12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching [Second Edition] 0805432973, 9780805432978

In this newly expanded second edition of12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching,Dr. Wayne McDill draws on decades of exp

674 104 9MB

Englsih Pages 320 [258] Year 2006

Report DMCA / Copyright

DOWNLOAD FILE

Polecaj historie

12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching [Second Edition]
 0805432973, 9780805432978

Citation preview

Contents



Preface

Preface to the Second Edition

Introduction Strengthening Sermon Preparation Skills

Preachers can significantly improve their preaching by strengthening twelve specific skills used in the preparation of sermons.



Section 1: Text Analysis

Skill 1 Diagramming the Text Structure

An interpretation of the text writer's meaning requires recognizing and noting the structural relationship of various ideas in the text.



Skill 2 Noting the Text Details

Powers of observation are vital to the preacher for identifying and noting significant details in the text which determine its meaning.



Skill 3 Asking Research Questions

Text interpretation involves asking questions that will lead to fruitful research into the historical, literary, and theological aspects of the text.



Section 2: Theological Interpretation

Skill 4 Naming the Text Idea

Wording the text idea in clear and precise terms names the text writer's theme and establishes the sermon theme.



Skill 5 Bridging from Text to Sermon

The preacher constructs a hermeneutical bridge from the ancient text to the contemporary audience in order to communicate the theological truth.



Skill 6 Writing Sermon Divisions

Carefully worded sermon divisions as theological statements can accurately reflect the biblical writer's treatment of his theme in the text.



Section 3: Sermon Development

Skill 7 Balancing Persuasive Elements

Sermon development best supports the theological ideas of the sermon when it makes a balanced appeal in concrete and specific terms.



Skill 8 Exploring Natural Analogies

The preacher can discover natural images familiar to human experience for the theological truths he wishes to preach from Scripture.



Skill 9 Drawing Pictures, Telling Stories

Effective communication of biblical truths requires a vivid and imaginative portrayal of textual and contemporary scenes and stories.



Section 4: Sermon Design

Skill 10 Touching Human Experience

Recognizing the human element in the textual truths and in the contemporary audience will enhance interpretation and communication.

Skill 11 Aiming for a Faith Response



Preaching can be planned for the overarching purpose of enhancing faith in the hearers.



Skill 12 Planning the Oral Presentation

Sermon design involves the selection and arrangement of sermon materials for an oral presentation to the audience.



Conclusion Planning for Better Preaching

Skills development in preaching involves careful and consistent personal planning for every aspect of the preaching program.



Appendix A Sermon Sample: Genesis 32:24–32

Appendix B Sermon Sample: Romans 8:1–4

Appendix C Sermon Sample: Revelation 4:1–11

Appendix D Sample Key Words

Endnotes

Bibliography

Preface How can preaching be taught? That question has provoked and inspired me for many years. My first preaching class was made up of six men in Central Baptist Church, Hillsboro, Texas, in 1971. They wanted to learn how to preach, so I attempted to teach them. At the time I was a doctoral student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. I never thought I would teach homiletics full-time. There is some doubt that preaching can be taught at all, or should be. Some feel sincerely that those who are to preach are born with the talents and supernaturally gifted by God at their call. It is, in that view, a near blasphemy to try to teach someone to do what God has already prepared him for. I do believe that the gifts for preaching are from God, but I also believe that skills must be developed. We are all stewards of what God has invested in us. As in every aspect of this Christian life, God chooses to use us and holds us accountable for our stewardship. We are ever learning, growing, and sharpening our tools for this calling. So I have persisted in trying to learn how to teach preaching, and I am still learning. In recent years I have come to a growing conviction that a skills development approach holds much promise in training for homiletics. In one sense all preaching classes must deal with the development of skills. But I am searching for better ways to identify and strengthen the specific skills needed for more effective sermon preparation. Writers and teachers of homiletics of many generations have left their creative mark on these ideas. Seldom does anyone come along with a really new perspective. Some of those who have, however, are cited in these chapters. Perhaps there is nothing essentially new to today's preaching. But new combinations of ideas and new emphases for this day are being presented by contemporary teachers. It is a good and rich day to study preaching. Many have had a hand in this present study. Hundreds of preaching students have evaluated class after class, made suggestions, offered good ideas for improvement. Student assistants and tutors have analyzed with me what we were doing, to offer their insights. It is not an exaggeration to say that every semester meant going back to the drawing board in some major area. Out of all this input these methods have evolved, step-by-step. They are still evolving. I am also grateful, as ever, for the patient reading and advice of my wife and partner in ministry, Sharon. My son, Michael McDill, has given special help with this study and will continue to do so as we both teach from these chapters. My thanks go as well to the valuable counsel of colleague and friend, Austin Tucker. My prayer is that this study will help some who are called to the greatest mission on earth, proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ to a needy world. I praise God for the privilege of making a small contribution to their ministries.



Preface to the Second Edition

There is something dynamic and fulfilling about a second chance. We do not often get the opportunity to go back and fix what at first effort was inadequate, perhaps even seriously flawed. We often say, “If I had it to do over again,” as a fond wish but with little expectation of fulfillment. So I take it as a blessing and an opportunity to go back and rewrite 12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching. It is really not going back but rather taking the ideas in the book forward. A lot has happened in the twelve years since the book first came out. Many more books on preaching have been written, some of them making a new and significant contribution to the field. And my own thinking has evolved. Though my basic convictions about preaching have not changed, the way I express those ideas has grown. In these dozen years I have had the privilege of interacting with hundreds of students as we labored over sermons together. They have often been my teachers, with the questions they ask, occasionally with a challenge to some idea in the textbook. I am grateful for the reviews, personal letters, suggestions, and words of appreciation received from preachers across the nation and beyond. Especially helpful to me have been the suggestions of the professors who have used the text. I have been helped especially by two sons, Michael McDill and Matthew McDill. They understand and practice these methods well in their preaching and have helped with the substance and style of the book. Also special thanks to Mael Disseau, who has as keen an eye for writing style and clarity as I have seen. Those who have contributed sample sermons, along with the spadework of the twelve exercises, have done so as part of an M.Div. course in expository preaching in the spring of 2005. This new feature for the second edition will allow the reader to see several examples, following specific texts through every step in the process. I offer this second edition as “new and improved” but with no illusions that I finally have it right. I trust, by the grace of God, that it might be helpful.



Skill. This does not refer merely to style and delivery, but also to the collection, choice, and arrangement of materials. All who preach eminently well—and the same thing is true of secular speakers—will be found, with scarcely an exception, to have labored much to acquire skill.1



Introduction



Strengthening Sermon Preparation Skills Michael Jordan made it look so easy. The legendary basketball player could run headlong down the court, bouncing the ball on the floor, while several other men tried to get in his way, then leap into the air with others clamoring about him, and cause a pumpkin-sized ball to slip through a steel hoop as easily as dropping a lump of sugar into your coffee. We celebrated his skill by cheering and through him feeling some fleeting sense of personal accomplishment. I wish I could do that. I have also been a fan of Itzhak Perlman. Hearing him play a Mozart violin concerto, I marveled. He closed his eyes in his characteristic way, delighting in every note, his facial expressions animated as though he were singing through the violin. I was caught up in his performance and found myself moving with the flow of the music. I wish I could do that. But I cannot play basketball like Michael Jordan or the violin like Itzhak Perlman. Neither can you. What did they have that I do not? Why could they perform the way they did while I am only skilled enough at their craft to watch? In the first place they had the gifts for it. Built into the genetic formula for these two very different men was a treasure of giftedness few people have. Another difference between these two men and the rest of us is the time and effort they put into developing those gifts. While you and I were watching television as children, Michael Jordan at the same age was dribbling and shooting baskets. Itzhak Perlman was practicing his scales and double stops. They invested their freedom in disciplined practice of their skills while most of us were using up our freedom at something else. Ultimately they had the freedom to perform as one in a million can, while the rest of us are not free to do that. My guess is that somebody, somewhere along the way, helped these two stars with their training. No matter what his gifts, everyone needs help. They were taught the basic principles of their craft, the technique for every skill they would need. And they practiced. They practiced hours. They practiced devotedly. They were driven to practice insatiably while other young people were making softer decisions about their time. Not only am I not good at basketball and playing the violin, neither am I good at a host of other activities. Why? It takes not only the gifts but also the time. I heard a nationally known preacher say in a pastor's conference, “I determined early in my ministry that I could not afford to be good at golf. I decided to be good at preaching. You have to choose what you will be good at because you can be good at only a very few things.” What have you decided to be good at? Whatever you would do well calls for some giftedness for that particular task. To do well you must develop the skills associated with those gifts.

The Focus of This Study Preaching is not an easy assignment. In every generation someone declares that preaching as we have always known it is a thing of the past. Alternatives are suggested that will be much more effective—counseling, drama, audiovisual media, lectures using PowerPoint. Words from the ancient book of Ecclesiastes are still true today for the work of the faithful preacher. “And moreover, because the Preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yes, he pondered and sought out and set in order many proverbs. The Preacher sought to find acceptable words; and what was written was upright—words of truth” (Eccl. 12:9–10). Many writers of homiletics books advocate expository preaching. They claim that real preaching is biblical preaching and that authentic biblical preaching must expose the meaning of a text of Scripture. Other homileticians claim that the sermon must be set free from the bonds of Scripture.2 In this study I am advocating expository preaching with a methodology based on four specific emphases that spell out the approach presented here. First, our approach to the text will involve inductive Bible study. This technique aims at a careful examination and analysis of the text in all its details to discover what the writer intended to say. Though I would encourage you to use the original biblical languages as you are able, we will work from the English text in these exercises. Second, our method for getting from text to sermon is a traditional one called the key word method. This method keeps the preacher on track for allowing the text to speak through the sermon in its content and purpose. It is a classic approach to expository preaching. Third, the selection and arrangement of sermon material uses rhetorical elements common to persuasive speech. With this approach we recognize that sermon material functions in four ways: explanation, illustration, argumentation, and application. Each of these elements contributes to a balanced appeal to the hearer for communicating biblical truths and persuading the audience to receive them. Fourth, the method presented here for planning the sermon presentation focuses on an oral design for maximum audience appeal. This audience-centered approach for presenting the sermon aims to communicate the biblical ideas in the most effective way. A sermon is by definition an oral presentation and must be planned for the ear of the hearer. These four emphases are the basis for the four sections of the book.



Let me also say from the outset that this study will be limited in several significant ways. For one thing this is not a book about preaching but a study on how to prepare expository sermons. Many of the topics often covered in homiletics texts will not be addressed: the history of preaching, the preacher's personal life, various methods for sermon preparation, sermon delivery, among others. Recent decades have seen a growing emphasis on narrative preaching and inductive preaching. These emphases have raised important concerns about how sermons can honor text forms and heighten audience interest. Though we do affirm these concerns, this study will not be about how to do narrative and inductive preaching.

