Erwin Lutzer: How I Preach

February 16th, 2016| Topic: aBeLOG, How I Preach | 2

Erwin Lutzer: How I Preach

Erwin Lutzer: And this is How I Preach

[Erwin Lutzer is the Senior Pastor of The (legendary) Moody Church and a Dallas Seminary graduate. And an award-winning author, in-demand conference speaker, and radio host on a number of programs …. He has been preaching for the last four decades, so when I ran into Erwin at a conference where we were both speaking,  I requested an interview for How I Preach. He graciously consented and so, here’s Erwin Lutzer ….]


Erwin W. Lutzer
Senior Pastor

The Moody Church, Chicago, Illinois

Current gig (preaching, teaching, etc.) and years at it:
Senior Pastor of The Moody Church since 1980.
Even to this day preaching still excites me. I have not lost the wonder!

Who or what made you want to preach:
My call to preach came early in life when I saw a Billy Graham film when I was 10 or 11 years old, and I became “hooked on Billy.”
[Editor’s note: And can he do a mean BG impersonation!]
So from the earliest times I wanted to preach and God graciously granted my desire by connecting all kinds of dots in my walk with Him, so that eventually I would become the longest serving Pastor of The Moody Church. All the glory is His, not mine.

Who are you most indebted to for making you the preacher you are (besides God)?
When I was at Dallas Seminary, Haddon Robinson was our professor of homiletics. From him I learned how to speak to human need, and how every sermon should have one big idea! Years later, when I was here in Chicago, Lloyd Perry, of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, explained how my outlines could have unity, order and progress if I employed a key word (a plural noun) under which all of my points would be subsumed.  This has been of tremendous help and I believe that is one of the reasons many people think that my sermons have a sense of coherence and direction.  Be that as it may, I am thankful for all of the influences in my life that have hopefully made me a better preacher.

Use of Greek and Hebrew (light/moderate/heavy)?
I do not often refer to Greek and Hebrew in my preaching. Only when it seems important to draw out a meaning of a term would I refer to the original text. I have forgotten virtually all of the Hebrew and Greek I knew in seminary, but thank God there are many excellent tools that do our exegesis for us.

Tell us your sermon-prep routine.
Early in the week I begin thinking of the message I will be preaching on Sunday.
I read the text, make a tentative outline and I think through how I expect the sermon to develop.
By Wednesday I have my outline which is passed on to our staff to be published in the bulletin.
And then on Friday, and often on Saturday, everything comes together.
I believe I have the gift of exhortation, so I am always trying to make an application from the text. To put it simply, often in sermon preparation I ask myself: Why should someone’s life be changed because of this message? If I can’t answer that question, I have no right to prepare the sermon. For me, preaching aims at the transformation of a life.

Average numbers of prep hours per sermon?
I am not able to estimate how many hours it takes me to prepare a sermon—perhaps 6 or 7—sometimes more, sometimes less.

What’s your best time-saving trick?
My time saving trick is to look at the text to develop my outline, and then when I prepare I keep only the material that I will use. I do not end up with 10 pages of notes of which I use only a few paragraphs. I am most effective during the morning hours, by evening my brain is weary and I can no longer think with clarity and a reasonable degree of speed.

Any props used regularly in sermons? PowerPoint? Handout?
At The Moody Church my sermon outline is always published in the bulletin, hopefully with enough space to allow for basic notes to be taken by the congregation.

No notes/some notes/extensive notes (manuscript)?
Throughout time my preaching has improved to the point where I seldom look at my notes because I have memorized the ideas (not the exact words), and know how I am going to get these points across to the congregation. I am also more relaxed, and feel free to follow the leading of the Spirit, sometimes sharing an illustration or a truth that I had not planned on using.

Who critiques your sermons, beside yourself?
My wife is the best critic of my sermons, though often in staff meetings we might evaluate the overall service, including the preaching.

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?
I am definitely more of an introvert than an extrovert, though often introverts act like extroverts when in public. I am content to work alone and live for a few days without seeing people.

What are you currently reading?
Most of my reading is clustered around the sermons I am preaching. When I do read beyond that, it may be about current events or other contemporary issues.

What do you wish you had learned when you were in seminary?
In seminary, I wish I had learned how to make an outline based on the key word so that the coherence would be evident. In the early days I struggled with the unity of the sermon and how to structure it so that it would have a key idea.  I cannot overemphasize the difference that it made when the notion of using plural nouns would give my sermon the kind of parallelism that enables me to have a clear, purposeful intro and a coordinated, life-changing ending (hopefully).

[Editor’s Note: You might want to check out Lutzer’s latest, an encouraging autobiographical work: He Will Be the Preacher: The Story of God’s Providence in My Life.]

[For the rest of this series, How I Preach (several months’ worth) see here.]


  1. Paul March 3, 2016 at 9:02 am

    Thanks, Dr. Kuruvilla, for another insightful interview. I enjoy reading these and always pick up some tips. Pastor Lutzer is a wonderful preacher and I enjoy hearing him early in the morning on the radio here in Dallas, TX. Keep these interviews coming …


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