The Method of Preaching
The Method of Preaching
In Lesson 5 we discussed four major themes and the reasons or their importance. We learned that a wealth of material is available for development by the conscientious person who preaches. Now we turn to The Method of Preaching.
As you learn how to prepare and preach sermons, you will learn to set a goal for each sermon, to gather and arrange material based on the Scriptures, and to communicate the message effectively. In addition to the mechanics of sermon building, you will evaluate your sermons to see if you have met
your goal, and discern whether or not your preaching ministry provides a balanced spiritual diet that can help the ones to whom you minister grow in the faith.
Remember that the power of salvation is not in the person who preaches or in the method he or she uses. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of salvation. The apostle Paul put this truth into perspective: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” (Romans 1:16). Never be ashamed of the gospel! It is God’s message, backed by His power, and guaranteed to produce results. Preach it with assurance and see what God can do! But never forget that the power lies in the message, not in the messenger.
Determine the Goal
You cannot plan a trip until you know where you are going. Then you plan how to get there. Just so, in preaching you set a goal for each message, then you work toward reaching it. If you expect to accomplish anything when you preach, you must set one definite goal. To determine what that one goal is, you will need to consider two things.
First, the needs of the people must be known. Jesus knew the needs common to all people (Matthew 6:31–32) as well as the needs of each person (John 1:43–50). The need to be loved, to be saved, to be wanted, to be useful are examples of needs common to everyone. Individual needs must be met too! And Jesus did that. He ministered personally to many individuals (Matthew 9:27–31; 12:9–14; Mark 1:40–45; John 3:1–14; 4:1–26).
Often as I prepare a sermon, I picture several people seated around my desk. I imagine a teenage young man, a busy businessman, a young mother, a widow, a college student, and a 60-something lady. I ask myself, “What does the text from which I will preach this Sunday have to say to each of these?” I ask the Lord to help me know the needs of people. A good preacher is an involved pastor.
Second, the needs of the people must be met. Jesus referred to meeting the needs of people when He spoke about the sick needing a physician (Mark 2:17). When you are preaching to meet a specific need, not only can that need be met but many other people are likely to be helped also. When hunting quail, the hunter aims for a specific bird, not the whole covey. So it is in preaching. You will help more people overall if you have one goal for each message and reach it.
When you have determined the need, the next question is, What do I preach to meet the need? The Holy Spirit will guide you as you seek to minister to the needs of the people. Trust and follow His leadership (1 Corinthians 2:10–12).
Those who preach often find that a Scripture text will impress itself on their hearts as the Holy Spirit ministers to them when they pray concerning the needs of the people. This Scripture text then determines the scope and theme of the sermon. The sermon, as we shall see later in this lesson, is the faithful exposition and application of the Scripture to the needs of the hearers by the power of the Holy Spirit. At other times, as we are reading or studying the Word of God, a Scripture text seems to leap off the pages at us almost demanding that we preach it. However the text comes to you, it will determine the nature, course, and goal of your sermon.
Another excellent way to meet the needs of people is to preach a series of sermons through a biblical book. The Bible is God’s inspired Word. As you preach through a book, the Spirit of God will take the Word of God and apply to the needs of the people of God. Preaching a series of sermons will also enable you preach on many topics and not just address your favorite issues.
Sometimes the need presents itself and you search the Scriptures for an answer. At other times you will see in the Scriptures an answer to existing needs. Whatever the case, you must determine one goal for each message; then prepare and preach to meet the need represented by that goal. If needs are to be determined and met, then there must be an object, a goal to preaching. Alexander Pope’s words on writing apply to preaching in this regard: “In ev’ry work regard the writer’s End, Since none can compass more than they intend.”
Your goal in preaching any sermon should be so clear in your own mind that you could state it in seven to ten words.
Gather the Material
What Does the Bible Say?
When the need is determined and the goal is decided upon, the next question is: What does the Bible say? In your search for what the Bible says on any matter, avoid twisting or forcing a text to say something it does not say. For example, the apostle Paul’s assurance that not even a hair of your heads will be lost (Acts 27:34) is not intended as a solution for baldness. It is, however, a very descriptive and clear statement of the unlimited extent of God’s protection. You will recall from Lesson 3 that the context determines the meaning. The plain, literal meaning of a passage should be used unless it cannot be taken literally. Therefore, if you will take a text from Scriptures and keep close to it, you will avoid any twisting of the Scriptures. And if you will base every message on the simple, straightforward declaration of Scripture, you will preach with authority and your message will be received as the Word of the Lord. Additionally, avoid preaching a sermon based on one translation of a certain text. Let your selected Bible passage be clear and confirmed by multiple translations. As you search the Scriptures, purpose to find what the Bible has to say. Then you can proclaim God’s message with confidence, expecting God to meet the needs of the people to whom you minister.
