If only you could sit down, read a passage of scripture, put together a sermon outline in one afternoon, and put it aside until Sunday delivery. Truth is, this is far from reality.
It takes hours of hard work to mine the text, to extracts the relevant principles for today’s audience, to develop the sermon, and to delivery it well. These four major stages require skills that are essential for a preacher who is aiming to preach well!
Stage 1: Mining the Text
- Diagrams the passage structure. This skill requires you to chart the text step-by-step by separating the independent clause from dependents clauses, verbs from participles. This step outlines the text grammatically so that you can see the progression of what the author is trying to say.
Want to learn how to diagram a passage? Check out this post for all the details.
- Makes observations of the Text. This step requires the preacher to find all the facts of the text. This is not an interpretation step where you draw conclusions, rather, it’s a skill where you notice repeated words, conjunctions, people who are identified in the personal pronouns (I, we, us, they), etc. Observation of the text is a launchpad for your interpretation stage. So, the better you are at this skill, the better your interpretation of the passage will be.
- Asks research questions. This skill helps us understand the author’s intent to the original audience. For this to occur we must ask the right questions. This skill is a catalyst for making a step towards interpretation. Who, what, when, where, why, how are good questions here.
Stage 2: Extracting Theological Principles
- Discovers the big idea. In the outflow of mining the text should come a clear picture of what the main subject or big idea is. If we did the first stage correctly, there should be an emergence of the central idea of the text. The common mistake is to put emphasis on secondary issues of a passage by overlooking the main idea.
- Moves from text to sermon. This skill is crucial because here we reveal the relevance of an ancient text to today’s listeners. If this skill is sloppy, we simply will have a history lesson.
- Develops sermon points. Once the big idea is discovered (skill 4), the major points of your sermon reinforce and argue for the idea from the text that you are preaching. These points will be the major divisions of your sermon.
Stage 3: Sermon Development
- Balances persuasive elements. There are multiple forms to a sermon. Within any given sermon there is an explanation of the biblical text and concepts, illustrations that communicate the biblical truth in a way that modern readers understand, argumentation for times when your listeners may have objections or difficulty to accept, and application of the text. These four forms need intentional attention in every sermon.
- Story telling. Telling a story like a journalist is critical for your audience to stay engaged. Believe it or not, this is an art. Story telling doesn’t happen by accident. Nail this skill and you will be on your way to becoming a better effective communicator.
Stage 4: Sermon Design
- Touches human experience. A sermon that isn’t shaped and molded to a particular design may backfire. A sermon for children is shaped differently than one addressed to adults. Their experiences are different too. The skill of touching human experience is a skill that speaks to the felt needs of the audience.
- Finalizes the sermon. This last skill is taking everything that is going to be said in your sermon and presenting it in a sequential way that engages your audiences fully. It’s one thing to have great content, but another to present it in the best way possible.
So where do we go from here?
I believe these ten skills are necessary to strengthen and master for those who want to improve their preaching. These skills are all essential and shouldn’t be separated but for learning purposes we shall separate them and discuss them individually more thoroughly. Therefore, this posts will serve as a “table of contents” if you will.
In the near future I will write on each skill more thoroughly and discuss how to master them practically. At the end of this series you will be able to prepare a sermon from scratch and do so with finesse.
If you are interested in reading an entire book on this subject, consider, 12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching.