I love to teach and preach. I am confident of my call to do it. I feel gifted to do it. I am certainly convinced of the importance of the work. But at different points, it feels like I have plateaued in effectiveness as a teacher of God’s Word. I am guessing many of you who regularly read this blog teach God’s Word in some capacity too and wonder if you’ve felt the same way.

This feeling of being stuck is incredibly frustrating. What is more, in a vocational ministry role, I find my need to grow as a leader and shepherd can crowd out any kind of intentional investment in growing as a teacher. I think that makes sense. Situations requiring clear leadership or wise guidance will usually feel more urgent than the foundation building work of teaching. I can too quickly rely on previous training, some amount of gifting, and simple repetition to keep growing. That’s usually when I get stuck. For those not in a vocational ministry position, I’m guessing the same kind of crowding out happens with other more urgent responsibilities.

The thing that gets me unstuck, again and again, is learning from others. That being the case, I thought we could crowd source this blog post. I will share a few lessons I’ve learned over the years that have gotten me unstuck and made me more effective and faithful as a teacher of God’s Word. I’d love each of you to share one lesson of the same kind in the comments below. (One extra challenge: Try to encapsulate what you’ve learned in one summary sentence and then offer an explanation in two or three sentences.) I look forward to learning from each of your insights.


In my early years I wasn’t very systematic in my preparation process. Many of the same elements were present but not in any orderly way. That often led to long periods of staring at a blank Word document waiting for inspiration to strike. After putting my learned interpretive principles into practice, creating something that felt like a cohesive lesson/sermon and not an information dump often felt painful. It also left me never feeling confident I had done everything I needed to and was ready to honor God with what I was going to offer. Finding a repeatable process of preparation has been invaluable in getting past this challenge. I’d encourage each of you to find one that works for you.  I outline my five-step process below. I know I’m not done until I’ve completed each of these. Often I find the Spirit’s guiding work happening at the same points in the process as I’m actively pursuing faithfulness to His Word.

Step 1: Reading and Observation. Here I am reading my text several times over, noting key interpretive questions, points of interest, and general flow of the passage.

Step 2: Proposition, Themes, Text Outline and Word Study. In this step I am working to identify the main idea of the text, any key themes that are present and how they relate to the proposition, putting together a somewhat rigid outline of the text’s movement and studying the meaning of words and phrases in their original language which need more clarity.

Step 3: Outside Resources. Having done my own study, I begin reading commentaries, books, articles, and other sermons on my text.

Step 4: Outlines. This step is key for conveying the message God has for us in a way that is cohesive and helpful. I will usually prepare numerous possible outlines that could help illuminate the proposition. This step helps me determine whether to state my proposition as a question or a statement.

Step 5: Introduction, Conclusion, and Illustrations. My final step in preparation is to make sure I have a way of getting to the text’s proposition that is direct and engaging, a way to conclude that encapsulates what we’ve learned and calls us to action and requires me to craft stories and metaphors that make key points in the teaching clearer.

That’s my process. I hope it helps you put together one for yourself that makes you more effective and engaged. That was a long one, let me keep my next two lessons much shorter.


I used to think plateauing effectiveness was mostly about reaching the limits of my gifting or needing some new communication skills. Now it seems to me that limited effectiveness has more to do with limited love. I love the picture Mark paints in chapter 6 verse 34 of his gospel: “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.” Mark paints Jesus’ teaching as the overflow of his love. I am learning that a well put together sermon will usually fall flat if my heart isn’t full of love for the people to whom I’m preaching. And the only way for my heart to be full of love is to implore the Spirit to give it to me. I sometimes forget, but I am trying now to never stand in front of a group to teach without first asking God to give me an overwhelming love for Him, for His Word, and for the people I am with.


I think teachers are rarely pragmatic about words. We love each one. Eloquent turns of phrase and flowing, even flowery, language often speaks to us. That being the case, I’ve found I am prone to use 10 words where five will do. I don’t mean there is no place for well crafted turns of phrase and illuminating stories, but I find my overflowing language sometimes causes people to lose the point. If I’m honest, my excess of words is often more about showing people how much I know or how eloquent I can be, not about helping them understand and apply God’s Truth. These days I am trying to always ask, “Can I say this more simply?” I usually find that I can. And when I just can’t think of a way to do it, it makes my more verbose point stand out and perhaps even be helpful.

There you have it. A few lessons others have shared with me that have helped me grow and get unstuck at times. I hope you’ll share yours below. I have no doubt they’ll help me, and others get past those plateaued moments as teachers called and privileged to share God’s Word.

The following two tabs change content below.

Trent Thompson

Senior Pastor at West Shore Free Church
Trent grew up in Dallas which means that most of his formative experiences revolved around heat, bbq, and the Cowboys (not necessarily in that order). He spent a lot of time playing sports, mostly basketball, which is unfortunate because he is neither exceedingly quick or tall. He went to school at Texas A&M University and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and then moved to Austin where he met his wife, had two girls, and got to tell people about Jesus with some of the best friends and teammates he could have ever hoped for. Trent and Amanda are excited to be in Central PA and to follow Christ with the people of West Shore Free Church.  They have also welcomed a son to their family since moving to PA.


  1. Mike Sciara on January 28, 2023 at 3:40 pm

    Thanks Trent! All very helpful insights to get “unstuck” or streamline the sermon prep process. I appreciated your encouragement to pray that the Holy Spirit would give you love for the people you are preaching to BEFORE you prep instead of tacking that prayer on afterward. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the sermon prep process and theological reflection, and you (I) can miss this important step.

    One thing that I do that helps me after writing my outline or manuscript, is I take a step back (usually an entire day) and ask myself if there is anything that I did or did not say that I should have (or) is there anything that I should have said differently. I find that sometimes I can unintentionally say or not say something that is critical to the teaching of the text or realize that I inadvertently said something that will be a distraction from the big idea. Thanks again for your help!

  2. John Kuvakas on January 18, 2023 at 11:01 am

    Awesome article, Trent. Your steps look familiar and comfortable. I use some that are very similar. They seldom fail to get me started on the passage. I find it helpful to lay out some of my materials for the next sermon immediately after I preach. This keeps my thoughts fresh and helps my continuity. It also gets a jump on my prep. The longer I wait, the harder it is to start! I often write the introduction to the next sermon on Sunday afternoon/evening and try to dissect the passage then as well.
    But, when I’m stuck…I’m stuck. I try to fall back on my sermonizing method. That can be helpful. But, when the passage is tough, I try to soak in it as much as possible, reading it over, praying, maybe even taking a walk or gazing out my window, waiting for the Spirit to point something out to me. If I’m still stuck, I’ll call a preaching/teaching friend and discuss the passage. My wife is a good resource for objectivity in reading. I may discuss it with her. I don’t always go in the direction those discussions may take me. But they seldom fail to get my mind engaged. Then my study and the Spirit do the rest.

  3. Steve Santos on January 12, 2023 at 12:48 pm

    Thanks so much Trent for taking us through a great process. I doubt any of us who preach have never felt stuck.
    Just two things that have helped me.
    1. Before I open the text, I ask the Holy Spirit to show me first what He has for me to learn and apply to my life and second, what He wants to say to my church.
    2. I make a WORD document of about 10 different Bible versions of the passage and work my way through them looking for insights and differences. I also look for versions that maybe explain a little clearer what the author is saying.

  4. Jeff Kliewer on January 11, 2023 at 3:58 pm

    Helpful post, Trent, thanks.

  5. David Hansen on January 11, 2023 at 8:57 am

    The Word of God is inerrant, authoritative, and sufficient. If we truly believe these truths about God’s Word, then it will greatly affect our preaching and teaching of the Word of God.

  6. Tony Balsamo on January 11, 2023 at 8:53 am

    Great subject for all of us preachers to consider …thanks, Trent.

    At times God allows me to get stuck so that I step back and and get a broader view of the content I’ve been teaching through to ensure it’s broad and biblical and not dancing around the same themes I feel most comfortable teaching about. We preachers tend to stick to the areas we’re most comfortable and sound most informed about.

  7. Paulo Freire on January 11, 2023 at 8:31 am

    These are very helpful and useful points.
    I do find that my similar steps in sermon prep tend to get blended as I make my way through the process.

    I find it helpful to plan weeks ahead and begin to gather resources and ideas weeks before writing my message.

    After 30 years of preaching, I still have to remind myself that this is God’s way of transforming lives. I often walk up the pulpit whispering these words to myself.

  8. Josh Ott on January 10, 2023 at 5:22 pm

    This is a great post, Trent. I really appreciated it. I feel like that from time to time. Stuck! Disconnected. Ineffective. I can’t stand it. Usually, it comes in a season of exhaustion and I’m not good at balancing what presents as urgent and what really is important. I love the practices you added in the post. I do a couple of things to help me get unstuck. First, and most importantly I slow down, rest, and sabbath (not great at it, but I am trying). The rest helps me stay fresh where it matters most. Second, I will watch some recent sermons and evaluate myself. It takes the feelings out of it and replaces them with practical things I can work on. I even have an evaluation sheet I developed to make the process less painful and to highlight some positives as well as find a few things that need development or more attention. I usually focus on working to improve one thing for the next week. There are more, but I am really most interested in hearing from others in these comments. Thanks again for such practical and honest help.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.