What will I preach on?” This is the question which challenges, vexes, and even haunts many preachers every day of their lives. Some preachers answer the question by preaching on social issues, or on politics, or on psychology. For the gospel-centered preacher this is not an option. For him the more limited question is, “What portion of Scripture will I preach on?” Here’s an excerpt from the ebook How Sermons Work to help you answer this question.

1. Read the Bible
The preacher should be reading his Bible to edify his own soul. In the ordinary course of this reading he will come across suitable sermons texts which grip him, move him, and interest him.

2. Read good books
As time for reading is limited, make sure you are reading the books which will produce the most sermons. By that I do not mean books of sermons. I mean books which will refer to Scripture, explain Scripture, and highlight Scripture in a way which may form the basis of a sermon.

3. Listen to your people
In the course of pastoral visitation subjects will arise which will stimulate the mind and suggest texts for sermons.

4. Read the news
I do not intend to suggest here that newspaper headlines become our texts. However, the news will highlight trends in thought, in religion, in lifestyle and in morals which the pastor’s mind will need to be alert to in order to address in the pulpit.

5. Observe Providence
Momentous events like war, earthquakes, disease, tragedies impact upon our people and will often provide a topical introduction to a sermon on God’s providence and our response to it.

6. Listen to God
It may seem strange to put this after these other sources, as the sources just mentioned are all ways in which we listen to God. However, what we are referring to here specifically is the necessity of the preacher to remain sensitive to the voice of God in his own soul. God, who searches all spirits will at times directly impress a text upon the spirit of the preacher. The preacher may not know the reason for this, but should respond to it, trusting that God has seen a need, invisible perhaps to everyone else, and knows the text to address it.=

7. Pray
Charles Spurgeon takes us further than simply listening to God. He urges that we cry to God for the text: “When your text comes in answer to prayer, it will be all the dearer to you; it will come with a divine savour and unction altogether unknown to the formal orator.

UPDATE: For more help on selecting a text, see my new book from Evangelical Press: How Sermons Work.

  • Anthony Douglas

    There’s some good stuff in these chapters, but I felt I couldn’t pass by without critiquing a gaping hole here in your possible text selections. Surely it’s at least an option to preach on the passage that follows last week’s!As a regular habit, I like to preach through a book, so that along the way, the congregation is implicitly equipped to handle that particular book themselves. As well as its genre. This also models an expectation that the books in the Bible are coherent, rather than a grabbag of sermon texts. Now, you may well do the same, but it isn’t even hinted at in this chapter. I suspect it should be!

  • David Murray

    Thanks for your input, Anthony. I appreciate your comments. I do actually cover this, albeit very briefly, under “Consecutive texts,” where I say: “While preachers may choose a portion of Scripture for consecutive exposition from different books each week, it is also a common practice to work systematically through one chapter or one book over a number of weeks.” But I admit, this way of “choosing a text” could be more prominent in the chapter. I’ll give some thought to that when I post the complete ebook next week.Please don’t view this as an exhaustive book on preaching. There are plenty of those. This is really just a simple introduction, initially prepared for elders who preached from time to time, and secondly for seminary students just starting out. Experienced preachers like yourself might get the odd little crumb to help them!