A Skills Development Plan The premise of this book is simple: Preachers can improve their preaching significantly by strengthening twelve specific skills used in the preparation of expository sermons. Here we concentrate on twelve tasks that are necessary to the most effective sermon preparation. What do we mean by “skills development”? By skill we mean a proficiency or expertness in a particular craft, gained by training and experience. Skills are developed through a step-by-step training program with sufficient practice in the appropriate tasks. Skills development, then, is the gradual growth in one's proficiency in a particular craft. Skills development focuses on the practical application of the knowledge in a given field. Here are six aspects of a program of skills development as we apply them to sermon preparation. It is important to understand the basic concepts behind the skills you are learning. If you understand why something is done, you are more likely to remember how it is done. The skills necessary to effective expository preaching are based on the principles of biblical interpretation, sermon structure and development, language use, and communication. As we understand those principles, the particular skills we need will make more sense and we will understand better the importance of those skills in the work of sermon preparation. Skills development training requires hands-on experience working with the material of a given craft. You will never develop skills for a particular task just by hearing about it. You have to be a doer and not a hearer only. This will involve an understanding of the properties of the raw material with which you work. If it is basketball, you have to get a feel for the ball and the basket. In the case of sermon preparation, the raw materials are ideas and language, particularly in the words of the text and of your sermon. You are a word crafter in handling the words of Scripture and the words of your sermon. So you have to get a feel for words and for selecting them and combining them for the best results. Skills are best learned when they are first explained in step-by-step terms. The skills for any performance involve specific actions that must be taken in a certain order. This requires clear and concrete instructions. Learning how to do anything is much easier if the task is broken down into achievable steps that can be taken one at a time. Written instructions should be clear enough for reference and reinforcement as you continue to practice. Skills development must take into account that different persons come to the task with varying experience and expertise in the particular skill. So it is with the development of preaching skills. You do best to work at your own pace and level. If you are already skilled in a particular task, you will want to move on to other skills you need to strengthen. Different preachers also have different levels of giftedness, creativity, and potential. It is best to deal with the basics while allowing plenty of room for creative freedom. Skills development calls for modeling of the particular tasks so that the student can see how an experienced craftsman does it. No matter how clear instructions may be, good examples are necessary. It is best to have a coach present to demonstrate the particular task you are learning. As you work at strengthening sermon preparation skills, you will need not only instructions but also examples that show what the task looks like on paper. This book is designed to provide the instructions and examples you need for expository preaching. In skills development there is no substitute for practice. Just because you think you understand something doesn't mean you can do it. Practice is the only way to master a skill, even in sermon preparation. This means writing, writing, and more writing. Completing a task one time is not practice. At first the work may seem tedious, and you are uncertain. But as you keep working with different texts, you will find yourself more and more at home with each task. Do not work at one preparation task for more than three or four hours at a time. After that you may become mentally fatigued and frustrated with the task. Regular and consistent practice over the weeks is better than too much at once.

Gifts and Skills As preachers we come in all varieties. Some have dynamism in personality that others do not. Some are more passionate, more caring, and fierier by nature. Some have clearer articulation by nature while others seem to mumble or stutter. Some are naturally dramatic and extroverted, relishing the spotlight, while others tremble with dread at standing before a crowd. But we are all gifted and can develop the skills appropriate to those gifts. A call to preach comes with the gifts necessary to that calling. Though they are not completely developed, you have the gifts necessary for these qualities if you are called. John Broadus wrote in 1870 that the preacher needs “the capacity for clear thinking, with strong feelings, and a vigorous imagination; also capacity for expression, and the power of forcible utterance.”3 Many generations have passed since those words were written, but the gifts necessary for preaching are the same. We use the word gift to mean a natural quality or endowment conferred by God himself, whether spiritual gifts or natural abilities. The New Testament discussion of spiritual gifts includes preaching as a distinct endowment from God given by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:10, 28–29). Talent means a gift committed to one's trust to use and improve. This use of the word comes from the parable of the talents. So talent has come to mean any natural faculty, ability, or power. The idea of skills, however, is different from gifts and talents. A skilled person is one who has acquired ability, usually gained

through special experience or a regular program of training. Though we may not be able to change our gifts or talents, we can work on the skills that express them. We can develop natural talents and spiritual gifts alike through training and experience. We inherit these natural gifts from our forebears through complex and unique genetic patterns. I have been surprised at times at how much I am like my dad. I have made some gesture, stood in a certain way, or laughed, and felt the presence of my dad in it. That's as it should be. That package of inherited traits is what I have to work with as I try to become the best preacher possible to me. Moses complained as one of his many excuses, “Lord, I have never been eloquent. … I am slow of speech and tongue” (Exod. 4:10 NIV). But God's answer was pointed: “Who has made man's mouth? … Now therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say” (Exod. 4:11). Moses was not a “born preacher,” but God planned to use him anyway. Jesus, in the parable of the talents, acknowledges that we are not all endowed with the same gifts (Matt. 25:14–30). God, in his sovereignty, has done as he pleased to give each of us what he chooses. The point of the parable is not how much each receives but what he does with it. Whatever the level of giftedness, each is to account to his Lord for the use of what he receives. That is precisely where we find ourselves today as preachers. God has invested in us all we need for the challenge of his calling. Now we are the faithful stewards of his gifts.

Preparation Skills The preparation of sermons involves a series of tasks that the preacher must accomplish one at a time. Most preachers work out their own system of sermon preparation by trial and error. They just fall into certain study habits. The more organized sorts plan their work in better detail. The rest just muddle through. Most preachers fall into a pattern of sermon preparation based more on bad habits than good homiletics.

Twelve Skills for Preparing Expository Sermons Section 1: Text Analysis 1. Diagramming the Text Structure: Charting the function and relationship of various ideas in the text. 2. Noting the Text Details: Recognizing and noting the significance of details in the text. 3. Asking Research Questions: Asking questions for the best research to understand the writer's meaning. Section 2: Theological Interpretation 4. Naming the Text Idea: Naming from themes in the text the one idea that unlocks the text's meaning. 5. Bridging from Text to Sermon: Constructing an interpretive bridge for bringing the truth of the text to its expression in the sermon. 6. Writing Sermon Divisions: Wording divisions clearly to state the teachings of the text on its subject. Section 3: Sermon Development 7. Balancing Persuasive Elements: Planning support material for the understanding, acceptance and response of the hearer. 8. Exploring Natural Analogies: Finding natural analogies that precisely and vividly picture sermon ideas. 9. Drawing Pictures, Telling Stories: Using vivid language to create word pictures of biblical and contemporary scenes and stories. Section 4: Sermon Design 10. Touching Human Experience: Tracing from Scripture truths to the hearer's particular need for those truths. 11. Aiming for a Faith Response: Planning every aspect of sermon design toward the aim of a faith response in the hearer. 12. Planning the Oral Presentation: Determining the selection and arrangement of sermon materials for the most effective communication. What I have detailed in this study is a series of exercises you can use to strengthen expository sermon preparation skills at your own pace. Each task can become a part of your own sermon preparation system. Each one addresses a specific aspect of good preparation. Each skill is based on sound principles in interpretation or communication and results in specific benefits to your final product. You can go through the book in the order of the chapters to get a feel for each of the exercises. Then concentrate your efforts on the skill you feel is your weakest point. After mastering that one, move on to the next area of need. This study is designed around twelve specific skills necessary to effective expository preaching. These skills are divided into four sections of the book that focus on various phases of the sermon preparation process. First is the analysis of the text. Next is the interpretation of the theological meaning of the text. Third is gathering the support material needed to present these ideas persuasively. The final section addresses the design of the sermon for communicating to the contemporary audience.

What Is Expository Preaching? One of the specific focuses of this study is its emphasis on exposition. Among evangelicals, the term expository preaching has come to stand for authentic biblical preaching. However, exactly what constitutes expository preaching varies from writer to writer and preacher to preacher.

I have talked with preachers who described themselves as “expositors,” and I believed them until I heard them preach. For many, exposition seems to mean taking a text and preaching on the subject the passage seems to address. For others exposition means defining some of the words in the text. For others expository preaching seems to mean giving a history lesson on a text with most of the sermon in the past tense. The word exposition is from the Latin, expositio, meaning “a setting forth, narration, or display.” As applied to preaching, the word has come to mean the setting forth or explanation of the message of the biblical text. In expository preaching the sermon is designed to communicate what the text says, including its meaning for the contemporary audience. Here are seven qualities of authentic expository preaching gleaned from definitions of various writers through the generations.

In expository preaching the preacher's first aim is to discover the text writer's intended theological meaning in the selected text. We preachers tend to search the Bible for a sermon. We hope for something to leap out at us that will preach. But a program of expository preaching calls for the preacher to aim for a clear understanding of the text writer's meaning. Only out of that theological message can he properly preach an expository sermon. Expository preaching is that in which the preacher seeks to let the text speak again through the sermon with the same theological message. God intentionally had the original message declared; now he wants it to be preached again. The universal and timeless message clothed in the historical garb of the original writing is the message the preacher is to declare to the contemporary audience. He interprets that same truth from the text to his audience. The preacher of expository sermons discovers the meaning of the text through a careful exegetical analysis of the text in all its particulars. The expository preacher comes to the text like a detective to a crime scene. He studies it for every clue to the meaning. The clues in the text are the words of the text writer. We know what he intended to say by what he wrote, but the details can easily be overlooked to the casual observer. The expositor will look carefully at every detail for what it indicates about the writer's message. Expository preaching calls for careful consideration of the contexts in which the text was originally written. Interpreting a text calls for a serious look at the literary context, the chapters and verses before and after the text, as well as the other writing of the author and the entire canon. Beyond that is the historical context of the original writing, including the local culture, politics, economic conditions, and other such factors. The original setting of the text not only shapes the message but takes part in it. An expository sermon is organized with due consideration to the structure and genre of the selected passage. Basically the text writer's treatment of his subject sets the pattern for the preacher's sermon structure. The type of literature the text represents should affect the preacher's sermon design as well. We should always tell the story when preaching a narrative text, though we will do more. The purpose of exhortative texts and teaching texts should be reflected in the purpose of the sermon. The expository preacher will seek to influence the audience through the use of the rhetorical elements common to persuasion. By definition a sermon is a persuasive speech. The preacher's aim is to persuade the audience with the truth of his message and what they should do about it. We normally persuade by explaining, illustrating, arguing, and applying. These elements provide a balance for supporting material for sermon ideas and allow the preacher to expose the text meaning for the contemporary audience. Expository preaching aims for a response of faith and obedience to the biblical truth on the part of the audience. In this study we will contend that the overarching aim of preaching is to call for a faith response in the hearer. The text writers believed what they wrote and communicated it in order that others might believe and obey. The preacher keeps this faith aim in mind from the first look at the text to the final design of his sermon. The sermon should be God-centered to point the hearer to the trustworthy object of his faith.