What Have I Experienced and Observed?
Sermons are not as much made like machinery as they are grown like fruit. They are not as much built like houses as they are received like messages. Part of the process is that of thought, meditation, and study. Ask yourself, What have I observed or experienced that will make this Bible text more meaningful? What truths of this Scripture passage have I experienced or observed in another’s experience? Where in the Bible is this doctrine illustrated in the life of someone? You must be sure, however, that when you preach, you avoid using any experience of your own or another’s that could cause embarrassment or hurt. Carefully weigh what you will say and how it will be received. You do not have to make public reference to personal experience, although you may use these experiences with profit on occasion.
Stories and illustrations give power and meaning to a text if you have experienced them and profited by the truth they portray. Illustrations are like windows; they let in the light.
What Do I Know?
Ask yourself, What have I ever read, heard, seen, or thought on this subject? Time, prayer, and meditation are needed here. Search your mind for anything and everything that is meaningful. Let the text act like a magnet to draw every bit of information about the truth it contains. Time and experience will add to your store of information. When you use what you have, you will begin to note things that come your way. Remember, Jesus used so many of the simple things in the natural world to illustrate spiritual truth. So use what you have; draw on it as a resource for preaching. I often study and make a rough outline for my Sunday sermon on Tuesday. Then I think, pray, read, and sort from Wednesday through Friday, finalizing the sermon on Saturday morning. We preach from the overflow; therefore, give the Holy Spirit time to fill you.
In addition, use any materials you have gathered and filed on the subject. As we saw in Lesson 3, this collection of information can increase your store of usable sermon material.
Arrange the Material
Plan the Preaching
Planning is necessary to good preaching. Once or twice each year you should look back where you have been and anticipate where you are going in your preaching. Avoid preaching the same or similar texts, subjects, and messages. Like Paul, preach the whole purpose of God (Acts 20:26–27). Study your preaching patterns carefully to see that you are not neglecting the great truths and texts of Scripture. One helpful step can be to open a good book on theology to the table of contents. As you look down the table, have you not preached on any major biblical theme lately? If your answer is yes, then get busy and preach that theme.
Why not plan to preach a series of messages on the Ten Commandments, the Journeys of Israel, the Parables of Matthew, the Miracles of John’s Gospel, or the Great “I Am” Discourses in John? Other series will suggest themselves to you as you continue in the ministry of preaching. Above all, avoid hit-or-miss, spur-of-the-moment selection of texts and topics for preaching. You and the people who hear you will benefit from a well-planned preaching program.
Not only is planning important to your overall preaching ministry, it is also important to the preparation and delivery of each message you preach. It is impossible to plant, water, and harvest a good sermon in one week. For sermon building is a process that touches every aspect of the preacher’s life. As such, it is a developing, lifelong process.
A sermon is a bridge that helps you take people from where they are to where they need to be. A good plan and sufficient material will help you build that bridge. An orderly, forward looking plan for preaching will enable you to help people grow and develop spiritually. In addition, as you preach through the great themes of the Bible, you will challenge them, for every sermon can and should have the vitality and novelty that come as the Holy Spirit takes us ever deeper in our knowledge of God. And the Spirit will help us to apply the truth of the Word to our lives. An orderly, forward-moving plan for preaching will also help you to preach messages that are interesting, easy to understand, and easy to remember. Your people can meditate on such truths long after the echo of your voice has faded away.
Determine the Central Truth
Every message you preach should have a central truth taken from the Scripture text upon which the sermon is based. The central truth is the heart of the message. It is important that you write it in one sentence. If the message is not clear to you, it will not be clear to your listeners. Mist in the pulpit will create fog in the pew. If you can summarize the message in one sentence, you can better present it without wandering to other things. If you can condense your message into a single sentence, a good listener can summarize it in one sentence. This may be difficult to do, but it will help you as you preach
Once you have chosen the central truth, all of your efforts, arguments, illustrations, and supporting material should harmonize in supporting it. Do not allow secondary ideas to distract your attention. Stay off rabbit trails and detours, regardless how tempting they might be. Follow through in
developing this one central truth. Pray about it and meditate on it until it becomes a part of you. And when you get ready to make your outline, you will know exactly where you are going. Your goal will be clear.
Arrange in Orderly Manner
At this point you need to structure all the material in a reasonable and usable order. A sermon outline is an effective means of arranging and organizing this material. A sermon outline is to preaching what a skeleton is to a body, framework is to a house, and steel girders are to a skyscraper. It is indispensable! We turn now to the consideration of sermon organization and the development of a system that will help you in this area.
