Where to begin? That was my biggest struggle in preparing a sermon. I’d sit for hours with an open Bible before me, and . . . nothing. I’d know the passage inside and out, but I seemed to have trouble getting the process going: How do I start it? Where do I start? How do I close it? Sometimes, I’d sit for several hours trying to think of good opening illustration. I wasted much too much time. We wish to spare you such troubles.
At this point, we’ve looked at hermeneutics and homiletics. Now, we must bring them together in a cogent way such that we model Nehemiah 8:8, which says, “They read from the Book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.” That is our end-game: That the people understand Holy Scripture.
We suggest reducing all your sweat-work to a single page for clarity. This single page will move deliberately in this manner:
Biblical Text → Single Meaning → Timeless Principle → Major Objective of the Sermon (MOS) → Title → Outline.1I am indebted to Al Fasol for this practical, text-driven model. I learned this method from Al Fasol in 2001 when he was professor of preaching at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. His … Continue reading
Write Down the Single Meaning
First, write down the single meaning of the text. Al Fasol defines the single meaning (he calls it the Central Idea of the Text) as a “fifteen-to-eighteen-word (maximum) past-tense statement interpreting what the text meant then.”2Al Fasol, Essentials for Biblical Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989), 56. Write-out a concise sentence of the biblical author’s intent. This statement is of utmost importance because the rest of the sermon will take its shape from the single meaning.
Take Mark 9:33-37 as a case study. Our hermeneutical study yields this single meaning: Jesus taught that greatness came by serving all people, including those who can’t help themselves.
For the listener’s clarity, state this sentence somewhere in the sermon, preferably directly before or after reading the passage.
State the Timeless Principle
Next, write down the timeless principle. Fasol defines the timeless principle (he calls it the thesis) as “a fifteen-to-eighteen-word (maximum) present-tense application of the CIT” [single meaning sentence].3Ibid., 57. The timeless principle is the bridge between the ancient text and the contemporary context. It conveys how the text is relevant today.
Consider Mark 9:33-37. The text yields this timeless principle: True greatness comes by serving others despite the cost. Fasol wisely counsels, “A good thesis is timeless and universal.”4Fasol, et al., Steps to the Sermon, 66. Again, we recommend stating the timeless principle somewhere in the sermon, usually the introduction.
Think Through the Major Objective of the Sermon
Third, write out the major objective of the sermon (MOS). Fasol defines it as “a statement of what the preacher hopes to accomplish with this one message, from this one text, for this one congregation, at this one particular time.”5Fasol, Essentials for Biblical Preaching, 58. Of course, the MOS must emerge from the timeless principle.
Let’s say we are called upon to proclaim Mark 9:33-37 to a small, middle-class church in a medium sized city. The MOS might be: To ignite a passion in Christians for serving others. A helpful tip: Use a strong verb to capture the listener’s attention. It is not necessary to state the MOS outright in the sermon. If you do, the natural place is either in the introduction or the conclusion.
Think of a Sermon Title
Fourth, write out the sermon’s title. Some like to title their sermons. Some don’t. We think it is a helpful exercise in stating concisely the substance of the sermon. Fasol states, “The title summarizes and gives direction to the sermon”6Ibid., 61-62. For instance, we might title Mark 9:33-37 as a question: “Serving Your Way to Greatness?” A question provokes thought; in this case, a thought which is opposite of what we might expect. Experience informs us that stating the title early-on gives the audience some clue as to why this is important. A helpful tip: Drop-in the title at several points during the sermon. This can serve to reinforce the thrust of the message. We discovered from studying African-American preaching that repetition can be an effective tool in driving the biblical author’s intention deep into the listener’s heart.
Draft Your Sermon Outline
The flow of the passage will dictate the sermon outline. Remember Walt Kaiser’s two points here: (1) use present-tense phrases and (2) limit your subpoints. Too many may convolute the text’s force.
Mark 9:33-37 has a simple outline: Three main points, no sub-points. Each point marks a specific break in the biblical author’s thought-flow;
- Guard Against the Pride of Greatness (Mark 9:33-34)
- Embrace the Principle of Greatness (Mark 9:35)
- Imitate the Picture of Greatness (Mark 9:36-37).
Notice, each point begins with an imperative verb and is a complete sentence. Use imperatives when possible. They tend to stimulate listeners to respond. Don’t force it, though. Some texts are not conducive to imperatives.
Finally, this outline happened to be alliterative. Don’t try to force alliteration. Often, in trying to conjure-up alliterative words, we end up exegeting our alliteration rather than the biblical text. Hardly anyone will remember the alliterative points anyway.
Fill-in the Skeleton
The sermon content generally is made up of three functional elements: (1) explanation; (2) illustration; and, (3) application. A healthy sermon should use variations of each to cast light upon the biblical text. The critical idea to remember is that every paragraph under a main pint should be related to that main point. If not, strike it.
To close, notice what this process does:
(1) It begins with the biblical text.
(2) The single meaning emerges directly from the preaching-text;
(3) The timeless principle emerges directly from the single meaning;
(4) The MOS emerges directly from the timeless principle;
(5) The title emerges directly from the MOS;
(6) The outline emerges directly from the MOS and takes into consideration the syntax/through-flow of the biblical author.
In this way, every sentence in the message can be traced back to the biblical text. Indeed, every sentence will be grounded in Holy Scripture authority. We hope this will save you hours of wasted time, too.
|1||I am indebted to Al Fasol for this practical, text-driven model. I learned this method from Al Fasol in 2001 when he was professor of preaching at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. His invaluable little volume, Steps to the Sermon, is an easy-to-follow guide for sermon preparation. See .C. Brown, Jr., H. Gordon Clinard, Jesse J. Northcutt, and Al Fasol, Steps to the Sermon, rev. ed. (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996.|
|2||Al Fasol, Essentials for Biblical Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989), 56.|
|4||Fasol, et al., Steps to the Sermon, 66.|
|5||Fasol, Essentials for Biblical Preaching, 58.|