every week as practice. Then we examined the texts and outlines to see how they had done. Honestly, some were better than others. But the fact that we worked at this every week made us better at what we do. You may abandon some of the outlines you work on, but the practice will do you good.
Keep a notebook handy. That way, when an idea crosses your mind you can jot it down. I have preached many sermons from ideas I had days, weeks or even months before I built the sermon. You can also record illustrations in this book for later use.
Pray before you study and prepare. Often, I just walk around the block and talk over a text with the Lord. Some people do their best praying lying down before the Lord. Some do their best praying on their knees. Do whatever works best for you. I have ironed out a lot of difficult texts walking around and hashing them out with the Lord.
Build your sermon with the theme in mind. Generally, a text has a theme. Some notable aspect of the text just surfaces above all other things in the text. When you see the theme, then you can build your sermon along that theme and bring it to a conclusion that satisfies this theme. The trouble with some preachers is that they preach “all over the boards” when they take a text because they haven’t taken the time to discover the theme of the text and hold to that theme. You should even use this method to teach. It helps the congregation to concentrate on something that they can remember.
Keep your sermon simple. A simple outline of 1 Tim 2:3-6 is: You need a Savior -because you are a sinner and Jesus came to “save” his people from their sins and from hell. You need a Mediator – because you need someone who can bring you and God together; Jesus is the only one who can take God’s hand and your hand and put you together. You need a Ransom – because, before we are saved, we are the devil’s; to get out of his bondage we must be ransomed, and the ransom is the shed blood of Christ.
Consider what your people need. You are a preacher and preachers are to feed sheep. So, you must know what they need to eat in order to nourish them. If they are lacking in an area, then prayerfully consider a text that deals with that need. Your people also need a balanced diet. They need a balance of admonishment, inspiration, correction, reproof, and instruction, with practical and spiritual applications of sound doctrine.
Preach sound doctrine. When the Holy Spirit is giving scripture to your congregation by inspiration [2 Tim 3:16], the first thing he is doing is profiting them in “doctrine.” Christians need plenty of good doctrinal preaching. Preach on the judgment seat of Christ, the Second Coming, the rapture, salvation, justification, sanctification, the cross, the resurrection, the blood, the devil, the Bible, etc.
Preach biographical sermons. For example, preach on Job’s patience, Ruth’s loyalty, Abraham’s faithfulness, David’s righteousness, Paul’s grace, Martha’s cumbrance, John’s fellowship, Stephen’s boldness, the church’s fruitfulness, Saul’s fear, Abigail’s understanding, and so forth. There are so many characters in the Bible and they all have one characteristic or even several outstanding characteristics that we need in our lives. When you preach biographical sermons, you are teaching your people the stories of the Bible and giving them good spiritual food at the same time.
Preach types and metaphors. Preaching from the types in the Bible is enjoyable and instructive. You can get some good ideas from Preaching from the Types and Metaphors of the Bible by Benjamin Keach. This book will give you plenty of preaching ideas and your people will get a blessing from learning the types in the Bible.
Maintain variety in your preaching. Variety in preaching comes from preaching different texts and preaching what the texts “say.” In other words, don’t just preach the same themes repeatedly out of different texts. Instead, preach the texts. Then your variety is limitless because the word of God is not bound.
Prepare until you “want” to preach. In other words, you will preach better when you really want to preach your sermon. A pitcher, who pitches a pitch he thinks he can deliver the best, throws it with confidence. Likewise, you’ll do your best preaching when you are preaching something that you really want to preach.
Visit with people. Do plenty of personal work and visit church members. You will learn a great deal from their life experiences that will help you understand some of the practical wisdom in the Bible. You will also be more personable in the pulpit.
Stay active. It’s good to mow the lawn, go fishing, workout, take a brisk walk, or just do something totally different than study. Preachers need a break from all this stuff.