Assumptions for This Study To conclude this introductory chapter, I want to go over a few basic convictions I have about learning how to preach. Most of these ideas will be familiar to you. In fact, I hope you share these assumptions about what it takes to learn to preach at your best. Here are some of my convictions about strengthening preaching skills. Sermon preparation is a supernatural endeavor. I am amazed that God has chosen to make himself known through preaching. If you were God, would you trust the kingdom into the hands of the preachers you know? Paul asked the right question, “Who is adequate for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:16 NASB). Every aspect of preaching calls for earnest prayer. We preach by faith. It is God who makes it work for his purposes. Effective preaching is not a mystery talent for only the most gifted. Of the hundreds of students in my classes through the years, there have been a few ten-talent ones, many five-talent ones, and a few one-talent ones. I am uneasy with the idea that only the good preachers can be really effective. The keys to growing in this, as in any other skill, are desire, consistency, and hard work. Training in homiletics should be designed to equip the one-talent person along with the more gifted. Anyone can learn the methods used in the preparation of good expository sermons. Any reasonably intelligent person can learn to discern the truths in Scripture and declare them to the profit of the hearer. Though we think of the homiletical heroes of old and the stars of today as our models for preaching, most Christians hear from rather humble and nondescript pastors week by week in the thousands of small churches across the country. While we thank God for those who preach to thousands, we thank him, as well, that those who preach to dozens can do so effectively. Preaching is a science before it is an art, calling for discipline before freedom. At times these methods seem mechanical and wooden. It seems to be a “fill in the blank” approach to sermon preparation. These exercises represent a deliberate effort to break down into simple steps the normal process for preparing effective expository sermons. Since we deal with the canon of Scripture, we will be careful students before we can be inspiring faith builders. It takes hard work before the freedom comes. Old habits resist new methods and require objectivity and discipline. If you have read this far, you are probably already preaching or plan to do so. Maybe you have been preaching for several years. If so you already have methods of preparation and delivery that work for you. It is difficult to set those methods aside to look objectively at a new approach, but that objectivity is necessary if this study is to do much good. You won't learn much if you set out to defend and justify your own methods as over against those presented here. Just suspend judgment a while and take advantage of anything here you can use.

The great weakness of preaching is fuzzy, ill-defined ideas. Of all the weaknesses we might mention, I believe the great fault of preaching is fuzzy thinking. But we can recognize this failure and work at a correction. Unless the preacher is clear about his ideas, those who listen will surely not be. The preacher is a word crafter who clarifies his ideas carefully and precisely with the right words. There is little chance of really knowing what you want to say until you put it into words. The verbalizing itself gives shape to the thought and distinguishes it from other ideas. Word crafting is as much a science and an art as any other craft. And this is the craft of the preacher. Expository preaching allows the text to shape the sermon. There are many and various definitions of biblical preaching. Perhaps the simplest way I can describe it is to say that a biblical sermon is one in which the text shapes the sermon. The purpose, the theme, the structure, and the development of the sermon are to reflect the text. That is expository preaching. The Bible is a rich and unlimited source for fresh, timely preaching. I am not smart enough to think of something theological and helpful to say for half an hour three times a week for years and years. Neither are you. We must not follow the pattern of preaching in which the sermon is about 90 percent the preacher's ideas and about 10 percent biblical exposition. The Bible is the written record of the revelation of God. It is our source for the best, freshest, most meaningful preaching. With these assumptions and the skills development aim, we will work our way through twelve skills for expository sermon preparation. The book is divided into four sections: Text Analysis, Theological Interpretation, Sermon Development, and Sermon Design. We begin with a careful inductive analysis of the Scripture text.

Study Questions 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.

What does a skills development approach to preaching improvement mean? What are some of the features of a skills development program? What is the difference between talents, gifts, and skills? According to the author, what is the greatest fault of poor preaching? What are the marks of expository preaching? What are the author's assumptions about your potential for preaching?

Analyzing the Text Skill 1: Diagramming the Text Structure Skill 2: Noting the Text Details Skill 3: Asking Research Questions

Section 1

Text Analysis They stood at the laboratory table, Harvard freshman Nathaniel Shaler and his professor, who was about to give him his first assignment. It was 1858. The professor was Louis Agassiz, renowned naturalist and opponent of Darwinian views. He opened a specimen jar. A foul odor escaped to worsen the already unpleasant smell of the lab. He removed an odd-looking fish and placed it in the pan. “You are to examine this fish and record everything you see,” Professor Agassiz said, his Swiss accent adding to the aura of academia. Then he warned that the student was, on no account, to talk to anyone about it or read anything about fishes. “When I return, I will see what you have observed.” As the professor left, the student looked around the otherwise empty lab, placed his paper and pen on the table, and took a tentative look at the smelly fish. He recorded a few observations, then a dozen, finally twenty. Though always within call, Professor Agassiz concerned himself with Nathaniel no further that day, nor the next, nor for a week. Finally, on the seventh day, he returned for a report, sitting down on the end of the table, puffing his cigar. “Well?” he asked. After an hour's report on the fish from the eager student, he turned to leave again, saying, “That's not right.” Mr. Shaler threw himself into the task anew, discarding his old notes. After another week of ten-hour days, he was able to give a report that satisfied his professor. Next Agassiz placed a half peck of bones before him and said, “See what you can do with these.” What was the point of it all? Observation. Louis Agassiz later said, when asked about his distinguished career as a naturalist, that his greatest contribution was to teach students to observe, to look and really see what was there.1

Inductive and Deductive Thinking The emphasis on a careful analysis of the available information is critical to the scientific method. Whatever the area of study, it is vital to let the data speak for itself. This approach is inductive, examining the particulars in order to come to conclusions about what you see there and what it means. Deductive thinking, on the other hand, begins with assertions of truth and moves to the particulars that might express such truths. In this first section of our study, we will emphasize the importance of a careful analysis of the text of Scripture for expository sermon preparation. This is the best way to study the biblical text if the preacher is to let the text speak through the sermon. We will discover the structure of the text, note important details in it, and raise questions about what we want to learn further.



Deduction: Act or process of reasoning from the general to the particular, or from the universal to the individual, or, specifically, from given premises to their necessary conclusions.



premise: All gray squirrels climb trees.



premise: This animal is a gray squirrel.



conclusion: This animal climbs trees.



Induction: Act or process of reasoning from a part to a whole, from particulars to generals, or from the individual to the universal.



observed: Seventy-five gray squirrels are climbing trees.



conclusion: All gray squirrels climb trees.

One of the mental tendencies of preachers is a fondness for deductive thinking. We tend to think more in terms of general truths than particular situations. We look at the particulars in our world in terms of what we already think we know. As a result we may approach our biblical study with a head full of preaching ideas looking for a place to touch down. Contrast that with a research scientist who must work inductively. The scientific method requires him to examine every detail before coming to a conclusion about what it means. As a result of this deductive mind-set, preachers may not be as observant as they need to be of the particular factors that affect their preaching. One set of factors affecting our preaching is the complex world of the biblical text. It is too easy to glance casually at the surface appearance of the passage and make a quick evaluation based on our own ideas. Another set of factors important for the preacher has to do with the life particulars of the people we address. Here is human nature on parade. But rather than carefully examining what we see, we may tend to respond deductively and make judgments too quickly, presenting our pat answers before hearing the questions being raised. A debate has been joined in recent decades over inductive versus deductive approaches to sermon structure.2 The traditional sermon outline tends to be deductive, beginning with general truths and moving from there to particular illustrations and applications. This approach has long been used by preachers who organize their sermons in terms of “points” and try to persuade the audience as to the validity of those ideas. Those favoring expository preaching try to let the text give them these truths. Others have favored a topical approach in which the preacher outlines his thoughts and seeks out Bible verses to support them.



Those calling for inductive preaching say that modern audiences will respond better to preaching that begins with the particular experiences of the hearer and moves from there to the universal truths of the faith. They advocate allowing the audience to experience the search for truth. The preacher explores various experiences and situations and finally offers an answer at the end of the sermon for the questions that were raised. Inductive or deductive movement in a sermon is quite a different matter from an inductive or deductive approach to the text. In this study we will demonstrate that sermons need to move deductively at times and at other times inductively. The issue before us at this point, however, is how we approach the text. The shape of the sermon is not to be determined until we understand the meaning and structure of the text. We will deal with the text inductively and design the sermon to follow text structure. In the three chapters of this section, we will outline three key tasks of the preacher for an inductive study of the biblical text. The three skills in this section are for analyzing the biblical text. We begin with the structural diagram. Then we record our immediate observations. Finally, we write interpretive questions about the text that lead to effective research.

Inductive Bible Study What happens when we apply inductive thinking to our study of the text for preaching? Inductive thinking involves both movement and elements.3 Inductive movement, as we have already seen, is from the particular to the general. Inductive elements are those particulars, as opposed to general and abstract statements of principle. An inductive approach to the study of the text will focus attention on both the movement and the elements. Inductive movement in the analysis of the text means we intend the particulars of the text to lead us to general understandings of its message. We do not bring our ideas to the text to seek support. Rather the movement of thought is from the details of the text to the truths indicated by those details. This movement from the particulars to the generals is inductive. Approaching the text inductively calls for openness to the data in the text.4 It requires us to suspend judgment about the text's message and let it speak. Of course no preacher comes to a text without any preunderstandings. We already have theological knowledge. We have knowledge of Scripture. We come with our theological traditions informing us as to the basics of Christian doctrine. Since we cannot just “unknow” all this, we must intentionally set it aside and approach the text with as much openness and objectivity as we can muster.



Deductive Bible Study: Bringing your own or others' ideas to the text in order to find support and verification for them in the text.



subject: brought by the preacher



aspects: determined by the preacher



purpose: confirm the preacher's ideas



Inductive Bible Study: Carefully examining the text for whatever information it contains on the subject it addresses and seeking to discern the universal principles thus revealed.



subject: revealed by the text itself



aspects: discovered in the writer's treatment of his subject



purpose: receive the writer's teaching

Inductive movement in the ideas of the text analysis requires not only this intention to let the text speak but the methods necessary to receive its message. Since our natural tendency is to assess what the text says by what we already think we know, we need inductive methods to keep us focused on the text in all its particulars. Even if you choose a text because it carries a theme you want to address, inductive methods will still keep you honest in allowing the text to deliver its message so that the sermon can express that same message. An inductive method involves careful and detailed analysis rather than a search of the text for support for your ideas. It involves discovering the text's structure rather than imposing an outline on it. It involves allowing the context to inform your understanding rather than taking the text in isolation. It involves discerning the writer's intended meaning rather than using his words for your own intentions. It involves the research necessary to augment your knowledge rather than ignoring the unknowns in the text. Inductive elements in the text are the details that call for your careful attention. Like a scientific investigation, Bible study for preaching focuses on the particulars. It is the small pieces that have the biggest contribution to make. The words of the text are your clues to its message. So you will pay close attention to the word choices of the writer. You will look at the form and function of the words. You will define the words by their use in Scripture as a whole and in their particular context. Expository preaching particularly requires an inductive approach to Bible study for sermon preparation. We will be tempted repeatedly with the “sermonizer's trap,” the tendency to look for a sermon instead of examining the details for the meaning of the text. This results in a surface understanding of the riches of the text. The nature of the Bible itself invites inductive study. It is a book of particulars with the universal truths of the revelation of God presented in specific historical settings. The prophets and preachers and writers of Scripture communicate in particulars.

