Be Quick to Reread, Slow to Outline, and Slow to Read Commentaries

Busy pastors must always fight the tendency to crank out sermons.

The signs that you are preparing a sermon in crank out mode are manifold. You read your passage through once or twice. As you read, you look immediately for application. You divide the text up into its parts, not to break down the author’s flow of thought, but to build up your sermon outline. Finally, you flip through the commentaries to see what the stuff in the passage means.

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In the end we have a sermon. We might have a sense of what the author sought to communicate to his original readers. We might even have legitimate applications that will show God’s people how to lovingly obey him.

But it will be impossible for us to preach from our heart. You will preach from the pages of your manuscript, lifeless and without unction.

Why is this?

It’s because the sermon was never in your heart in the first place. You didn’t give the Spirit enough time either to work the passage into you, or to work you over with it.

So, brothers, in your sermon prep, be quick only to reread the text. Let your eyes be a rotisserie over your passage – turning, turning, and turning over it. That way the sweet juices of the passage will be cooked into you, and God’s people will be able to taste and see that he is good.


  1. How exactly do we know that we have correctly interpreted a passage of Scripture?


    • Eric McKiddie says:

      That’s a big question that you could read ten books for answers. Two of my rules of thumb, which are two sides of one coin, are: 1) when you can summarize the passage in one sentence in a way that makes sense of all the details of the passage, you’ve landed close to its interpretation; 2) when you understand the details in a way that makes sense within the context of the passage.

  2. Thanks for this reminder, Eric. With so many administrative duties being hoisted upon me right now, I have been preparing my lessons (I am a campus minister) in exactly the way you’ve described.

    • Eric McKiddie says:

      I’ve been there, too. That’s why I can describe crank out mode with such detail! Press on…in Christ’s strength!

  3. Not sure that we have to leave the commentaries till the end… There are many different kinds of commentaries. The more application minded ones (and the ones that are more like expositions) should be left till late in the sermon prep process. However, technical commentaries can be quiet helpful throughout the exegetical process. Just a thought…

    • Eric McKiddie says:

      Mike, you’re right that sometimes we need commentaries to help us figure out the passage. There is a right way and a wrong way to do it.

      The right way, which is what I’m gathering from you, is to use commentaries as partners in your exegesis.

      The wrong way, which is what we tend to do when we are too busy, is to use commentaries to do our exegesis for us. I’m speaking out against the latter in this post.

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment!