How I Use Biblical Software To Prepare Sermons

I have been preaching for nearly forty (40) years and my research and study has been tremendously accelerated by the use of biblical software for almost half of those years. There is much debate today among preachers and scholars as to which is better; electronic books or paper books? With me, it all depends. Some of my resources are in both forms. Sometimes I like to sit and read with a physical book in my hands and then, at other times, I like to sit in front of my computer to do my studies, sermon preparation, and research. But I want to share in this post, how I use biblical software in the study, research and preparation of sermons and/or biblical lessons. I have tried several across the years, but the three that are my bread and butter tools are: Logos 7, BibleWorks 10, and WordSearch 11.

After much prayer and meditation, that usually begins on Monday evening, by noon Tuesday, I usually have made a general choice (unless I am in the middle of preaching a series) of what I am going to preach the coming Sunday. After selecting a biblical text, I read the text several times in several different (I read the text at least 3 to 4 times in at least five, sometimes as many as eight different versions) English versions of the Bible. I do this using the BibleWorks software. BibleWorks is excellent for doing this because the program allows you to arrange the various versions side-by-side or vertically to quickly note differences in the versions. There is also a tool within BibleWorks that will color-highlight the differences for you. I do this to get a general feel of the flow and meaning of the text. After completing this step, I then do the same thing; comparing the various Hebrew (if it is an Old Testament text) and Greek (if it is a New Testament text) Bibles that are available in BibleWorks. By the way, in BibleWorks, there are over 200 Bible translations in 40 different languages, over 50 original languages and morphology databases, with dozens of lexical-grammatical references, plus a wealth of practical reference works, all available in the standard package at no additional costs! It is during the comparison-analysis of the original languages that I also conduct my word-studies. My first goal is to establish the integrity of the text. I especially want to do this if it is a familiar text because I want to find out, as best I can, what the original author actually said and/or meant, as opposed to the popular or common ideas of what the author said and meant. The only way to do this is by a thorough investigation of the text in the original languages. Now, if you have not studied the original languages, BibleWorks will greatly aid in overcoming that deficiency because, even as you look at the various English versions, you can hover your mouse over the English words and BibleWorks will display the corresponding Greek and Hebrew words and meanings in pop-ups and in the analysis window of the software. This information is available in an instant! It would take at least five to ten minutes per word to do this manually with paper books! Now, I use BibleWorks, primarily to establish the integrity of the text and for my initial word-study analysis, usually this process takes about a day of study or about 3-5 hours. As a pastor, husband, and part-time student, there are also many other demands upon my time. But usually the first day of study is devoted to establishing the integrity of the text; using BibleWorks as my primary tool.

The next phrase of study is where the Logos Bible Software comes into play! Although BibleWorks has an extensive selection of Bibles in English and in the original languages, there are still some that are available in Logos that are not currently available in BibleWorks, such as the Amplified Bible, for example. So when I first open Logos, I continue some of the work that I started with BibleWorks. This also includes consulting various lexicons and biblical dictionaries I have that are in Logos, but not in BibleWorks. In some cases, it is not a matter of these resources being available in one software and not in the other. In some cases, I purchased resources in the Logos format, rather than in BibleWorks because of how Logos cross-indexes and integrates the various resources. Plus, I’ve owned Logos longer than BibleWorks, so there are some things I know how to do in Logos that I have not learned how to do in BibleWorks. At any rate, I type the passage in and click go and within a matter of seconds, Logos pulls up every Bible, lexicon, dictionary, commentary and any other resources from my Logos library of resources that I have purchased across the years! As of the writing of this post, there are over 3,000 resources in my Logos library, representing an investment of over $13,000 in 15 years! The first tool I use with Logos is the Exegetical Guide. Type in the text and within a matter of seconds, every Bible (English, Hebrew, and Greek), lexical resource and Bible dictionary in my library is displayed; already cued or located at the text and the words of the text! Logos brings up in seconds what would take hours to do in paper books!