Advantages of Inductive Bible Study Not only is the inductive approach to text study valuable because of the nature of the biblical materials; there are also a number of advantages to the preacher and the congregation. Let's consider seven of the advantages of inductive Bible study. 1. With inductive Bible study you can get to work whether you are particularly inspired or not. Let's face it. Most of us preachers are looking for something to light our fire. We want an insight, a spark of inspiration, an angle on the truth that will get us moving with enthusiasm. We may spend a lot of time looking for something to stimulate us rather than actually studying. The inductive method described here is somewhat mechanical. You can work at your Bible study, inspired or not. I promise you, however, that somewhere along the way the ideas you discover will ignite your enthusiasm. 2. In an inductive approach to Bible study, the preacher is a first-hand user of the primary documents, the Scriptures. A basic principle for effective research is the use of primary documents. Inductive Bible study begins with what the text actually says and involves a careful and systematic examination of it. What someone else thinks it says is given consideration in a later stage, after the preacher has observed what is in the text and systematically raised questions that come to mind about it. 3. As a result of beginning with the text itself, the preacher is less dependent on the interpretations of others. Preachers are often uncertain about their qualifications to interpret the Bible. They are suspicious that the mysteries of the text are known only by that exclusive circle of scholars able to discern its secrets. They do not realize that an inductive method of Bible study will allow them to open its meaning for themselves. The Bible was given to reveal God, not to hide him. As we learn to examine the text carefully ourselves, we will be amazed to find that our favorite commentators often note the same insights we have already discovered. 4. Inductive Bible study also allows the preacher to be more receptive to the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised, “When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13 HCSB). Not only did the Holy Spirit inspire the writing of Scripture; he also illumines the reader to understand its meaning. If our sermon preparation methods have us using Scripture merely to support our own ideas, we will frustrate this ministry of illumination. If we examine the text inductively, however, we suspend our own conclusions to let it speak, opening the way for the Spirit to disclose its meaning. 5. The inductive approach to Bible study means we have more enthusiasm for truths we have discovered ourselves. Oletta Wald named her book on inductive Bible study The Joy of Discovery.5 It is a most appropriate title. Inductive Bible study is a process of discovery. The preacher comes to the Bible with a commitment to let the text speak. A careful examination of every aspect of the passage leads to the discovery of insights never noticed before. We are eager to share those “new” insights in the sermon. Our enthusiasm is far beyond what we experience retelling some expert's interpretation, and the audience can tell the difference. 6. Using an inductive study method makes the preacher more creative in discerning the text's meaning. Your joy in personally discovering insights from the text will get your creative instincts moving. Your mind will race to analogies, metaphors, descriptions, other passages, and contemporary meanings for textual insights. You will find yourself writing as fast as you can to record the explanations, the images, the evidence, and the applications that come to mind. By the time you complete your inductive study, you will have more than enough material for the sermon, and it is the fruit of your own study. 7. Inductive Bible study assures that the preacher is better prepared for every kind of preaching. In this book are directions for preparing a theological outline of the text as the sermon structure. This traditional structure is probably the most familiar way to organize an expository sermon. There are other varieties of sermons that can also be effective. The oldest form is the verse-by-verse interpretation and application, called a homily. You may want to try an inductive or life-situation structure. You may take a narrative approach. Whatever the organization of the sermon, however, an inductive study of your text will better prepare you with content.

Selecting a Sermon Text You will choose a particular sermon text for any number of reasons. Whatever your plan, the beginning point is to select a legitimate text unit. You must not begin your selection of verses for a text just anywhere. The original writer wrote his material in units of thought that had beginnings and endings. Your preaching text should follow those divisions of the writer's thought. There are several ways of identifying a text unit. One of the most obvious is by the theme or topic that the writer is treating. The theme can be detected by the repetition of certain related ideas or words. As you observe the structural diagram of a text (which will be explained in the next chapter), you will be able to see the main ideas and supporting ideas. Seeing these relationships of ideas also helps in identifying the theme and structural boundaries of the text. There are other shifts that can indicate a move to a new unit. The author may change the grammatical subject, genre, time and location, actor, or verb tense, mood, person, and number. Some authors use words or ideas as bookends at the beginning and end of a unit. Others use certain words or phrases throughout a book to mark the beginnings of units such as addresses (“brothers”), commands, or connectives.6 Sometimes a writer will deal with a subject in several units. You can then plan to preach from one unit at a time or from a longer passage. This will depend on the density of the material. Is it mostly propositional assertions? Or does the writer include illustrative and application material with his theological statements? Is it epistle or narrative? Decide by the theological content how many like units to include in your preaching text. Narrative texts are sometimes easy to identify by the recognizable qualities of an episode. There are a beginning, unfolding action and an ending. Even though one episode might merge into another, you can still identify the boundaries of each complete unit. Narratives often begin with time-related connectives like “after this,” “then,” “the next day,” “immediately,” and so on. A change in location can also indicate a new episode. If you are preaching an expository series, you will want to identify the text units for the whole book and decide in advance how you will calendar your series. This way you will know how many sermons will be involved and how long the series will take. You will also decide how short or long your texts will be on the basis of their theological content. Preaching an expository series through a book of the Bible has a distinct advantage for your study. You are always aware of the

context of the passage. The writer is the same. The circumstances of writing may be the same. The characters and themes may be constant. This kind of preaching is basically text driven. You are allowing the Bible to set the agenda and supply the content. This is expository preaching in its truest sense.

Planning Inductive Bible Study If you are to take an inductive approach to your text study, you will have to plan it out in step-by-step fashion. The purpose is to let the text speak. Your aim is to understand the intended message of the text writer. That means you are not primarily looking for a sermon. You are analyzing the text to understand it. An effective expository sermon will come only out of that understanding. The aim of your study in this phase is to examine every aspect of the text in order to come to an understanding of the writer's meaning. You are like Sherlock Holmes attempting to unravel a mystery. With his double-billed cap, his pipe, and his large magnifying glass, he explores every possible avenue of information. So it is with the expositor. Every bit of information can be helpful. You do not know at first which particular details will turn out to be critical for an understanding of your text. Here we will describe three tasks that will allow you to complete a fruitful inductive analysis of the text: preparing a structural diagram of the text, recording your observations as to what the details in the text reveal, and raising questions that need answers for effective research. These three tasks are vital to an analysis of the biblical text and call for skill on the part of the preacher. They are tied together in a sequence of analysis in which each one is dependent on the previous one. At the close of each chapter will be an exercise to develop that particular skill. Our first task in analyzing the text will be to prepare a structural diagram using the exact wording of the biblical text. This diagram gets on paper what you are not likely to see by reading the text in paragraph and verse format. It provides a graphic display of the text, word for word, to demonstrate the relationships of various ideas in the text and identify how various words and phrases function in the text. Second, we will record our observations from the details in the text. This immediate-observations exercise is done with the structural diagram before you. Much of what you note in the text will be visible in the diagram. You will look for indications in the particulars of the text that point to the writer's intended message. Writing these observations down will lay the groundwork for sermon insights you would not otherwise notice. The third task in the text analysis is to discern the questions for research that will fill in the gaps in your knowledge concerning the text. These questions will determine the quality of research you do into the historical, literary, and theological study of the text. With this section is included a form to use for an overview of the text. The QuickLook Text Analysis sheet will allow you to note on one page a summary of information about the text. This form can be completed with the data you discover in your text analysis and theological interpretation of the text. Now that we have considered the value of an inductive approach to the text, we are ready to move on to the structural diagram exercise, the first of our tasks in the inductive study of the biblical text.

Study Questions 1. 2. 3. 4. 5.

What is the difference between inductive and deductive thinking? Why is objectivity so important in analyzing the biblical text? Distinguish between inductive movement and inductive elements. What are the seven advantages of inductive Bible study? What are three tasks for an inductive Bible study?





A sermon should be like a tree. … It should have deep roots: As much unseen as above the surface Roots spreading as widely as its branches spread Roots deep underground In the soil of life's struggle In the subsoil of the eternal Word.1



Analyzing the Text Skill 1: Diagramming the Text Structure Skill 2: Noting the Text Details Skill 3: Asking Research Questions

Skill 1

Diagramming the Text Structure The cartoon shows a pastor in a discouraged mood, his face in his hands, elbows on a large desk. Behind him are hundreds of books on bookshelves that reach to the ceiling. The caption reads, “I can't think of anything to preach.” I like to show this cartoon to my classes because of the assumptions behind it. In the first place it is on target with the stress of pastors about what to preach. Another assumption, however, is that the pastor should be looking in all those books to find something to preach. Our image of the pastor preparing his sermon may picture him at a desk covered with open books, his paper before him, writing with inspiration and the furrowed brow of earnestness. He moves from commentary to commentary to find the meaning of his biblical text. He finds a snappy quote in one book and a fresh insight on the text in another. He puts it all together and sits back with a sigh of satisfaction. He has his sermon for Sunday. Sermon preparation in the real world is a different story. Pastors are often frustrated with their sermon preparation, particularly the handling of the biblical text. Many do not have a clearly defined method for approaching a text. Their technique may involve praying, thumbing of pages, reading and staring, and searching commentaries. This method sounds promising, but it doesn't work very well. Effective text study isn't achieved by earnestness alone. Neither can it be assured by the amount of time you put in. The key may well be the approach you take to the task, your study methods.

Seeing Structural Relationships Our intention is to take an inductive approach to the biblical text. After selecting a text for the sermon, the expository preacher will study the text with an open mind to learn what the biblical writer intended to say. We will begin the process of inductive analysis by laying out in a visual chart the structural form of the text. The structural diagram is one exercise in an inductive study of the text. It is part of the analysis in which the particulars of the text are examined in detail. The structural diagram helps give an overview of the writer's thought. A similar form of this exercise has been called a “syntactical display,” “block diagram,” or “mechanical layout.”2 In this chapter we will learn how to prepare a structural diagram using the exact English wording of the text, to discern the organization of the writer's thoughts. The skill we are seeking to strengthen is this: recognizing and noting the relationship and function of various ideas in the text. To help develop this skill you can practice with the exercise called the structural diagram.

A structural diagram is a phrase-by-phrase chart of the text in the exact word order of the translation you use. Its purpose is to show in graphic form the relationship of various ideas in the text.

The structural diagram is constructed by copying the text wording in order, one phrase at a time. Beginning with the first independent clause, main ideas are set to the left and subordinate ideas to the right. Equal ideas are thus lined up vertically. Connectives are set apart in brackets.



With the structural diagram, the Bible student can better recognize and identify the rhetorical function of the various phrases in the text.

