Pastorally Speaking: Andrew Hopper on “Team Sermon Planning: A Sure Bet in Teaching Men to Preach”

[Editor’s Note: This post continues the “Pastorally Speaking” series: posts written by pastors for pastors. Andrew Hopper is Lead Pastor of Mercy Hill Church, a new church plant in Greensboro, N.C. He writes on the topic of training others to preach by team-planning for weekly sermons.]

I am convinced that we often do things well only after having seen them done well. That is certainly what I am finding to be true when it come to teaching men to preach. Discipleship in preaching can happen in countless ways. Different plans and methods abound and I am sure they all have merit. I will spend my time here presenting a simple paradigm that had monumental influence on me. It is also one which I plan to replicate through our church plant (

The basic concept is a team approach to weekly sermon planning. Under this model a lead pastor designates a certain portion of time each week to present his sermon to a trusted and handpicked team before it is preached for the congregation. During this time the teaching team will have ample opportunities to give their honest opinions, insights, critiques and additions. The team approach to sermon building has two major wins. First, the sermon will be better than it would have been otherwise. Typically, if not universally, more qualified eyes on any given sermon will make that sermon better. More eyes means more commentaries read, more experiences shared to draw upon for illustrations, and more opportunities to see if something has been missed. Second, the team approach gives the lead pastor an unparalleled weekly opportunity to teach selected members of his staff, elder team, and future leadership the mechanics, style, structure, and substance of preaching well.

Looking back, it is amazing how long I had been preaching before anyone actually took the time to invite me in and teach me to preach. I can only surmise that some natural ability in oration and humor masked my ignorance and gave the illusion that knew what I was doing! But when I landed at the Summit Church ( in 2007 I found myself in a culture of healthy critique and instruction. Eventually as a campus pastor I was invited into Pastor JD Greear’s sermon planning meetings on a weekly basis. The impact they had on my life and preaching cannot be overestimated. After months of listening and watching, the proper categories for sermon building slowly started to form in my mind. And after years of watching and listening my confidence to build a strong, substantive, and Gospel centered sermon grew all the more.

So what does it actually look like? What does it take to do team sermon planning effectively thereby discipling men to preach effectively? I am sure it can work many different ways but I will finish up this post with a few guiding thoughts.

1)     The actual sermon planning meeting needs to be a major priority. We, like the Summit Church, place a major emphasis on this meeting as it is one of the most important that go on all week. What could be more important than making our sermons better and teaching younger men to make their sermons better? For us, attendance is an expectation not an option.

2)     Look for opportunities to build confidence in your guys by using their material. I cannot tell you the confidence boost it was for me every single time Pastor JD would use something in his sermon that I brought up in the meeting. I would almost say bend over backwards to use ideas from your team! Often you will be in a situation where your example or illustration is even slightly better than the one they brought up. It doesn’t matter, use theirs if you can.

3)     Choose the team wisely. Obviously when thinking about building your team there needs to be a base level of ability that everyone brings to the table. After all, you want the sermon to be better after the meeting than it was before. But really take the time to consider who ought to be in the room for the purpose of training and development. I think it best to bring in guys who you know have raw talent and great desire, but need the sculpting that only comes with time.

4)     Take strategic opportunities to pause and teach. I think on the whole, more is caught by team sermon planning than actually taught. I mean that most guys will learn by hearing the repetition of thought rather than having a specific point harped on. However, that is not to say there is no value in taking some time to specifically point things out along the way. Routine teaching points will include things like finding resources, systematically gathering sermon material, basic sermon structures, preaching Jesus not only as example and motivation but also as savior, preaching the Gospel for sanctification as well as salvation, etc.

5)     Bring a mostly finished sermon, not just a thought you have. Part of the discipline in team planning is thinking about the sermon early and often during the week. In a stressful and fast paced environment this can be daunting. But committing to bring a mostly finished sermon into the meeting is more profitable in teaching your team and improving the sermon. In bringing an actual sermon your team will have the benefit of seeing your entire thought progression and the movements between different sermon elements.


Top 40 Resources (Or So) For an Exegetically-Minded Preacher to Buy (Pt. 4): “Big Picture” Texts

By: Bruce Riley Ashford & Grant Taylor

The first three installments of this series dealt with exegetical tools, dictionaries, and commentaries. This installment deals with biblical theology texts, at both the scholarly and popular levels. These books provide the “big picture” which frames the individual texts that we preach and teach.

Old Testament Theology

1. Paul R. House, Old Testament Theology. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP, 1998. House shows the manifold benefits of deep knowledge and love of the Old Testament for the Christian faith. The book treats each OT book in order of the Hebrew canon (Law, Prophets, Writings), making connections to other OT books and the NT in each major section. It is also very well written, making it a tremendous help for preaching. Intermediate-Advanced.

2. Robin Routledge, Old Testament Theology: A Thematic Approach. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2009. Routledge offers a different approach from House by working thematically through the OT. This is an excellent introduction to both the OT and OT Theology, as Routledge makes judicious decisions and includes copious footnotes that point the reader to further reading. It is also very manageable at around 350 pages. Intermediate.

New Testament Theology

1. Frank S. Thielman, Theology of the New Testament: A Canonical and Synthetic Approach. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005. Thielman proceeds book-by-book through the New Testament and draws together the themes that arise from those individual books (hence the subtitle). This makes it a very helpful tool for teaching and preaching. A great first buy in the field of New Testament theology. Advanced.

2. I. Howard Marshall, New Testament Theology: Many Witnesses, One Gospel. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP, 2004. After an opening chapter on methodology, Marshall proceeds historically through the NT literature: from Jesus (Synoptic Gospels) to Paul (his epistles) to John’s literature and finally Hebrews and the General Epistles. Mission is the primary or central theme for Marshall (see his conclusion). A clear and helpful book. Intermediate-Advanced.

