Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
For Missouri Baptist Preachers Workshop
November 26-27, 2007


Holiness matters most. Preaching is God-work, thus Godliness is the key to everything. Without it, all study, preparation, and delivery proves null and void. Without holiness, all is for naught. All public speaking must flow from what we are in private. Pray every step of the way. My dad says, proceed on your knees.


Early in my ministry, I was a topical preacher, deciding each week what subject to discuss the coming Sunday. This kept me nervous. By Thursday of each week, I began to grow frantic about what topic to preach on Sunday.

Cliff Palmer, longtime Pastor at First Baptist Church, Springdale, Arkansas, preached a revival for me about 1978. He was the first to recommend I preach verse by verse through Bible books.

Following his suggestion, I began expository (actually textual) preaching when I moved to First Baptist Church of St. John (St. Louis County) in May 1979. Since then, I have preached verse by verse through Daniel, John, Romans, Hebrews, Ephesians, and Matthew 5-11.

This custom removed the worry of what I will preach next. It also lets me be specific in purchasing books. (My church provides me a book account.)

In recent years I have occasionally veered from exposition in order to preach topical sermon series (eg. money, missions, holiness). These are planned far in advance and usually end up being textual sermons.

For twenty years I taught through the Old Testament chapter by chapter on Wednesday nights. I covered Genesis through Esther.


For expository sermons, I used to read about 45 different references on each verse I cover. This number started out much smaller, consistently grew over the years, and has now leveled out at about 30.

For a sermon to be truly mine, it requires much material. I(ve learned I have to kill many oysters to get a few pearls.

My experience has been, the best known names are usually (but not always) the most helpful. They are famous among preachers for justifiable reasons.

My personal favorites include Spurgeon, Lloyd-Jones, Maclaren, Pink (beware hyper-Calvinism), Joseph Parker (beware chasing rabbits), Matthew Henry, John MacArthur, Barnhouse, and Barclay (beware liberalism).

As I read these commentaries, I underline interesting stories, power words, strong points, and good ideas. After reading all 30, I then return to the underlined portions, and scribble on paper those points that still seem pertinent. I give credit for direct quotes and large use of ideas.

I do my reading of the 30 sources on a comfortable couch in my basement at home, where my study is located. I do all work other than sermon preparation in my office at church.

Study is important. Our culture worships education. We need to make our people feel confident that we have a mastery of the Book we are teaching.

This is not to say we should use high-filutin words. When making a choice between two words, I choose the simpler. I(m just saying our people need to feel confident we know what we(re talking about.


All handwritten notes are completed by Thursday afternoon. Friday is crunch day.

I(ve learned two and a half pages of single-spaced text (at 14 point) will almost always yield a sermon of 25 minutes, which is my target length. There are no bad short sermons. I often vary the length of my manuscript by two or three paragraphs, but the 2 ( page rule of thumb keeps me close to the 25-minute goal.

In a paragraph where I use the same word several times, I consult my computer(s thesaurus. I keep a dictionary nearby at all times.

My Power Point deadline is noon Friday. By then I have finished the manuscript, which I have edited repeatedly through the day. For the Power Point operators, I underline key points and strong statements.

On Saturday morning, I use 8 different colors of highlighters to mark my manuscript. Each color has a difference purpose (eg. texts, Bible words, pronouns, quotes, etc.). I may not have the best sermons, but do have the prettiest.

I preach the exact same sermon twice on Sunday morning. The manuscript is what enables multiple sermons without wondering if I(m repeating myself in the same sermon.


On Saturday afternoon and evening I read the manuscript repeatedly. On Sunday morning I get up at 6:00 a.m. (very early for me). I read the manuscript four times. I try to read it one more time at church before staff prayer time, and once more after prayer time. I do not try to memorize the sermon, but do seek to master every sentence in it. I do memorize stories.

Working The Crowd

I walk through the 8:15 a.m. Sunday School classes to shake hands. Before church, I go to the auditorium. I shake hands with people until worship begins.

I consider working the crowd a vital part of my sermon preparation. When all is well with the Lord, the manuscript, and me, there is still one more vital component to preaching, the listeners.

Even when I preach at churches other than Second, I try to shake as many hands as possible beforehand, seeking to establish some level of rapport with the congregants.

Protect your voice. It is your instrument. My Grandpa Hill lost a year in the ministry due to voice problems. Never holler. If your voice sounds raspy after preaching, beware.

I rarely sing out loud during congregational singing. I move my lips, to be a worship-leading example, but rest my voice.

At every worship service, I have a glass of water under my pew which I sip through the music, and a glass of water on the pulpit. This custom is saving my voice. It negates the ill effects of Ozark sinus drip. Don(t use cold water. It constricts the throat. Use room temperature water.

Stephen Olford suggested preachers should wear shirts with collars one size too big. This allows free blood flow to the vocal cords at all time.


All my sermons are broadcast live on the internet. My manuscripts are posted on our web site the day after I preach them. Audio and video streaming are available over the Internet.

My sermons are available on audio and video cassettes, CDs, and DVDs immediately after church, and can be ordered later.

On a two-week-delay basis, my sermons are televised. I rarely do anything in the pulpit with the TV audience in mind. My target is my immediate listeners. I am their pastor.

On Sunday night I preach sermons from the past. I(ve learned people cannot remember any details of sermons at least five years old.