How Does John Piper Do Sermon Preparation? (Surprise! He Starts on Fridays)

Of sermon preparation, John Stott said, “The golden rule for sermon outlines is that each text must be allowed to supply its own structure. The skillful expositor allows the text to open itself up before our eyes, like a rose unfolding to the morning sun and displaying its previously hidden beauty.”

Stott’s quote is a fairly succinct description of how John Piper prepares to enter the pulpit.

Piper shares his sermon preparation ritual in this video but immediately warns the viewer, “don’t be like me.”

Surprisingly, the preacher known for his extensive exposition of Scripture doesn’t begin his sermon preparation until Friday. But it’s a long day.  He said there have been times when he doesn’t finish until 2 am the next morning.

Piper says he begins Friday morning reading the original language of the text he plans to preach.  Then he writes out the the passage on a half sheet of paper adding comments as he proceeds. He prays that God will show him what he should tell his people, asking the Holy Spirit to “show me new things.”  And he often does. He says new ideas, thoughts and questions come to mind that he adds to his paper. By the time he’s done, Piper said, “the sheet is an absolute jumble.”

Then he stops for the day.

On Saturday, he goes back to his sheet of paper, circling points that stand out and works on finding a pattern.

By lunchtime, he starts putting the actual sermon together based on his study.  He thinks out loud, sometimes preaches out loud as he moves through the thoughts and ideas that he’s developed over the past 24 hours.  This part of the process is meant to get the ideas that he sees on paper into his heart and mind.

By the time he’s finished, typically 4-8 hours later, he’s ready to enter the pulpit on Sunday morning.

What Piper takes into the pulpit is the byproduct of his study– somewhere around 10 double spaced pages “that are so marked up, they look like chicken scratch.”

He admits many are shocked to hear he doesn’t start preparing until Friday, but he says it’s no problem and repeats his earlier admonition “it works for me, it doesn’t have to for you…wear your armor not my armor.”

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Bob Ditmer
Bob Ditmer has worked in Christian media for more than 20 years including positions with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and Focus on the Family.