This exercise will open your understanding of the text as a whole and help you see the way the writer deals with his subject. Though it might be best to diagram the text in the original language, we will work here in English. It is possible that your study of significant words in the text in the original language will later uncover some needed adjustment to your structural diagram. If you use a literal translation, however, you will be able to do the diagram in English with good results. Use a more literal translation of the Bible in your study. Literal translations are produced with the aim of word-for-word interpretation of the Greek or Hebrew text. More literal translations are available now. You may want to compare favorite versions for a broader view. Some prefer a dynamic equivalent translation (like the New International Version) in the pulpit because it emphasizes the use of contemporary language.3 You may want to consult paraphrases as well, but recognize that they are often more commentary than translation.

Preparing the Structural Diagram How do you prepare the structural diagram? Copy the exact wording of the text. You may write the text wording by hand from your Bible. Or you may copy the text from a Bible program on your computer and paste it into your word-processing program. Either way, use the exact wording of the translation you choose. You will find that a font like Courier, which does not adjust the spacing of letters, will allow you to line up your diagram vertically. Now let's go over eight basic steps to take in preparing the structural diagram. 1. Begin by identifying the first independent clause in the text. This clause is the first core sentence with a subject and verb. Place this first basic sentence to the left margin of your diagram page. Like hitting the “return” on your keyboard, you will come back to the left margin with each new statement. In the example from 1 Peter below, you will see that the first independent clause after the opening doxology is “who … has begotten us again” (1 Pet. 1:3). Sometimes, as in this case, the first independent clause is not easy to

identify. 2. Place supporting phrases under (or over) the center of the words they modify. In the example from 1 Peter you can see that the idea “begotten us again” is modified by one phrase that precedes it, “according to His abundant mercy,” and three phrases that follow it. Each of these phrases is placed to begin above or below the center of the verb they modify, indicating their relationship to that verb, “begotten us again.” This positioning will result in lining up equivalent ideas vertically. 3. Put all direct quotations at the left margin as new statements. Even though the dialogue in a text may be part of a paragraph that includes such introductory words as “he said to him,” or “and he replied,” place the words of the quotation to the left margin. These direct statements are complete in themselves even though they are a part of the narrative. They do not really modify said or replied in the way other modifiers do. 4. Put the connectives in brackets and set them apart for emphasis. As you will see below, connectives have an important role in the relationships of various ideas in the text. Notice in the example diagram from Matthew 5:13 that the first connective, “but,” is set on a line by itself. The conditional connective, “if,” is also put on a line by itself. This allows us to place the next clause, “the salt loses its flavor,” at the left margin. However, the “but” and “and” later in the verse are placed closer to the words they introduce. This position allows us to line the words up vertically and still place the connective in the phrase. 5. Underline all the verbs to emphasize their important role. Verbs play a key role in any kind of literature. In your Bible text they are important because they often carry the primary themes of the passage. In the 1 Peter diagram, notice that the verb, “has begotten again,” seems to be the central idea of the text around which the rest of the material gathers. 6. Highlight the words that carry theological significance. Notice in the examples here that the words with potential for theological meaning are highlighted. Some of these terms are literal, others figurative. This means that some of them, like “resurrection,” “Jesus Christ,” and “dead” are literal terms, indicating nonmetaphorical realities. Other words, such as “salt,” “flavor,” and “seasoned,” are figurative, used as analogies for spiritual realities. These highlighted terms reveal theological themes important to interpreting the text. 7. Draw lines to connect words separated by intervening phrases. Sometimes words that belong together are separated by other words and phrases that come between them. You will want to indicate the connection between a subject and verb or verb and object by drawing a line to connect them. Notice the example from 1 Peter 1 where “who,” functioning as subject for the clause, is separated from “has begotten again,” the verb that completes the sentence. Showing this basic sentence graphically will be important to your understanding of the text. 8. Identify the rhetorical function of words and phrases in a column to the left. The words of the text writer play two roles that can be identified by questions: “What does it say?” and “What does it do?” Not only do the words and phrases of the writer say something in terms of content, they do something in terms of function in the message. Identifying the rhetorical function adds to our understanding of what the terms the writer has selected accomplish in his message.

Benefits of the Diagram As you gain experience using it, the structural diagram will give you more and more insight into the relationship of ideas in the text. Here are some of the relationships you will find in the text. The main ideas in the text will stand out with the most support from secondary ideas. This is the principle of proportion, concerning the amount of space the writer gives to various ideas in a given discussion. Though 1 Peter 1:3–5 has a number of significant theological words in it, the structural diagram shows us that the writer comments the most on three ideas: (1) has begotten us again, (2) to an inheritance, and (3) for you who are kept. As these ideas flow one to the other in the text, the diagram shows them to be key centers of support in the writer's thoughts. Each idea has a series of subordinate concepts that enlarge the reader's understanding of it.



Secondary ideas in the diagram will provide vital information about the concepts they support. Support means that these

secondary ideas are helping to explain and describe main ideas. In the example from 1 Peter, we noticed the clusters of support material for certain ideas in the text. The phrase “has begotten us again” is supported first by (1) “according to his abundant mercy.” Note that this phrase doesn't follow “begotten” but is before it. It nonetheless tells us something about the reason for God's action in giving us new birth. Other supportive ideas to “begotten us again” follow in a series: (2) “to a living hope,” (3) “through the resurrection,” and (4) “to an inheritance.” So we see a basis, a means, and two results of the new birth You will see ideas related in terms of cause and effect. This will be a key aspect of the diagram to see. Notice, for example, in Matthew 5:13 that the loss of its flavor by the salt results in three effects: it is good (1) for nothing, (2) to be thrown out, and (3) to be trampled underfoot. The last two effects may be one, but they are distinct enough to list separately. Noting these three effects of the loss of flavor helps to see how the salt metaphor applies to the disciple's life. Notice the placement of the four outcomes vertically as a series. We had to ask whether to place those results under salt, since that is the main subject. Or should we place them under flavor, since that is what is lost? I chose to place them under loses because they are the results of losing. They tell us nothing about salt as such. Neither do they address flavor. They support the idea of losing the flavor. So as you deal with conditional statements, be careful to discern the pivotal word for the results that follow the condition. The structure of a long complex sentence will show up clearly with the structural diagram. In the more literal translations, much of the complex sentence structure of the original language is maintained. In reading from the biblical text, it is difficult to recognize the relationship of the various parts. But the structural diagram will sort this out for you. In the 1 Peter 1 diagram in this chapter, the selection is one long sentence in the English translation. But the diagram shows how it is structured and how the various ideas relate. The progression of thought will show the writer's ideas moving toward some end or conclusion. As you examine the movement of the writer's message, ask the simple question, “Where is this discussion going?” In the structural diagram of 1 Peter 1:3–5, the writer links one idea with another to move steadily toward the final words about the “salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

Watch the Connectives One of the simplest keys to the structure of your text is to look carefully at the connectives. You have set them apart in brackets for emphasis in your structural diagram. Each connective reveals the nature of the relationship between the ideas it links together. In doing so, these terms open the structure of the text to you so that you can properly interpret the relationship of ideas in the writer's thinking.



You will notice a connection between the connectives and the rhetorical functions of various words and phrases. Watch for the following kinds of structure as they are signaled by connectives.4 The most common connective is and, used to indicate logical sequence, as in any series of ideas.

Comparison shows ideas to be alike, similar, or of equal weight in the writer's thinking. Watch for like, as, also, and too as connectives. Of course and can be a comparison connective as well, though its common use may cause you to overlook it. In Psalm 1:3 the godly man is described as “like a tree firmly planted by streams of water” (NASB). Contrast means two elements are unlike, possibly opposites. Some connectives of contrast are but, nevertheless, even though, much more, yet, and although. In Exodus 32:34 God says, “My angel shall go before you; nevertheless in the day when I punish, I will punish them for their sin” (NASB). Conditional statements reveal a relationship in which a particular condition is said to lead to a predictable result. They are often indicated by the if … then pattern, though not all conditional statements use the terms if and then. In Matthew 5:13 there is the conditional statement, “if the salt loses its flavor.” We have already noted the then or result of the condition. When you diagram conditional statements, show the link between the two. If the if part is stated but not the word then, you may want to insert a (then) in parentheses to show the connection. Correlative structure shows two elements to be related to each other reciprocally. It is seen in the use of pairs of connectives: both … and, as … so also, so … as, for … as. In Ephesians 5:24 we see this correlative relationship: “But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything” (NASB). Connectives of reason point to arguments that show that one element is the reason behind another: because, therefore, for this reason, for, since. In Genesis 22:18 God promises Abraham, “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” Purpose statements are often apparent by connectives like that, so that, and in order that. These connectives may also indicate result, but you will be able by the context to tell which is meant. In Luke 5:7 the result relationship is clear: “And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.” In Ephesians 1:18 the ideas are related by purpose: “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling” (NASB).



In addition to these logical structure patterns, sequence or time connectors help you to note the order of events: now, until, when, after, before, since, while. Also note the geographical connector: where.

Identifying Rhetorical Functions We have already mentioned rhetorical function as an aspect of the structural diagram exercise. Once the diagram is in place, graphically portraying the structure of the text, you will look carefully at the role played by the words and phrases the writer uses. The writer is aiming to communicate his ideas in such a way that the reader not only understands but is influenced by his message. The word rhetoric has to do with using words effectively in speech or writing so as to influence or persuade. None of the biblical writers intended just to pass along information. Each one wanted to influence his readers toward faith in God. To accomplish that purpose, they wrote in persuasive ways designed to have their meaning accepted as valid and relevant. Not only is the overall message persuasive; each word or phrase plays a part in this effort to influence the reader. The idea of “function” for words and phrases may be new to you. You are interested in what the words of the writer mean, but you are also interested in what they do to accomplish his communication purpose. The meaning of the writer is carried in his words so that you may understand his message. The intention of the writer is carried in his rhetorical choices so that you may be influenced by his words. This is the rhetorical function. Rhetorical functions can be classified in the general sense with four kinds: explanation, illustration, argumentation, and application.5 Each of these elements is needed for the development of your sermon. Each of them is also discernible in the development of the text writer's ideas. As you read the text, you can see that the writer sometimes explains, sometimes illustrates, sometimes argues, and sometimes applies his ideas. Within these broader categories of rhetorical function are more specific functions for words and phrases. As you examine what each word or phrase contributes to the persuasive intention of the writer, you can label that function for a better understanding of the writer's message. Rhetorical Functions Explanatory

Illustrative

Argumentative

Applicational

Assertion

Metaphor

Rhetorical Question Desire

Event

Example

Cause

Exhortation

Action

Analogy

Purpose

Warning

Time

Story

Result

Promise

Sequence

Parable

Condition

Entreaty

Source

Description Contrast

Rebuke

Agency

Comparison Basis

Command

Circumstance Relationship Advantage Restatement

Disadvantage

Sphere

Credentials

Explanation

Question/Answer

Means

Problem/Resolution

Manner List Place The rhetorical functions listed here under each of the four aims are sometimes used for one of the other purposes. Nonetheless, it is helpful to see that each function is by nature aimed at a particular overall purpose. You will also discover that explanation can be illustrative, that application can be argumentative, that illustration can be explanatory. So use these labels to analyze the text with the understanding that they can overlap. The list here identifies some of the commonly recognized rhetorical functions for analyzing any verbal communication.6 You may use other terms that seem appropriate as you analyze the text writer's rhetoric. Noting the rhetorical functions of words and phrases will help you analyze the text in several ways: (1) distinguishing statements that carry the writer's central thought from those that are supportive; (2) distinguishing between stronger functions like commands and weaker ones such as explanatory details; (3) recognizing such important relationships as cause, effect, purpose, and result in the writer's view.