3. Thomas R. Schreiner. New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008. Schreiner’s text focuses on the themes of God’s kingdom and God’s glory, and displays exegetical and argumentative rigor, as well as lucid prose. Intermediate-Advanced.

“Big Picture” Overviews

1. Craig Bartholomew & Michael Goheen, The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004. This is my (Bruce’s) favorite basic treatment of the Bible’s dramatic narrative, unfolded in six Acts: Creation, Fall, Israel, Jesus, Church, New Creation. The authors are accomplished scholars in their respective fields, but manage to write a very accessible book for undergraduates and beginning seminar students. Beginner-Intermediate.

2. Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture: The Application of Biblical Theology to Expository Preaching. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000. How does one preach the Bible with exegesis, commentary, and biblical theology in mind? Goldsworthy’s subtitle indicates his aim to show how, not if, that question is answered. Though there is much debate on how the “how” is answered, Goldsworthy is a wise and seasoned guide on this question. Beginner-Intermediate.

Biblical Theology

1. Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God. Downers Grove: IVP, 2006. Wright’s thesis is that “mission” is a hermenutical key that opens up the riches of the biblical text, and his book is written toward that end. Also helpful Wright’s recent text, The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission (Biblical Theology for Life). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010. This little text is a model for how to do biblical theology applied to the Christian life. In this book Wright traces the mission of God’s people throughout the biblical canon. It also includes discussion questions in each chapter, making it a good book for a discipleship group or Bible study. Basic-Intermediate.

2. Charles H.H. Scobie, The Ways of Our God: An Approach to Biblical Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003. Scobie’s book was one of the first full-fledged attempts at what could be called “whole-Bible biblical theology.” After an excellent introduction to and history of biblical theology, Scobie discusses the Bible’s theology by way of four themes: God’s order, God’s servant, God’s people, and God’s way. This book is excellent, but it is enormous. The publisher bears no responsibility if the reader drops the book on himself and is crushed to death. Advanced.

3. G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011.  Beale’s book, technically is a New Testament theology, but because of his whole-Bible method, we have placed this book in the Biblical Theology category. Beale elucidates the entire storyline of Scripture, Old Testament and New, in order to ground the New Testament revelation in the Old. Advanced.

4. Scott J. Hafemann and Paul R. House, eds. Central Themes in Biblical Theology: Mapping Unity in Diversity. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP, 2007. Hafemann and House edited this volume on key, central themes in the Bible: e.g., atonement, covenant, and people of God; each article is written by a trusted and established evangelical scholar. This volume will help you read more specifically on a few of the themes that emerge in the dictionary mentioned above. Advanced.

5. D.A. Carson, ed. New Studies in Biblical Theology Series, 25 vols. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP, 2001–. This is an excellent series. Major biblical images and themes (e.g., Temple, Shepherding/pastoring) are given book-length treatments. mobi

Top 40 Resources (Or So) For an Exegetically-Minded Preacher to Buy (Pt. 2): Dictionaries

By: Bruce Riley Ashford & Grant Taylor

The first installment of this series provided a list of helpful Hebrew and Greek exegetical tools for the preacher. This installment provides a list of dictionaries that will help the preacher. Although we realize that we are not likely to get trampled by a herd of preachers on the way to the dictionary rack at the local Christian bookstore, we provide this list because these types of dictionaries are invaluable resources.

 IVP Dictionaries

Since there are eight of these bad boys, we’ll cover them all at once. This set introduces readers to the key themes, issues, and debates in Old and New Testament scholarship. Versatility is the great strength of these dictionaries. For instance, one can read an overview article on the Book of Isaiah and a detailed article on idols/idolatry in the same volume. All articles are written by established biblical scholars and include bibliographies for further reading. Although the Old Testament side is a bit more up-to-date than the New Testament side (but there may be some new editions in the works), each volume is worth having. Advanced.

Old Testament

1. T. D. Alexander and David W. Baker, eds. Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP, 2003.

2. Bill T. Arnold and H.G.M. Williamson, eds. Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP, 2005.

3. Tremper Longman III and Peter Enns, eds. Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry & Writings. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP, 2008.

4. Mark J. Boda and Gordon J. McConville, eds. Dictionary of the Old Testament: Prophets. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP, 2012.

New Testament

1. Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, I. Howard Marshall, eds. Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP, 1992.

2. Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, Daniel G. Reid, eds. Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP, 1993.

3. Ralph P. Martin and Peter H. Davids, eds. Dictionary of the Later New Testament & Its Developments. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP, 1997.

4. Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter, eds. Dictionary of New Testament Background. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP, 2000.

Other Dictionaries

1. T. Desmond Alexander, Brian S. Rosner, D.A. Carson, and Graeme Goldsworthy, eds. New Dictionary of Biblical Theology: Exploring the Unity and Diversity of Scripture. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP, 2000. This dictionary helps the pastor and teacher put together the major parts of Scripture. Three parts: part one covers the discipline of biblical theology; part two treats each major section and book of the Bible, discussing the biblical theological themes in each; part three then contains articles on those major themes (e.g., exodus, kingdom of God). An excellent resource to get started in biblical theology. Intermediate.

2. Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit, Tremper Longman III, eds. Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP, 1998. Why does the Bible describe discipleship in terms (among others) of bearing fruit? Why does Jesus call himself the good shepherd? This dictionary will help you understand the function of the numerous images in the Bible and so help you unlock the meaning of numerous passages. Intermediate.

3. Trent C. Butler, ed. Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Revised. Nashville: Holman Bible, 2003. A very reliable one-stop dictionary. The illustrations help bring to light the people, places, and events of the Bible. Basic.