By the time, I’ve finished establishing the integrity of the text, using BibleWorks and Logos, it is usually late Wednesday night or early Thursday morning. The plan is to spend study time Thursday consulting what various commentaries say about the text. Now, by this time, I already have a pretty good feel of the author’s original intent and where I want to go with the text, but I consult commentaries to compare my findings with what other biblical scholars say about the text and also to gain additional insights. I was taught, and I strongly agree, that preachers should never consult the commentaries before the completion of their own personal work of research and study. Going to the commentaries first will short-circuit the development of your own investigative and research skills and severely compromise what the Holy Spirit wants to say to and through you to your listeners. But even in dealing with the commentaries, don’t just read the ones you agree with or the only the ones of your own personal theological slant. Read commentaries that challenge and as well as confirm your findings, thoughts and views.

Most of the commentaries I own are found in my Logos software (nearly 1,500 volumes). To access my commentaries in Logos, I click on the Passage Guide tool, type in the text, click go, and every Bible, commentary and any other resource in my library that deals with the text instantly opens to my text and/or pulls up pertinent information about the text; all in a matter of seconds! However, some of my favorite commentaries are only in my WordSearch software, such as The Preacher’s Sermon and Outline Bible, Barnes Notes of the Old and New Testaments and a few others. There are also times when I consult commentaries that I only have in book-form. As a side note, there are some books that I own in book-form that I have also purchased in various software platforms. Some of these, I purchased years before I became computer savvy and once they became available in software form, I purchased them again because of the ease of use and the speed of research the software provides.

Well, Friday is the day I usually write the sermon! Yes, I am (as my Daddy used to describe preachers who use manuscripts) a paper boy! I have detailed that process in a prior post (From the Mind to the Manuscript: 5/2/13) But I just wanted to share with you a little bit about what biblical software platforms I use and how I use  them. If you are serious about biblical studies; whether you are a preacher, teacher, or just someone who loves the Bible, I strongly suggest you look into investing into a biblical software program. Of the three I use, each one has strengths and weaknesses. There are some tasks I do in one that can’t be done (I have not learn how to do) in the others and there are some task that could be done by any one of them with equal ease. But as I use them, they don’t compete with one another; they complement one another. You can check them out at their various websites for pricing and more exact details. You can find out more about Logos Bible Software at: www.logos.com BibleWorks at www.bibleworks.com and WordSearch at www.wordsearchbible.com.

From the Mind to the Manuscript

I posted earlier about my transition from using paper outlines to paper manuscripts to eventually preaching with an iPad. Now, I would like to share with you the process I go through of bringing the sermon from the mind to the manuscript.

Since I work every Sunday (preaching is work and I do it primarily on Sunday!), Monday is my Sabbath day. I spend Monday recuperating, resting, and relaxing from Sunday. Now, since I am presently a bi-vocational pastor (I work in the local school system also), this only happens true to form during the months that school is out. At any rate, the journey to next Sunday’s sermon does not usually start until Tuesday morning.

Usually, sometime between Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, the Lord will drop a thought, an idea, an inspiration, a scripture text or an impression of some sort into my spirit in regard to the Word for the coming Sunday. From time to time, I preach sermons in series; in that case, it is just a continuation from the previous week. As an aside, when the Spirit dictates, preaching a series is a rewarding and challenging experience that I enjoy very much. The thought or sermon idea comes from a variety of places. Sometimes it is from a conversation, a news report, a current event, a personal experience, a devotional reading, something I read in a book, journal, newspaper or on the Internet, a scripture, or as the direct result of prayer. By the way, the whole process for me starts with prayer. When I stand on Sunday mornings, I want to be delivering a fresh word that was given to me by Him! Sometimes I start with a text and develop ideas, other times, I start with an idea and search for a text to support the idea. In order to be true to the calling, no matter how good I may think the idea is; if it has no scriptural support, if there is no scripture text or context to support it, it is abandoned.

