What I’m about to tell you is not in the book (Preaching, published by Hodder & Stoughton) because I wouldn’t want to give the impression this is the only way to do it. But what happens is:

  • A year ahead I will determine what the scriptural texts and topics are for the next 12 months. That will take several days of work, thinking and studying. 
  • Two and a half weeks before I’m going to preach, I spend four hours fleshing out the outline of the sermon and what I think the text says. At the end of the four hours I could probably preach it. I know what the text means.
  • I come up with a basic description of what the sermon is about, then I send it to other members of staff. Musicians need to know what I’m preaching on, the other members of staff need to know and a couple of other people who preach on the same text inside my church network need to know so they don’t say something completely opposite. That’s all two and a half week ahead.
  • Two days ahead I spend another four hours and write it out as if I had to preach it that night.
  • Saturday morning I write it a third time for four hours.
  • Saturday night for three hours I write it a fourth time.
  • On Sunday morning I wake up pretty early and spend two hours essentially memorising it. Working out what I’m going to say, how I’m going to say it. Sometimes making revisions at the end. Getting through it in my head three times.
  • Then I get up and preach it. I preach four times on a Sunday. So it’s quite a process.

What I just said I don’t think everybody needs to do, but you asked me!

This was a regiment I developed later in life when my church got fairly large and I was already fairly experienced in the ministry.

I would say when you’re newer in the ministry don’t spend as much time preparing a single sermon. Be out with people, holding their hands, helping them die, working through tragedies with people, counselling people whose marriage is falling apart, that’s how you find the word of God really works in people’s lives.

The main way for you to get good as a preacher is to preach regularly and be immersed in people’s lives. Then as time goes on, your sermons become less like theological lectures and more like sermons that reach the heart.

For more from Tim Keller, see our Q&A with him in the September edition of Premier Christianity.

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