Guidelines for the Exercise Copy the text into your diagram word for word from the translation you use. Though it may seem that changing the word order would help you understand the text, keep the order as it appears in your Bible. Using the techniques suggested here will help you construct the diagram in such a way as to see the structure clearly.



At first you may not be sure of the placement of phrases. Just ask the question, “What does this phrase tell about another word or phrase?” If it is a new idea, it will go to the left margin. If it is part of a series, it may relate to a word several lines above. Or it may modify a word that follows it. Always try to line up with the specific word that the modifier most clearly supports. Though you might debate that with yourself, try to follow the writer's intention as best you can discern it. Once you have constructed a few dozen structural diagrams, it will become much quicker and easier for you to do. Then you will find that, as you read, the structure of a text will be more apparent to you. You will begin to develop an eye for relationships between the various ideas and the difference that makes in your interpretation. Remember as you practice this exercise that your aim is to get the text in view. You are attempting to understand the structure of the biblical writer's message just as he wrote it. Your ultimate aim for the preparation of expository sermons is to let the text shape the sermon. The text will give you its subject, its structure, its development, and its purpose. The structural diagram helps get you started in seeing them.



You will find that the structural diagram will help with the overview of the text for any kind of material. For longer narratives the diagram may not be as helpful. Narrative texts call for special features in your analysis. Plotting narrative structure is discussed below. After you gain experience at recognizing the relationship of ideas in the text, you may be tempted to bypass the structural diagram. For myself, after preaching over forty years, I still find that doing the diagram usually opens the text in ways I would not see without it. Developing your skills in this exercise will help you do the diagram well but not eliminate the need for it.

Plotting Narrative Structure Much of the Bible is in narrative form of one kind or another. Some texts are historical accounts. Others are episodes from the Gospels. Other texts are in the form of parables. The structural diagram described here is not as helpful for long narrative passages as it is for texts of other sorts. Even so, you may want to diagram the dialogue sections of a narrative, where the theological riches are usually found. Narrative texts have features that call for special attention. Here are some of the elements you will consider in a step-by-step analysis of a narrative text. A first step in analyzing the structure of a narrative passage is to plot the scenes. A scene in your text is like a scene in a play. Each scene may carry a part of the writer's intended message for the text. Connectives can help you separate scenes. The best indication of a scene change may be signals of the passage of time. Watch for connectives like when, then, after this, while, or immediately. You have seen the expression, “and it came to pass,” in many texts. This and other similar expressions mark the passage of time and probably signal a scene change.7 A second step in analyzing the narrative is to trace the plot of the story. This has to do with the unfolding of the account as it passes through various phases toward a climax and resolution. Narrative structure usually follows some variation of a tension/resolution pattern. The scenes you identify will help you trace the plot. You may be able to plot the organization of the story in five sections: situation, stress, search, solution, (new) situation. I will go over these phases of a narrative in chapter 9 as we discuss the use of stories in your sermon. Characters in the story are a third element you should note in your analysis. There will usually be a main character with some supporting characters. Sometimes a crowd or group of people will serve as one character. Sometimes there are characters referred to in the story who do not actually appear in the story yet exercise some influence from behind the scenes or before the action takes place. Closely related to the characters is the dialogue, a fourth element you want to examine. What characters in the story say is often the most significant material there, especially for indicating the theological message. Especially notice what God says in the dialogue. In the Gospels the stories are often written to show the context for something Jesus says. The occasion may be helpful, but the key to the passage is found in the words of Jesus. The setting is often a key to understanding a narrative text. As you analyze the story, you may find that the circumstances in which the action takes place will make a real difference in the message of the text. The dialogue between Jesus and the woman at the well of Sychar is such a text (John 4). The setting, at Jacob's well, opens the way to the “water of life” metaphor. It also provides Jesus an occasion to talk with the woman in asking her for a drink. Look closer at the text to see if the well adds more meaning to the account. Other narrative elements may also be a part of your analysis. The point of view of the narrator should be noted. Literary devices such as repeated terms, stylistic features, or poetic arrangement are worthy of note if you can identify them. Look at the relationships between characters and the motives revealed in their action and speech. Also watch for surprises as the story takes an unexpected turn, especially if it indicates divine involvement. When you diagram a narrative passage, the rhetorical functions you identify will include aspects of the narrative structure. A

change of scene or the introduction of a new character adds to the movement and impact of the story.

Completing the Structural Diagram Here is a review of the steps you will take in preparing a structural diagram of your text. They are not rules to follow so much as procedural instructions. Keep in mind the aim of graphically portraying the structure of the passage. The examples in this chapter are all brief because of limited space, so they may not represent normal text portions. However, you can see by the examples how these steps are taken. Step 1. Write the first independent clause as your starting point.

An independent clause expresses a complete thought without the aid of other phrases. It contains at least a subject and verb.



Step 2. Place supporting phrases, clauses, and words starting directly under (or over) the center of the words they relate to.



This will be your main question throughout the exercise: “What does this phrase relate to?” Sometimes lining up with the most appropriate word or phrase calls for an interpretation decision. Step 3. Place connectives in brackets and set apart from the main ideas.

Connectives are important for indicating the nature of the relationship between elements of the text. Setting them apart lets the phrase or clause stand alone and emphasizes how the connectives relate one idea to another. Step 4. Mark significant words in the diagram.

First mark the verbs by underlining them. Then mark the significant theological themes by highlighting them. These theme words will include many of the verbs you have underlined. Step 5. Draw lines as needed to show the relationship of words that are separated by intervening text.

When the subject and verb are separated, you will want to show their connection by drawing a line between them. Sometimes you will do this to show the connection between a verb and object. Step 6.Identify the rhetorical functions of various words and phrases in the column to the left of your diagram.

As spelled out here, the rhetorical functions reveal the writer's intentions to persuade the reader to accept his message. Rhetorical functions in narrative passages also identify the key aspects of the unfolding story.

Study Questions 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.

What is the main purpose of the structural diagram exercise? What is the structural diagram? What steps are necessary to prepare the structural diagram? List some of the benefits of the structural diagram. What are the eight kinds of structure signaled by connectives? What is meant by “rhetorical function”?





Perhaps there is no property in which men are more distinguished from each other, than in the various degrees in which they possess the faculty of observation. The great herd of mankind pass their lives in listless inattention and indifference to what is going on around them … while those who are destined to distinction have a lynx-eyed vigilance that nothing can escape.



Analyzing the Text Skill 1: Diagramming the Text Structure Skill 2: Noting the Text Details Skill 3: Asking Research Questions

Skill 2

Noting the Text Details Just before Christmas in 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland. All 259 people aboard were killed, plus eleven more on the ground. The question: Who planted the bomb? The first step in the investigation was to reconstruct the plane and its parts from hundreds of thousands of fragments scattered across 845 square miles of Scottish countryside. The success of the investigation lay in the details. Tirelessly the investigators combed through the wreckage, leaving not even the smallest clue unexamined. What the untrained layman would overlook as meaningless, they analyzed in every way possible. They worked from information gathered in previous experiences of this kind. They reconstructed not only the entire plane but also the sequence of events leading to the crash. As important as gathering the information was the interpretation of it. In late 1989 a Scottish investigator going through a bag of burned clothing found a fingernail-sized shred of green plastic embedded in a piece of shirt. The tiny piece of plastic was traced to a timing device, the shirt to a small store in Malta. From these apparently insignificant details the case was broken and indictments issued.1

The Power of Observation The difference for the big issues is often a trivial detail. Police investigators find and identify a piece of carpet fiber. An auditor notices an unusual ledger entry. An astronomer logs a star where none is supposed to be. A geneticist traces a gene structure he doesn't expect. What gift do these specialists have that leads to such breakthroughs? We call it the power of observation. It is simply the alertness to detail of one who is trained to look and really see. We might think that a person either has this special gift of visual perception or he doesn't. And there is something to the idea that it is a gift. But the power of observation is also a skill to be developed. This has been proved in the training for such highly demanding jobs as those of FBI and Treasury agents. Though a person may not be accustomed to the alertness to detail these jobs require, he can learn it. Most people tend to be observant in some area of interest while not paying attention in other areas.



Observation means the act or practice of recognizing and recording facts and events, as for a scientific study. Skill in observation can be cultivated by training and practice. Effective observation calls for motivation, an eye for details, ability to suspend judgment, a learner's curiosity, and knowledge of the phenomenon under examination.



For Bible study observation means identifying significant details in a careful examination of the particulars of the Scripture passage. The aim of recording these observations is to understand the intended meaning of the writer.

For instance, I might not notice what my wife is wearing as we get in the car to go out for the evening. But my eye is immediately drawn to a tiny scratch in the paint of the car. My attention is selective. Sharon, on the other hand, can tell me that the old friend we met unexpectedly at the restaurant had dyed her hair. But she did not pay attention to how we got to the restaurant and couldn't find her way there again. We are observant in the things of interest to us. Not only do we tend to be weak in our natural power of observation, but the Bible teaches that we also suffer from spiritual blindness. Throughout the Scripture the theme of blindness is used for the perception of the things of God. When the covenant was renewed with Israel after the wilderness wandering, Moses told them, “Yet to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to know, nor eyes to see, nor ears to hear” (Deut. 29:4 NASB). Jesus promised, however, that the Holy Spirit would come as the “Spirit of truth.” In that role “He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own … for He will take of Mine and declare it to you” (John 16:13– 14). Paul recognized the need for the grace of God in receiving his truth. He prayed for the Ephesians that God “may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened” (Eph. 1:17–18). Here is the power of observation from the biblical view, an endowment of the grace of God. Preachers are not different from anyone else in their need for this special sight for the Word of God. Not only do we need the supernatural ability to see in the spiritual dimension, but we also need to cultivate our natural alertness to the written text. Spiritual enlightenment enhances mental perception. Even for the most experienced of us, there is always room to grow in our insight into the subtleties of the biblical text. In this chapter we will introduce the exercise we call immediate observations. The skill we hope to develop with this exercise is this: recognizing and noting details in the wording of the text and their significance for its meaning. We have identified the relationship of various ideas in the text and portrayed them graphically with the structural diagram. Now, with the structural diagram before us, we will note and record what we see in the details of the text.

Developing Observation Skills For expository preaching the text is a constant. Every time you read it the words are the same. It does not vary its message from one reader to another. How is it, then, that one person will find insights in a text that another never sees? The text is the same for each. The difference is in what they see. One looks but does not see. Another looks and sees what is only apparent to an alert and attentive

eye. What does it take to have this power of observation? For one thing it will take a certain amount of basic talent and intelligence. We believe, though, that anyone called of God to the preaching ministry will have the gifts necessary to the preparation and delivery of sermons. But giftedness is not the same as skill. Remember, the premise of this book is that a preacher can strengthen certain skills and thus improve his preaching. The immediate observations exercise is designed to help develop the skill of noting and observing the details of the text. As you complete this task with text after text, you will develop an eye for detail you did not have before. Here are six factors involved in strengthening your power of observation.