Once the idea and the text are reconciled, the real work begins! The first task I tackle is the establishment of the integrity of the text. In other words, I have to establish what the text is actually saying. This involves determining, as best it can be determined, the author’s original intent, audience, and setting. This also involves understanding the genre (type of literature) of the text: Is it a historical narrative? Is it poetry? What is the context of the text? How does it fit in the chapter, the book, the Bible? What was the historical setting of the text? Now, at this point the primary resource I focus on is the Bible! If it is a New Testament text, I read the text in the Greek New Testament. (I took several semesters of NT Greek in college and in seminary) If it is an Old Testament text, I read the various Hebrew-English Inter-linear Bibles in my library (I took Hebrew in seminary also, but Hebrew almost “brewed” me! I hope my Hebrew professor doesn’t read this!). I feel that it is important to read the text in the Hebrew and/or the Greek because those are the languages in which the text was originally written. As my NT Greek professor at Mississippi College, Dr. G. Rogers Greene would often say: “It is important that you know or at least know how to handle the text in the original languages because if you don’t know what it meant, you can’t tell what it means!” There are several good Greek and Hebrew Inter-linear Bibles on the market that are excellent for this task if you have not studied the original languages. And of course, the Strong’s and Young’s Concordances are excellent tools to supplement an Inter-linear Bible. After laboring with the Greek texts or looking at the Hebrew Inter-linear Bible, I read as many different English versions as I can (KJV, NASB, ESV, NIV, NRSV, Amplified Bible, etc.), noting where there are substantial differences in the Greek texts, and English translations. I then seek to reconcile those differences by using various lexicons and nail down historical context by using various Bible dictionaries and Bible encyclopedias. All of this is crucial in establishing the integrity of the text! After the integrity of the text has been established, I read the text several times, over and over again! I soak the text in prayer, so that the Spirit might speak to me through the text. By the way, by the time all this is done, it is usually sometime Thursday morning.

I must at this point interject, that all this study was done manually by hand (actually pulling books off the self) some twenty years ago and I would not get through with my studies until late Friday night or Saturday morning! But! Thank God for the BibleWorks 9, Logos 5, and WordSearch 10 software programs I have invested in across the years. I started using BibleWorks with version 6, Logos with version 3.0 and WordSearch with version 7. Preacher, Pastor, Teacher, these programs are more than worth what you pay for them! Accordance is also a bible software program that is also very good if you use a Mac computer. With these software programs, I have been able to save, at least two days of study time!

Now at this point, after I have established the integrity of the text, read, read and re-read the text in various versions (I use BibleWorks primarily to do this), I then consult commentaries and various other secondary sources (I use Logos and WordSearch to do this). I recommend that you first establish in your mind what the text is saying BEFORE you consult the commentaries because if you consult the commentaries first, there is always the temptation to not seriously engage the text and allow the commentary to unduly shape you opinion. Also, be careful with the commentaries. I have read one commentary that said one thing and another commentary to say the exact opposite of what the first commentary said! Use the commentaries for thoughts, ideas, or viewpoints you might have missed or not thought of. Again, DON’T consult the commentaries first, consult them LAST!

Whew! Now that all that is done, it is time to write! All throughout the process, I have been writing notes, now it is time to pull and put it all together. I usually try to write out the manuscript on Friday afternoon or by Friday evening at the latest. I do an initial draft on my computer and then leave it to soak overnight. Then early Saturday morning, I edit and write the final draft and transfer it from my computer to my iPad. I read and re-read the sermon several times (actually I preach it to myself several times!). The rest of the day is spent preparing me! As a preacher, you need time to prepare a sermon and you also need time to prepare yourself to preach the sermon!

Now being a pastor and a husband this system does not work like clock-work every week! Family matters, wife’s “honey-do” lists, people get sick, people die, hospital visits, funerals and other things occur to throw a monkey-wrench into the schedule. Not to mention that in the middle of this, I prepare lessons for Wednesday night Bible study, and various discipleship groups that I lead. But this is the way it is done on an “idea” week!

If you have any ideas, suggestions or comments, I am an open book! If you are a preacher/pastor, I would also be interested in knowing your process.