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The narrative our culture puts forward regarding homosexuality is that we have only two options—affirmation or alienation. Sadly, the church has far too often simply condemned and alienated those in the LGBT community. What greater lie could we tell about our Savior than to distance ourselves from others, especially at their moments of greatest hurt and vulnerability?

Jesus shows us that a third response—a gospel response—is possible. He shows us how to respond with grace and truth, how to hold out God’s truth and God’s love, not having to choose between the two. Truth without grace is fundamentalism. But grace without truth is vapid sentimentality. Failing in either puts us out of step with Jesus. As a church, we should be known not only for our unflinching commitment to truth, but also for our excessive love toward our neighbors. We must not only speak the truth of Christ, we must do so with the spirit of Christ.

I’m often asked about the way I prepare my sermons. This is, by no means, a standard for all preachers. In fact, it may highlight the unique elements of my situation. But I pray that some of this might help young preachers as they think through their process.

(These questions came from a Ph.D. student who chose to investigate my preaching process. It was, by and large, a non-invasive investigation! Be sure to check out part 1: “Pastor J.D., who are your biggest preaching influences?)

1. Can you describe the research phase of your sermon preparation?

It begins with the big picture—picking the content of the entire sermon series. This happens anywhere from 3 to 6 months prior to the start of a particular series. I consult with our Lead Researcher, our Communication Director, and several other key church leaders to determine what to preach. We ask questions like: What parts of Scripture have we not preached recently? What is going on in our church that requires pastoral leadership? What has God been teaching me and our leaders? Once we determine the general shape of the series, the research proper begins.

At the Summit, we alternate between marching right through a book of the Bible and doing more topical series. We feel that both are faithful methods of exegetical preaching. John Stott once borrowed the Apostle Paul’s imagery of the steward to describe the task of preaching. The steward, Stott says, isn’t in charge of the house or the children. That’s the master’s role. But the steward is given a measure of freedom with, for instance, choosing what the children will eat at any given meal. The master doesn’t want him to just grab the first eight items on the shelf and give them to his kids. The master actually wants the steward to use his wisdom and creativity to choose from among all the possible ingredients, making sure to combine them so the children of the house get all of the nutrients they need.

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I recently had the distinct (and rather surprising) pleasure of being interviewed by a Ph.D. student about the way I prepare my sermons. It forced me to sit down and reflect on the whole process. What follows isn’t a prescription for every preacher out there, but it’s an honest assessment of where I am. I hope some of it can prove fruitful for others.

Today I’ll share my biggest influences. Be sure to check part 2, when I discuss the bigger picture—the sermon process itself.

Two foundational texts for a lot of young preachers are Haddon Robinson’s Biblical Preaching and Bryan Chapell’s Christ-Centered Preaching. I’ve read both, and appreciate their concern to make preaching both expositional and engaging. To use as a standard, cookie-cutter approach, though, I find their models a little too constraining. While the principles of exegesis, interpretation, and hermeneutics are the same (and can never be abridged), different texts and subjects call for different approaches.

In addition to Robinson and Chapell, I’ve been greatly influenced by (and sometimes imitate the style of):

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