A Week in the Life of Sermon Preparation: Using Lectio Divina

By Steve Tillis    |    June 19, 2024

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Preparing a sermon each week is a deeply spiritual endeavor that requires more than just intellectual engagement; it demands a holistic approach that incorporates prayer (Acts 6:4), study (2 Tim. 2:15), meditation (Ps. 119:15, 23, 27), and personal transformation (James 1:22).

Anyone familiar with the Lectio Divina is likely to have recognized its fingerprints on the four activities I just listed. For those not familiar with the practice, Lectio Divina—meaning “divine (i.e., sacred or holy) reading”—is an ancient approach to reading the Scriptures. Though it was popularized by Benedictine monks in the sixth century, it was also a standard practice for John Calvin and many of his theological heirs.1

Here’s what sermon preparation typically looks like for me, using the practice of Lectio Divina to guide each step.

Sunday Evening through Monday: Audibly Reading and Praying the Text

The first step in my sermon preparation involves immersing myself in the text by reading it aloud multiple times. Audible reading is a powerful practice that reminds me of the presence of the Scripture’s Author and helps me sense the Lord’s leading in a profound way. This practice forces me to slow down and engage with God’s Word in a manner that silent reading cannot always achieve. This repeated, audible reading engrains the text deeply into my mind, preparing me to preach even without notes on Sunday.

Praying the text also transforms this reading from a monologue into a dialogue with God. It allows me to internalize the Scriptures, moving beyond simply preparing a sermon to genuinely knowing God through his Word. This prayerful reading demands that my life conform to the Scripture rather than merely adding the Word to my existing (unaltered) life. During this time, I might also jot down initial thoughts, questions, and insights that arise, setting the stage for deeper study in the coming days.

Tuesday through Thursday: Transformative Research

During these days I delve into academic, devotional, and cultural tools to understand the passage better. However, all my research is conducted through the lens of prayer—prayer is the foundation of theological research. I seek insights that evoke worship, confession, and faith.

I also look for material that builds the congregation’s confidence in the trustworthiness of God’s Word. Even when it comes to background studies, my goal is not to disseminate information but to set the scene for my people to engage the text with all their senses.

I seek out historical works that connect my congregation to the rich history of Christian thought. For instance, if Augustine offers profound insights into the passage, I try to show how his thoughts influenced his own devotion to Christ as well as the growth of his congregation. This historical context not only enriches my understanding but also helps my congregation see themselves as part of a larger, ongoing story of faith (Jude 3).

Finally, I have found that word studies and grammatical analysis can lead my people to worship God, who has revealed Himself to us through human language. So, almost every sermon includes a brief lesson on how to study the Bible—modeled for them in the particular passage we are looking at each week—as I encourage congregants to engage with the Word themselves. Members often come to me with their own insights, having learned to read the Scripture in this transformative way. This corporate learning process (Acts 17:11) builds a deeper sense of community and shared experience in the faith (Acts 2:42–44).

Friday through Saturday: Meditating on the Two Horizons

Meditation on the crossroads of the text and human experience is the enjoyable yet challenging work that brings a sermon to life. This period of the week involves thinking deeply about how the text intersects with my life and the lives of my congregation. Illustrations and applications come alive as I reflect on the scriptural passage in light of real-life experiences. This process is often the key (on the human side of the equation) to a sermon’s power.

On these days I spend time walking, reflecting, and letting the Word of God seep into the daily rhythms of life. I consider personal stories, cultural events, and congregational needs that resonate with the passage. This practice ensures that the sermon is not just a theoretical exposition but a timely and practical message that touches on the realities of life.

Sunday: Living, Dying, and Rising in the Proclamation

PCA minister Geoff New once told me, “Your people should know each week that you have lived, died, and been raised in the text you’re preaching.” So, every Sunday, I strive to pour out the truth of Scripture in a way that shows how it has transformed me—a fallen but redeemed child of God—so that we all might be transformed into His image (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18; Col. 3:10).

This stage of the preparation is where the culmination of the week’s work comes together. I deliver the sermon with the hope that my time with the text will encourage my congregation to follow a similar path for themselves (1 Cor. 11:1). Thus, the goal is to present the Word in a manner that not only informs but also transforms, demonstrating how the Scriptures have worked in my life as I invite others to experience the same.

Sunday through Saturday: Embodying the Teaching

The process of embodying the teaching of the text in my own life continues throughout the week. Both the passage and the pastor must be prepared for the sermon. While the theme, book, or series may end, the “sermon” I live before my people continues. Each week, the message of my life should reflect the transformative power of the Word.

Everyday actions and decisions should mirror the lessons from the text, providing a living example for God’s people (Heb. 13:7). This ongoing embodiment of Scripture helps the sermon’s impact extend beyond Sunday, influencing the daily walk of faith for the pastor and the congregation.

Conclusion

Sermon preparation is a week-long journey that involves engaging with Scripture in a transformative way. By using a form of Lectio Divina, I am able to read, pray, research, meditate, and embody the Word, ensuring that my sermons are not just intellectual exercises but living testimonies of God’s work in my life. This approach not only prepares a sermon but also continually reshapes me as a pastor and a follower of Christ. Through this method, each sermon becomes something of a spiritual journey that invites the congregation to join in the life-changing power of God’s Word.

  1. For an in-depth defense of the Protestant use of lectio divina, see Steven Andrew Tillis, “Reading to Preach: The Beneficial Nature of Lectio Divina for Sermon Preparation” (PhD diss., Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2019).
Steve Tillis

Steve Tillis is pastor of Briarlake Church in Decatur, Ga.

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