1. Skill in observation depends heavily on one's motivation. Most people are not observant because they don't have to be. They get along pretty well without having to pay close attention to what is going on around them. Some vocations call for special power of observation—an auditor checking over the corporate books, a Secret Service agent carefully watching the crowd while the President speaks, an auto plant inspector running his hand over the finish of a new car. They are all motivated because it is their job. If you are convinced it is your special calling to find the truth your people need to hear, you will be motivated as well. There is no substitute for desire. 2. Skill in observation demands an eye for the details. Inductive thinking begins with the details, the particulars. The goal is to arrive at a conclusion based on these specifics. Attention must not be focused on that aim but on the particulars. In one sense an able observer learns to think small. The close attention to the little things is often the secret to success in business, in art, and in science. It is so with preaching as well, particularly in the study of the biblical text. 3. Skill in observation calls for a healthy learner's curiosity. A positive motivation for curiosity is a thirst for knowledge. It is this motivation that compels us to develop the power of observation. This tendency to probe and investigate strengthens our attention to detail. We continually find ourselves asking, “How many?” “What kind?” “What color?” “Which way?” “Why?” “Who?” “In what order?” and so on. A learner's curiosity will have you probing into the corners and between the lines of your text. 4. Skill in observation requires a willingness to suspend judgment. Most of us are prone to jump to conclusions. With even one “fact” in hand, we tend immediately to assume we know where it leads. The skilled observer, however, will intentionally wait to make a judgment even though he may see the beginnings of a trend. Unless he waits until sufficient particulars are clear, he may find himself trying to prove a hasty conclusion and thus ignoring other particulars that do not support it. The discipline of suspending judgment is at the heart of inductive Bible study. We record all the observations we can before coming to a conclusion about what they mean. 5. Skill in observation demands a ruthless realism about the facts. A fact is an event that has actually happened or circumstance that actually exists. There is a marked difference between a fact and a supposition, between reality and guesswork. We are tempted to want the facts to favor our views and to see them in that light. We also tend to be selective about which facts to note and which to ignore. But the skilled observer will be strict in dealing with the facts realistically. 6. Skill in observation requires knowing what to look for. By this I mean an observant person has to have some knowledge of the area of inquiry. An astronomer can search the skies with skill because he knows what to look for. An auto mechanic can often tell you what is wrong with your car merely by listening to it because he knows what to expect. A physician can diagnose your trouble by examining you and asking questions because she knows what to look for. So it is with preachers in our inductive Bible study: the more we learn what to look for, the more skilled we will become in our examination of the text.

Immediate Observations Guidelines This exercise will build on the one before it. Our immediate observations will begin with the structural diagram. In fact, if it were not for the diagram of the text, many of the details we need to see would not be apparent to us. You may look back to the text in its paragraph and verse form in the Scripture. But you will make the most of the observations task by working from the structural diagram. Here are some guidelines for noting your observations about the text.

Do not avoid the rather mundane work of writing down your observations as you study the text. There is no substitute for working on paper. You just cannot do this exercise in your head. After you have considerable experience with it, you will not need the written exercise as much but will still find it valuable. This is not the time for research. You are to record what you see without the aid of lexicons, commentaries, or other helps. This emphasis on observation is the great value of inductive Bible study. The preacher is involved in a hands-on relationship with the text, in the process becoming more and more capable as a serious student of the Bible. Research is important in your study of the text, but it comes as the next step after you complete your observations. Approach the immediate observations exercise as a brainstorming session. Even though you are the only one involved, operate with the rules we usually set when a group brainstorms a problem. Write down every idea that comes up. If you start second-guessing yourself and trying to evaluate your observations, you will stifle your own attention to detail. There will be time later to sort out your ideas. Do not make your aim searching for a sermon in the text. Your aim in the observation phase of your study is to look carefully at the text itself. You are asking, “What do I see in the text?” and “What is the author saying?” When you complete a thorough inductive study, you will be able to state the theological ideas in the text. These ideas then become the ideas in your sermon. So don't jump ahead to sermonizing before you have allowed the text to speak in its own terms. Expect to grow in your ability to recognize common biblical themes and features. This recognition factor will become an increasingly valuable strength as you study the Bible for your preaching ministry. You will find that the Scripture is consistent throughout. The central themes will come up again and again in the Old Testament and the New. Some of the figurative language will make increasing sense. Like flowers springing up here and there in a field, the great theological themes of Scripture will come out again and again, and you will recognize them in each new context. Discipline yourself to the inductive method and withhold your conclusions until your observations are complete. Experienced

preachers may be especially tempted as they approach the immediate observations exercise. Those of us who have been preaching for some time know something about the Bible. The temptation for us is to examine the text in terms of our own knowledge rather than in terms of the writer's intention. Seeing a familiar feature, we may jump to the conclusion that we understand the text and there is no need to dig deeper.

The Bigger Picture Though the work you have already done with the structural diagram will be the basis for many of your observations, you will want to look beyond your diagram of the text also. This bigger picture is to place the text in its context in several significant ways. Another way to think of your observations is in terms of the nature of the Bible. Interpreters see the Scripture as literature, so they examine its literary features in studying it. They also see it as a presentation of holy history, so they study it as historical material with features appropriate to that kind of writing. They also study the Bible as theological literature with the elements common to theology. To make observations about these larger issues, you will want to do what you can to look at your text's place in the Bible, without at this time going to other sources for help. We will ask pointed questions in our next exercise, questions designed to lead us to the best research for understanding the text. At this point, however, we are limiting our observations to the Bible itself. First notice who the text writer is and the original audience he addressed. Does the context of the passage tell you anything about either of them? For instance, you can see by the introduction to many of the epistles how the writer identifies himself. Also notice this kind of information in the introduction to the book of Acts. You will find more in the next exercise when you ask research questions. Second, note what kind of literature your text seems to be. Keep this simple. Bible scholars identify literary forms and subforms to many levels of complexity. It is better at this point if you just recognize whether your text is historical narrative, poetry, prophecy, Gospel narrative, parable, or epistle. After you ask your research questions in the next exercise, you can be more precise. Then look at the immediate context of the passage. What does the writer address in the previous chapters and those that follow your text? What seems to be the overall theme of these chapters? How does your text fit into the broader progression or thought of this book? Do you see ideas in the surrounding chapters that will cast light on the meaning of your text? Another observation about the text is to note the general tone of the section. How would you characterize the apparent mood of the writer? Is he rejoicing or sad? Is he focusing on his content or connecting with his audience more personally? What seems to be his purpose for this particular section in light of the context? The context of the text may also reveal something about its historical setting that you will want to note. Again we will wait to do our research in the next exercise. But at this point you may be able to see something about the historical setting, especially in historical narratives or Gospel accounts.

Working from the Structural Diagram You will find that the structural diagram will open the structure of the text as nothing else. The highlighted words, underlined verbs, separated connectives, listed rhetorical functions, and grouped modifiers will lead you to observations you would not otherwise have noticed. With the structural diagram before you and your Bible open to the text under study, you are ready to write down observations based on your diagram and rhetorical analysis. Observations follow two perspectives: (1) the panoramic approach, seeing the whole. This involves looking at the overall message of the writer in its context and noting the relationship of ideas in the text. We have already taken a look at this bigger picture. (2) The microscopic approach, seeing the parts. This involves carefully examining the writer's message in its smallest parts to note every detail of what he wrote. Not only are you looking carefully for the particulars of the text, but you also want to try to determine the significance of what you see. Your aim is to understand better the text writer's intended message. You are not just trying to accumulate more information about the text. You are aiming to interpret it faithfully. Taking the panoramic view is like standing on a mountain to look down on a farm in the valley below. You can take in the entire farm at once. You can see the layout of the land, how the various buildings, fields, and equipment are related. You can see the surrounding area, the terrain, adjoining farms, woods, and water. Some of the information you will need for this broader view will require research. The second kind of observation is the microscopic view. In this examination you are looking at the details within the text itself. You will examine every shred of evidence you can in the words and phrases of the text in order to discern the writer's meaning. In this chapter we will suggest how you can look at the text in all its particulars. We will take the microscopic view. The structural diagram will help you with both the panoramic and the microscopic perspectives on the text. It shows you how the various ideas are related and how the writer organizes his thoughts. But the structural diagram also opens the way for an examination of the particulars of the text. The smallest details can be seen more clearly when the diagram is completed. Here are some of the observations that will be apparent as you examine your structural diagram. The relationship of various ideas in the text The significant words you have highlighted The rhetorical functions of various phrases We will now look at each of these categories of observations to see what you might observe and how you might write your observations.

The Relationship of Text Ideas A beginning point for your immediate observations is to analyze the relationships between ideas in the text. The structural diagram is designed to provide a graphic portrayal of these relationships. Now you are to look at the diagram and interpret what it shows as to how the ideas in the text are related. A key to identifying how ideas are related is the use of connectives. You will recall that these often small but important words link one phrase with another in definite ways. We have identified these connectives: (1) comparisons, (2) contrasts, (3) conditional statements, (4) correlative structure, (5) reasons, (6) purpose, and (7) results. Some connectives, such as like, as, also, and too, indicate that two ideas are being compared. Sometimes a comparative connective will introduce an analogy. An example is Psalm 1:3, “He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water.” It is significant that the psalmist compares the godly man to a flourishing tree. Simply write as your observation, “The godly man compared with a flourishing tree.” Another connective shows contrast. This is signaled by words such as but, nevertheless, even though, much more, yet, and although. In Matthew 5:13 Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth.” This statement is then followed by the turning point in the verse, “But if the salt loses its flavor.” Here is the connective “but” that tells you a contrast is here. So you may observe: “The salt can lose its flavor.” This is an important idea to note in your analysis of the text. In the same verse in Matthew 5:13 is another type of connective, the conditional. This is signaled in various texts by the if … then pattern, though not all conditional statements use the terms if and then. It is called “conditional” because a possible condition is introduced that results in a specified outcome. You might write for Matthew 5:13, “If the flavor is lost, the salt is good for nothing.” The condition leads to the predictable result. The other connectives play a similarly important role in defining the relationship of ideas in the text. Go over the entire diagram of the text and notice that almost every connective allows you to make an observation of some kind related to the connections between ideas in the text. You will want to distinguish between the main ideas in the text and those ideas that support them. This will help you identify the ideas the writer considers the most important. It will also help you notice that one, two, or even several things may be said about a main idea. In 1 Peter 1:4 we noticed that the “inheritance” that comes through the new birth is modified by four subordinate ideas. It is “incorruptible,” “undefiled,” “does not fade away,” and “reserved in heaven.” This is an observation you can make, or perhaps several, as you mention each of these subordinate modifiers. On the other hand, a simple set of two descriptive ideas is given in Genesis 1:2. The earth at creation is said to be “without form” and “void.” You could write as an observation that the earth is described in two ways here. But also notice the next sentence, “And darkness was on the face of the deep.” Though it is given in a separate statement, this adds a third quality of the earth at creation. This is significant because each of these conditions is remedied as the creation account unfolds.

