A few people over the last year have asked about how I prepare sermons and what books to buy for preaching. What I am going to do over the next couple of months is do a couple of blog posts about how I approach sermon preparation.

I thought I would start with books. I have been preaching for three decades and I am a full time pastor so I have built up an extensive library. (Remember you can never have too many books, only too few book cases) These books are my tools but I realise that most people won’t have access to a library like mine. What I thought I would do is describe four books that are the foundation of my sermon preparation. I may consult lots of books for a message, like commentaries, theologies etc but I always start with these four basics, they are always on my desk.

So what are they?


The first is a wide margin NIV. Whenever I read a book, or hear a sermon which has a great insight into a passage I write it in the margin if its short or the reference if it’s longer. I also write my thoughts from my devotional reading of Scripture. What in essence I’m doing is building up my own personal study Bible over time.

My sermon prep starts with reading the passage in this Bible. Highlighting important words, looking for the central idea the author is writing about. I can instantly see anything helpful I’ve come across in the past in the margin and of course I may well add further notes as I study and reflect on the passage.

This is the longest part of my preparation and from it I am writing thoughts, ideas and questions on a pad. Sometimes the idea for the sermon and its structure comes at this stage, sometimes it takes much more work.


This is the second book I consult as I start my study. I live in 21st century Europe which means there is a huge historical and cultural gap between me and the original author and their audience. This gap could all too easily cause me to miss or misunderstand something in the passage. THE CULTURAL BACKGROUNDS STUDY BIBLE helps me to quickly identify anything that I have missed or misunderstood in my initial study of the text. I can’t explain the meaning of passage today without understanding what it originally meant to its first audience and this study Bible helps me do that. It also sometimes provides ideas for illustrations for the sermon.


I use this Bible a lot in my personal devotions but it’s also helpful to me in my sermon preparation. It contains notes on passages from people right across two thousand years of church history. These range from the early church fathers, mediaeval monastics, protestant reformers, puritans and pietists and Victorian and early 20 th century preachers. I can’t tell you the incredible wisdom and insights I have found through this Bible. It will often provide quotes I will use in the message. It also helps me understand if the way we understand a passage has changed or if the passage has been particularly important or controversial in the history of the church.

As a pastor I am a generalist not a specialist when it comes to church history. I don’t have the time to become an expert in patristics or the puritans but this Bible provides me with key insights from people who are.


This is my latest purchase and addition to my books for initial reading in sermon preparation. I was trained to use Hadden Robinson’s homiletic method for preparing exegetical sermons in my first homiletics class. Basically, it trains you to look for the central “big idea” in a passage and from that to develop a homiletic idea that will explain the author’s original big idea. This book splits up every book in the bible into passages using Robinson’s categories of SUBJECT, COMPLIMENT, EXEGETICAL IDEA AND HOMILETICAL IDEA.

I use this book last in my initial preparation and by the time I get to it I have already formed an idea in my mind as to what the passage is all about and this book very quickly helps me to see if I am basically on track or if I am way off beam. It also helps me begin to think about sermon structure and how I might explain the passage clearly, relevantly and memorably. Just remember this is a guide not the last word on how to preach a passage. It may be you will disagree with what the scholars who have written the book have identified as the verses central theme, that’s fine if you have good exegetical grounds for your position. I often find that this “big idea” whether I agree with it or not helps me as I move to the next stage of my preparation as I start consulting commentaries. I am looking for evidence to support the idea in this book or my alternative.

Those are my basic tools in sermon preparation and would be my recommendation for the first things to buy if you are going to preach regularly. The set would probably cost about £100 a worthwhile investment in my view. I have lots of books on kindle but I would recommend you buy hard copies of these so you can have them all opened in front of you at the same time which makes cross referencing much easier and quicker.

Hope that is helpful to someone, again remember it’s how I do it, not how it must be done. Work out what works best for you.

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