Trial Run: The One-Hour Prep Sermon

One week ago I suggested that preachers and planters should try an experiment:


Ask your wife on Saturday night for a passage in the New Testament that has struck her recently. Ask what grabbed her. Ask what challenged her. Ask what was heroic about Jesus in the passage. Then set your timer for 30 minutes. Spend the first 10 minutes reading the passage over and over. Spend the second 10 minutes noting a couple of things under each point in the following outline:

  1. The challenge of Jesus
  2. The grace of Jesus

Spend the final 10 minutes praying. Sleep good. Read through your passage and your outline again for 20 minutes on Sunday morning, and pray for 10 more minutes. Preach your sermon.


Well, wouldn’t you know it? Saturday rolls around, and my apprentice Daniel, slated to preach in the morning, finds out that he has to leave the men’s retreat in the mountains immediately because his wife is in labor.

That meant that I was 4 hours away, that I needed to pinch hit for Daniel in leading the men’s retreat sessions, and that I’d have to be prepared to preach for him in the morning. And I still had to finish my preparation for preaching Sunday evening. I considered not having a sermon at all in the morning service—maybe we’d just sing and pray and read the letter of James or something?

But then it occurred to me: Oops! Here’s my challenge coming back to bite me.


So here’s what I did:

  1. 6:30pm – I sat down a half hour before my ride home was leaving. I took out my iPhone and skimmed over the chapter of John’s gospel that I had done my daily devotions from over the past week. I decided that I would preach from the “Bread of Life Discourse” in chapter 6.
  2. I prayed for 2-3 minutes. I asked Jesus to show me how my preaching could convey his heart from the very words he had spoken 2,000 years ago.
  3. I jotted down a quick outline in my Moleskine that seemed to emerge naturally from the passage:  (1) Normal Bread is Perishable; (2) Miracle-Bread is Perishable; (3) Miracle-Workers are Perishable. The conclusion, of course, was that Jesus was himself, alone, the bread of life.
  4. I tried to do some prep in the car on the ride home, but became nauseous within 2 minutes.
  5. I got home and chatted with my wife, and went to sleep as fast as possible. 12:15am.
  6. I woke up at 6:00am and had 1 hour of other work to do. At 7:30am, I sat down and typed out my outline, jotting down verse numbers and a couple of sub-points and applications. I came up with an introductory illustration in the shower that I also decided to come back to as my bookend conclusion. I quit at 8:00am.
  7. I preached at 10:00am.

Now, of course we had visitors that morning. It couldn’t have been one of those “family-only” gatherings. Oh well.


I preached extemporaneously for 19 minutes and 54 seconds. It felt at least 50% better than my evening sermon, for which I had a full manuscript. It was simple, straight from the text, and laser-focused on Jesus. It’s really hard to go wrong when that’s the case. My 10-hour prep sermons need to have less pizzazz, more simplicity, more textuality, and more Jesus.

It’s also apparent that my devotional disciplines served me well. Whether you are spontaneously ministering the word to someone in the hallway after worship, meeting a friend for discipleship at Starbucks, or having to throw together a “sermon” at the eleventh hour, your reservoir of Biblical “ah ha!” moments needs to be full and ready to be drawn from.

Okay, your turn.

TOMORROW I’m posting my thoughts on sermon prep and my disagreement with Tim Keller. Stay tuned!

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