I teach an 8-stage approach to preaching preparation, always emphasising that each stage should be saturated with prayer (avoiding suggesting prayer as a single stage, or suggesting that this is a prayerless process).
The 8 stages are in a logical order. You cannot prepare the message until you’ve worked with the passage (1-4 before 5-8). You cannot study the passage until you’ve selected it (1 before 2-4). You cannot determine the idea of the passage until you’ve selected and studied it (1-3 before 4). You cannot finalise your message idea until you’ve determined your message purpose (5 before 6). You cannot decide on structure/strategy and details like intro/conclusion/”illustration” until you’ve determined message purpose and main controlling idea (5 and 6 before 7 and 8).
The 8 stages are not in a rigid order. The reality of preaching preparation is much more fluid than these stages might suggest. Ideas and thoughts come at various times and should be noted rather than rejected. As much as we should try to study the passage in its own right, we cannot help but tend toward application earlier in the process, and therefore also to thoughts about the message. We are dynamic and unpredictable creatures, so naturally preparing a message will reflect that. (I do stand by my suggestion that those learning should learn the more “stilted” approach first, then grow flexible out of a solid foundation. Also seasoned preachers would do well to periodically follow the process closely.)
The 8 stages do not constitute a machine. The important thing is that we don’t fall into the trap of thinking a logical and ordered process equates to a message machine: feed in a text and just enough time and out pops a fully formed message. That will feel as ineffective to our listeners as it will to us. These 8 stages are logical. You may choose to add in a distinct middle stage of overtly prayerfully analysing the expected listeners before embarking on the latter four stages of message preparation. You may disagree with the stages and adjust them or increase them. But what we mustn’t do is become mechanical in our preparation. It takes time, seemingly unproductive time, to chew on the text. It takes time, prayerful experience, and eyes fixed on the Lord, for the text and message to be worked out in your life before you speak it out of your own lips.
Follow the process if it is helpful to you, but remember to pray, to dwell, to linger, to process, to chew.