A homily is a simple and informal form of preaching. Homilies usually consist of a verse-by-verse or word-by-word commentary on a passage of Scripture. There are three forms of homilies: a verse-by-verse commentary on a passage of Scripture; a topic or subject homily; and a blend of the two, a verse-by-verse and subject homily. A more advanced homily simply has an introduction and a conclusion added to the running commentary. It is this advanced form of homily (sermon) that we will consider. It consists of (after the Scripture text and central truth) the introduction, the body, and the conclusion.
The Introduction. What an entry is to a house, an introduction is to a sermon. The basic purpose of an introduction is to gain attention and create interest. The introduction may come from the context, the Bible setting, the occasion, current events, etc. Prepare the introduction carefully and write it out. This will assure you of getting off to a good start. Keep the introduction short; about two or three minutes. It should relate to the whole body of material. Be sure to vary your introductions, and add a final sentence that easily moves the thought from the introduction to the body of the sermon.
The Body. The body of a homily consists of verse by verse comment on the Scripture text. Study the verses of the text carefully until some order and grouping appears, especially in longer passages. Limit the body to three or four major divisions. This will make it easy to manage in preaching. Here is one procedure to follow in forming the divisions of the body from the Scripture passage: 1) Use a verse or two to make a statement of the content (tell what it says). 2) Make an application of this statement (show how it applies to your listeners). 3) Illustrate the truth and/or application from nature, Scripture, observation, or personal experience. 4) Summarize the whole matter in one sentence. Then move on to the next verse or verses and repeat the process. In simple terms, state the principle, explain the principle, illustrate the principle, and then apply the principle.
As you prepare to preach the message, remember that the central truth is like the hub of a wheel. The different divisions of the sermon body are its spokes. As the spokes run to and from the hub, so the authority for the truth of each division comes from the central truth. And the truth of each division makes its appeal for proof to the central truth. Each division of the sermon body should be an outgrowth of the passage of Scripture on which it is based. Good preaching is not saying three things; good preaching is saying one thing three different ways. So stay focused on your central theme or big idea.
The Conclusion. The conclusion is the last and best chance to bring the truths of the message to the hearts of the listeners. The big question every sermon ought to raise is, “‘Brothers, what shall we do?’” (Acts 2:37). Every congregation has the right to an answer to that question. The conclusion should give that answer. It is the final appeal to action. The conclusion should be written out and not be longer than the introduction. The last words must be effective! An appropriate illustration, a brief restatement of the major truth, a verse of a hymn, any of these might be used to capture the total weight of the message. Aim the conclusion to the heart of the listeners. Be sure to give an invitation for people to respond. Your invitation will vary from salutation to fuller commitment to healing to witnessing, etc. Challenge the congregation to be doers of the Word, not merely hearers.
Communicate the Message
To communicate is to give information by speaking, writing, etc. The process of communication is complete only when the message has been given and received. When your listeners understand you they know what you know on the matter. Thus, you have communicated. The four guidelines that follow serve as a checklist against which you can measure your communication performance.
Follow the Plan
Some preachers write out in full and read their sermons to the congregation. Others preach from a prepared outline. Whatever method you choose, little is gained if you prepare a plan for preaching and then do not follow it. However, when you have prepared material well and then follow the plan, you can expect to communicate your message. Be yourself and develop yourself into the best preacher possible. Make preaching the heart of your ministry, for it is the heart of God’s call on your life.
Be Concise, Concrete
Some people have to say something; others have something to say. Every preacher who has prepared a gospel message has something to say! Avoid meaningless phrases and repetition of words that only take up time. Get to the point. Say enough to be understood, but do not be burdensome. It is far better to quit when people want you to continue with your message than to continue when they want you to quit.
Use specific, simple language. Use words that describe action. Say more about doing than about being. Preach of people, places, things. Use concrete language, not abstract language. Remember, the human mind is more like a picture gallery than a debating hall. Be specific, not general. Use pictorial
words, things that can be touched, heard, smelled, and seen.
Use illustrations that illuminate the truth you are preaching. They are like windows that let in light. However, a house is not all windows! And your sermon should not consist of an endless string of illustrations, which may indeed amuse and entertain, but leave your people spiritually hungry and empty. Preach the Word!
Preach for the Objective
Everything in the sermon outline is there because it contributes to reaching the predetermined goal of the message. When you preach, everything must contribute to meeting that same goal. Be mindful of the goal of the message. Reach out to the people. Communicate with them. Do not be afraid to use your entire body to communicate. (Think how an orchestra conductor puts his whole body into conducting.) Meet them where they are when you begin to preach and take them where you want them to be when you finish. While this is the objective of the immediate message, in a larger sense each message is part of your ministry to the people whom you serve. Your message objective is part of your ministry objective: to declare the whole purpose of God (Acts 20:27) so that the lost will find Christ and the believers will mature in the faith.
