Most of our readers understand that Bible software can greatly improve our sermon prep and ability to effectively study and preach the Word of God. So, here’s a few tips for using your favorite Bible software tool to improve your preaching preparation.
Outlining a Text
Part of any good expository sermon prep process will include some form of textual outlining. Some of the more advanced Bible software tools available include built-in outlining tools. For example, Logos Bible Software calls this a Sentence Diagram (read about it here: https://www.logos.com/support/logos5/sentence-diagram). Bibleworks also includes one called The Diagramming Module (learn more at http://www.bibleworks.com/bw9help/bwh25_Diagrammer.htm). For programs that don’t include one, use the program’s built-in notes feature or a word processor. Copy the text into a note attached to the passage or a verse within the software. Rearrange the text in the note. Here’s an example of an English sentence diagram using one of my favorite verses with all verbs underlined and all key ideas in bold.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.
By organizing the text this way, we see that Proverbs 3:5-6 includes three commands that have equal weight and importance in the text. The last line serves as a summary of what will happen when a person abides by the first three items. With little other study, we begin to see how our message might eventually get structured. The key idea would then come from that last phrase and our outline might look like this.
Main Idea or Big Idea: How can we ensure God’s blessing of “straight paths”?
I. God blesses those who trust him completely.
II. God blesses those who replace their understanding with His.
III. God blesses those who submit to Him in everything.
A good preacher will try to present it more artfully and in a more interesting way than this, but outlining the text adds a lot to our preparation process.
Of course we’ll want to do some other study, like word studies, reach commentaries, search for key ideas and the important words in other texts and more.
Gain Greater Insight Into Text Background Using Introductions and Dictionaries
Sermon prep gains a richness when we understand, not only the meaning of words and ides, but the background of the text. Knowing that the church at Corinth was a metropolitan congregation with a rich spiritual milieu helps us understand the texts and how it applies to our multi-cultural setting today.
Use the introductions from various electronic books, like commentaries, study Bibles, and also look up important things in a Bible dictionary entries. For example, look up Corinth in the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary or Harper’s Bible Dictionary. Also, consult the introduction to your favorite commentary or study Bible. Read up and learn.
Now, instead of just blandly regurgitating the data gleaned, share it in a creative way. For example, write a story about a person who might have lived in Corinth and worked at the docks of the nearby port. He worshipped in a local temple that sacrificed meet for idols and then used the meat left after the sacrifice for serving local union meals often held in these temples. Tell a story about his conversion and then his struggle to overcome his pagan religious background when he sees one of his house church teacher taking a meal with fellow workers at the local temple.
Tell the story throughout the sermon as a narrative and connect the ideas from a text like 1 Corinthians 8 to his story. 1 Corinthians 8 discusses the way we might become a stumbling block to our brothers or sisters who don’t enjoy the same Christian freedom and maturity in these kinds of “gray areas.” Use the story to illustrate this and then update it for a modern 21st century audience.
Add Interest Using Media Included in the Software
Many Bible applications include things like maps, images of Biblical sites, and even illustrative images that present ideas in visual form. Most of the software that includes these kinds of things and more (timelines, charts, graphs, infographics, etc) will allow the user to copy and paste them into PowerPoint or Keynote. If they don’t, use your computer’s screenshot feature to get at them, so long as this doesn’t violate copyright. Most educational uses, which applies to church, allow for fair use of such images. Check with the software maker to make sure.
Use the Digital Study Assistant
Some of the programs available include a kind of digital study assistant that will take a topic or passage and then go and look for all of the pertinent information in the user’s library of books regarding that topic or passage. For example, Olive Tree includes something called the Resource Guide (see a video here: http://blog.olivetree.com/2013/08/05/the-resource-guide/).
Shut Down the Bible Software
I’m a Bible software aficionado, but sometimes the best thing a preacher can do for effective sermon study and preparation is to shut down the program. Open a plain text editor and think with your fingers. Type out ideas. Brainstorm sermon illustrations. Here’s a great trick I learned from Dr. Wayne McDill, my preaching professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He writes about it in The 12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching (buy it at Amazon: http://amzn.to/1pCT21t). It works like this:
1. Write down the idea you want to illustrate, like God blesses those who submit to Him, from our example above.
2. Rewrite the idea as a non-spiritual statement, like people in authority will help those who submit to their authority.
3. Now think of the various areas of life where we might see this kind of thing happen.
a. Home and family life
g. Natural world
h. Work and business
4. Write down a few ideas for each category. We’ll use sports.
a. Players earn playing time when they practice hard like the coach asks them to.
b. Teams are more likely to win if they follow the direction of their coach.
c. A picture will be more productive when he understands and follows the signs his catcher gives him
5. Pick the best idea that is something you can effectively share, will relate to your audience and fits the idea without mangling either the story or the sermon idea.
6. Write it out using specific concrete ideas, instead of general terms like, “Joe Johnson, the catcher for the Central State Tigers baseball team, gives signals to his pictures…”
7. Practice sharing the sermon illustration.
We could go on with more, but these five tips will really take the average preacher to a higher level of effectiveness in their preaching preparation.