How Do Pastors Choose What to Preach Each Sunday?

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

Ever wonder how pastors choose what to preach on each Sunday? Here’s what most preachers do.

The Spirit and the Word

Ever wonder how pastors choose what to preach on each Sunday? Here’s what most preachers do. First, they pray and then pray and then pray some more. Hopefully it’s not really the pastor that chooses what to preach on Sunday, but God’s Spirit that prompts the man to select a message that the church needs to hear. What I do is pray for God’s direction in what He wants to be preached from the pulpit and not what I want to preach. Let me honestly say, I struggle with this each week. It’s like Jacob wrestling with God, but in my case, it’s a struggle to find God’s will for the message this Sunday, not to mention in the nursing home, state hospital and state prison where God has opened doors for me. I don’t want this to be my idea but what God would want the church to hear, so I pray God’s Spirit communicates to me what He wants the message to be about.

Preaching the Word

Today it’s very popular to download prepared sermon outlines, but that’s a lazy way to prepare a message in my opinion. First of all, it was not our labor but someone else’s. Remember the Apostle Paul commanded Pastor Timothy to study the Word before preaching it, saying, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15). To “rightly handle” is literally “to cut straight” or preach the whole counsel of Scripture…full strength. I believe, for myself at least, that expository preaching or verse-by-verse exposition of Scripture is best because the teachings are always in context. There’s little danger of taking a text out of context to create a pretext, and possibly a false one. John MacArthur does a wonderful job going verse by verse as does the late Dr. J. Vernon McGee (Thru the Bible). This type of preaching/teaching captures the time, conditions, culture, background, and setting so we can more sense of Scripture.

Studying the Word

Since we’re commanded to study to show ourselves approved unto God and not to man (including pastors!), we must realize it takes hard work to prepare a message. It’s tempting to recycle old sermons from past years, or every 4 to 5 years give the same sermon again, but this never happened in the New Testament church and it takes all the hard work of study and prayer out of it. God commands the ministers to work at it. I’ve heard some pastors say that for every 5-10 minutes spent preaching behind the pulpit, they spend about one hour during the week, so many spend about 15-25 hours or more a week for a message that might last for less than an hour. Jesus commanded Peter to feed His flock, not Peter’s flock (John 21:17). This is Jesus’ church, not ours. The messages must be geared toward pleasing the Head of the Church and not the audience. We are to be approved by God and not the congregation, however, if the Spirit is not involved, it could all be for nothing.

Reading the Word

A pastor who is reading his Bible on a daily basis may receive some help in determining what the message will be on Sunday. And that help will be from the Word itself! The more a person is in the Word, the more that they can see what is really important to God and what Scriptures relay that information so that they can pass it onto the congregation. I have a daily reading plan where I spend time in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. Frequently during my reading the Bible, something occurs to me about a particular verse or chapter and I am driven to look more deeply into that subject. If it strikes me as particularly important, then it might be important to the church, but is it important to God? I also supplement my Bible reading and study with trusted pastors who feed me. Yes, pastors need fed too by the Spirit and by other pastors. For me, I trust Dr. J. Vernon McGee, John MacArthur, (the late) Adrian Rogers, and Mike Fabarez (to name only a few). If the pastor is reading the Word, studying the Word, and hearing the Word of God taught, it might make it easier for the pastor to find a message to preach on Sunday…and a message that is from God. Reading the Word regularly also helps us to better discern false teachings from the true teachings. Error, when placed against truth, is easily revealed.

A Word from God

I am very concerned when someone comes up to me and says they have a word from God for me. I generally say, “I have already received a word from God…in fact, thousands of them…starting with Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21.” God does speak to us through others in their counsel and good advice, but to say they have a direct Word of God is to indicate that the Word of God (the Bible) is not enough. They believe you need something more than the Bible alone, and of course, that’s satanic. We cannot add too or take away from God’s Word. If we do, we fall under His judgment. If its new, it’s not from God; if it’s from God, it’s not new (Heb 1:1-2).


Many preachers, as I have done, have preached through entire books of the Bible. I believe this is expository preaching at its best. It fully captures the context of the teaching and we may be able to see more clearly what the Holy Spirit was saying through His written Word. I took 6 months going through the Gospel of Matthew and another 7 months going through the Book of Romans at the church I pastor at, but it was worth the effort. We learned so much going through these books as it was written; verse by verse, expositing the Word of God and in full context. Like other pastors, I must pray and then pray some more and study the Word, read the Word, find the context of the Word, the lesson of the Word, and then preach the Word; meaning the whole counsel of God (Old Testament and New Testament). I tend to go back and forth between the Old Testament to the New Testament. In this way, we, as the church, can go together slowly, hand-in-hand, verse-by-verse, through the Word of God so that the Word of God can go through us verse-by-verse. Ironically, when we read the Word of God, the Word of God reads us. And that’s as it should be; comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.

Here is some related reading for you: How to Preach Expository Sermons

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: Study Bible: English standard version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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