As you outline your sermon to preach for objective, vary your style and structure. For example, consider the following outline of a sermon on Mark 10:46–52, the healing of Bartimaeus.
1. The condition of the man
2. The cry for mercy
3. The command of the Savior
Perhaps it would be more engaging and memorable to show people the ABCs that lead to a miracle.
A = Assume responsibility for your life (v. 47)
B = Believe God can change you (v. 48)
C = Clarify what you want God to do (v. 51)
D = Determine to follow Jesus (v. 52)
Your key points stated as principles rather than factual phrases will be easy to remember and apply. As you make your outline, speak in the present tense and not the past tense. Also, use “you” and “we” rather than “he” or “it.” When your outline is both present tense and personally connected, it will have greater impact on your listeners.
Paul had a goal for his ministry, (whether it was public or private), and it was to turn people from sin to God and to declare fully the message of God’s grace. He also had personal goals. He did not want to become so involved in ministry that he would lose out in the race and become a spiritual fatality even as he tried to win others to Christ (1 Corinthians 9:24–27; Philippians 3:7–16). We will do well to take heed to his admonition and example.
Gather the Results
When you preach the Word, God guarantees the results (Isaiah 55:11; Psalm 126:6). The results you are seeking, saving the lost or building up believers, will come only by the ministry of the Word and the Spirit.
When you have preached, do these things to gather the results:
1. Give the Holy Spirit opportunity to work in the hearts of the people. He will convince them of their need and of God’s provision for that need (John 16:8).
2. Give brief, simple instructions. Peter told the crowd exactly what they should do to respond to his message (Acts 2:38– 39).
3. Give the congregation an opportunity to respond. If the conclusion of your message is an appeal, expect a response.
The story is told of a preacher who approached the distinguished preacher C. H. Spurgeon and asked, “How do we preach the same gospel and you have results and I don’t?” Spurgeon answered, “You don’t expect results every time you preach, do you?” “No,” replied the preacher. “Then that is one reason why you don’t get any!” Spurgeon exclaimed. When you preach, expect God to make something happen. Evangelist Billy Graham often begins his preaching by telling people about the invitation that will come at the end of the sermon. This prepares people and lets them know you are trusting God for real life changes.
Peter, An Example
Simon Peter is an example of a common man who became an effective preacher. After he denied Jesus to a slave girl (Matthew 26:72), he preached in Jerusalem to thousands (Acts 2). The power of the Holy Spirit that came upon him on the Day of Pentecost made the difference between the earlier fear and his later boldness (Acts 1:8).
Peter’s preaching method, as recorded in Acts, is not structured precisely like our homily. Nevertheless, he began at the point of people’s needs and moved toward meeting those needs. He began with the familiar (the Old Testament history) and explained how the program of God for people’s salvation moved to its completion in Christ. In addition, he showed how the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus were fulfillments of Old Testament prophecy. Finally, in his conclusion he appealed to his hearers to repent of their sins and believe in Jesus so that they could enjoy all the provisions of God: forgiveness of sins, peace, times of refreshing, and security from the judgment to come.
Peter did not learn everything about preaching and people overnight. There is an apparent progression in understanding and growth in spiritual awareness in his ministry from Acts 2, 3, 4, 5, and 8 to 10, where he preached to the household of Cornelius. The development was not in Peter’s method, the mechanics of his preaching, or his own study. Rather, it was his obedience to the leading of the Holy Spirit that brought about the evangelization of the Gentiles. Before Peter’s ministry at the house of Cornelius, God prompted Peter by a series of visions (Acts 10:9–17), spoke to him by the Holy Spirit, telling him to go to Caesarea (Acts 10:19–20), and revealed how fully He had prepared the way for universal evangelism. After these marvelous spiritual experiences, Peter’s task of preaching was made much easier, for he realized that he was only a channel through which the ministry of God’s Word flowed to others.
Peter’s message had one central feature: the proclamation of the gospel. His experience shows that the power is not in the person or in the method, but in the gospel (Romans 1:16). God uses trained, capable people, but even the most capable ministers acknowledge that the gospel is preached not in the wisdom of men but in the power of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:3–5).
I encourage you to study to gain all the skill you can, and to work diligently to do the best you can to preach this gospel message. But be aware always that the power of salvation is not in the skills you learn or the ability you have, but in the message you preach: the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.