The Significant Words A critical area of observation is to identify significant words you see in the passage. By significant we mean those words that carry the weight of meaning in the text. They may be nouns or verbs, even modifiers. They may carry key theological themes from which you will later select a dominant theme you believe is the writer's subject. The theological themes you see in the text are usually common to the Bible as a whole. They appear in various combinations in different texts. You may see grace, faith, and salvation in one text in which faith is dominant and the other two terms supportive. In another text grace might be dominant, with faith and salvation in support. In narrative texts the themes are not taught explicitly but rather demonstrated or illustrated in the text. But the theological ideas you think you see there should be clearly taught in other texts. Note the function of verbs you can see in the English text. Be sure to notice whether verbs are present, future, or past; active or passive; transitive or intransitive. The tense can be important as you identify past events already accomplished, present action that continues, and future action yet to come. Later on, as you research the original language, you may find more subtle distinctions in tense that the English text does not convey. Notice in Mark 11:24 the interesting verb tenses, “All things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they shall be granted you” (NASB). In this case the verb tenses dramatically affect the interpretation. So you will write your observations about these tenses. Identify figurative language of any kind. There are a number of distinctive figures of speech you will want to identify, though some have only uncommon and technical uses.2 You may find that you can identify figurative language without being able to use the technical term for it. You want to see how the figurative language pictures the subject and opens the door to better understanding of the writer's intention. Look at the figurative language in Psalm 1:1. Though you might not see all these terms as figurative at first, a closer look will reveal that they are not literal: walks, stands, path, sits, and seat. The meaning of these figures will be most important for the interpretation of this text. Note any repetition of words, phrases, or ideas. This will usually indicate that the theme in question is a primary one in the passage. See if the repeated idea is given different shades of meaning or remains constant with the repetition. In the account of Jesus' meeting with Nicodemus in John 3:1–8, the word “born” appears eight times in these six verses. Surely this indicates something about the theme for this passage. The significant words you notice in the text will provide a link to other passages that address the same themes. These crossreferences can be important for explaining and arguing the ideas in your sermon. They also provide a corroborating reference from other places in the Bible to help you know that your interpretation is valid.



Rhetorical Functions On the structural diagram form you have already identified the way each phrase functions in the writer's message. These rhetorical functions also provide an important area for observations that open the meaning of the text. Go over the various rhetorical functions and note what you see. Note assertions the writer makes. An assertion is a statement that is affirmed positively and declared with assurance. Assertions stand out from supporting comments that elaborate on them. Assertions often carry special significance because they contain the key elements of the writer's thinking. In John 14:6 Jesus asserts clearly, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” This statement is intended as a clear affirmation of a conviction of Jesus. Also identify commands or admonitions to the readers. These statements are important because they usually carry the application of the theological ideas the writer is discussing. To clarify this you may want to trace them back to the doctrinal basis for the particular call to action. As you make the connection, you will see how this action reflects the conviction behind it. Paul writes in Ephesians 4:1, “I … beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called.” Much of the rest of the book gives the details of how to do so. Watch for promises expressed in the passage, either plainly or by implication. The Bible contains thousands of promises to the believer. A study of the promises of Scripture reveals much about God and his character, his will, and his intentions in his dealings with man. Many of the promises are universal in application so that they speak just as surely to our generation as to the one addressed in the text. Moses delivered the promise of God to Israel, “He will not leave you nor forsake you” (Deut. 31:6), which is later quoted in Hebrews 13:5. As a direct promise of God with universal application, it has special significance in telling us of God's intentions. The rhetorical functions also point to the differences between such labels as cause, means, and agency. Another area of sometimes subtle distinction is between result and purpose.

Writing Sentence Summaries One way to sort out the relationship of themes in the text is to write a brief sentence using each of the theological terms in the text. I have found this to be a most helpful exercise for wrapping up my observations exercise. It allows me to put into complete sentences what I can observe from the text as to the writer's message. In some cases you may use the rhetorical functions to form the summary sentence. In doing so you are not only showing that the two ideas are connected but also how they are connected. Keep each statement as simple and direct as possible. Write several statements about one theme if the text shows it to be related to several other themes. Let your statements express every connection of text themes as the text presents them. Here are some examples from 1 Peter 1:3-5: God has begotten us again. God gave us new birth because of his mercy. God's mercy is abundant. The new birth results in a living hope. The means of the new birth is the resurrection of Jesus. The new birth results in a spiritual inheritance. The believer's spiritual inheritance is incorruptible. The believer's spiritual inheritance is undefiled. The believer's spiritual inheritance does not fade away. The believer's spiritual inheritance is reserved in heaven for him. Believers are kept by the power of God. Believers are kept through faith. Believers are kept for salvation. Our eternal salvation is to be revealed in the last time. You can see that these statements are valuable already for summarizing in clear form what the text is saying on the various subjects it touches. These statements will serve well later in your sermon preparation as you begin to plan the structure of your sermon.

Completing the Exercise This exercise is not complicated but will be most valuable in your understanding of the text. It is central to our inductive approach to the analysis of the text. If we were to take it step-by-step, here is a suggested order. For many years I preferred to work this exercise by hand instead of using a word processor. With the flexibility of modern word processors, I have changed my mind. However, there is still value in working by hand with the diagram and work sheet spread before you. Writing by hand forces a closer examination and involvement in the analysis. Step 1. Begin by studying your structural diagram for observations you can make about the relationship of the various statements and ideas in the text. The connectives will help point to these relationships. Step 2. Look at the significant words in your diagram, marked by highlighting. Observe from them the theological themes they

indicate. Watch for figurative language and its meaning. Look for repeated words and ideas. Note your observations as to crossreferences that address the same themes. Step 3. Examine the column of rhetorical functions on your structural diagram. Notice the assertions, commands, admonitions, and other kinds of statements used by the text writer. What do they tell you about the writer's intended purpose for his message and the part each statement plays. Step 4. Write summary sentences that distill from the text the particular truths revealed in it. Sometimes these ideas will be obvious; at other times they will only be implied. In simple statements, show how the theological themes in the text are related. Step 5. Enter additional information on the QuickLook sheet as you can at this point in your study.

Study Questions 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7.

What is the power of observation? What is the skill the observations exercise aims to strengthen? Identify the factors involved in strengthening your power of observation. What is the recognition factor? What are three kinds of observations you will note from the structural diagram? When making immediate observations, why is it important to suspend judgment? What is the purpose of writing summary sentences?





Asking the right questions is of crucial impor tance, for asking the wrong questions will un doubtedly result in receiving wrong answers. One of the weighty issues in hermeneutics is, therefore, how to ask the right questions.1



Analyzing the Text Skill 1: Diagramming the Text Structure Skill 2: Noting the Text Details Skill 3: Asking Research Questions

Skill 3

Asking Research Questions I had never been to Russia. In April 1993, however, I was asked to teach a one-week intensive course in biblical ethics. I enjoyed the time there, especially with the people. In one sense it is true that people everywhere are much the same, but I couldn't help noticing the barriers I had to cross to relate to them in even the most surface way. I never once forgot that I was a foreigner and out of my element. The first and most obvious barrier was the eight thousand-mile distance from home in North Carolina. We spent nineteen hours by air, in airport layovers, and in ground transportation, getting there. Other barriers to cross had to do with language: Russian is a Slavic language written in the Cyrillic alphabet, based on Greek letters. The culture is different from my own, especially since they were only recently breaking free of the seventy-five-year dominance of Soviet Communism. The climate, architecture, dress, currency, diet, technology, and many other factors were different from what I was used to back home. The world of the Bible is also a different world from ours. The people, the politics, the cultures of the Bible are even more foreign to us than Russia was to me. Serious Bible study requires expert help. I do not mean to say that a person cannot read the Bible today and understand it. There is much there that is as understandable as if it were written here yesterday. But preaching calls for a study of the texts of Scripture at a deeper level. For that task we need to interpret for ourselves, and we must become interpreters for our hearers. In this section we are focusing on the skills necessary for an analysis of the text: (1) using the structural diagram to see the relationship of ideas in the text and (2) making observations to recognize and note details in the text and their significance. Now (3) we move to the next step in our inductive analysis of the text, research. The exercise we introduce in this chapter is asking research questions. The skill we hope to develop with this exercise is this: asking questions for the best research to understand the text writer's original message. This third exercise is built on the results of the first two. You will want to work with the Structural Diagram and Immediate Observations before you. Do not be surprised if there is some redundancy in the three exercises. You will raise questions about many of the same elements of the text you have already considered in the earlier analysis. Effective inductive analysis of the text depends on asking and answering the right questions. A detective investigating a crime, an attorney defending a case, a physician dealing with a mysterious ailment—all will make careful observations and ask penetrating questions if they are to find the right answers. So it is with Bible interpretation. If you ask the right questions, your research will follow the right paths and lead you to the information you need for understanding the text. Much of the information will be found in the Bible itself. Some of it will be found in other resources.

Distances to the Bible World Though the world of the Bible is different from our own, some things are the same. We open our Bibles with two issues already settled in our minds. First, we believe that God is the same now as he was in the days of the Bible accounts. We believe he is immutable, that he never changes. Therefore his power and goodness and wisdom do not change. Second, we also believe that man is the same as he was then. His technology has changed so that now he uses a computer to keep his records, drives or flies to get where he wants to go, and carries a phone for instant communication to the world. But the nature of man hasn't changed. It is still a mixed nature—made in the image of God on the one hand but fallen into sin on the other and seriously damaged in that fall. So as we read of the strange and foreign world of the Bible, we can recognize the personal dimension. The people described there are much like us. We see ourselves in them—in their hopes, their doubts, their struggles, their failures, and their faith. Their story is our story as we see God dealing with them in love and know that he is the same yesterday, today, and forever. So their story is faith's mirror image of our own. While these unchanging factors make the Bible familiar to us, the differences from our world make it a mystery. The distance from where we live now to the lands of the Bible is many thousands of miles. But that distance is not our greatest barrier in getting inside the Bible world. There are other distances we must deal with that cause us to raise questions as we study the Bible. The historical distance to the world of the Bible raises questions. A number of major civilizations march across the pages of the Bible along with countless minor people groups and tribes. Some of these cultures were the setting for major portions of the Bible as God's people recorded his revelation—ancient Mesopotamia, Canaan, Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Greece, and Rome. Their life was very different from ours. How can we understand the Bible without knowing about what happened back then—the geography, the customs of the people, their world-view, politics, science, art, and daily life? Now, after two thousand years, the sands of those passing years have buried entire civilizations. The personal story of countless lives is gone and silent. In many cases the Bible is the only record of what happened then. Studying its pages naturally raises history questions. The literary distance to the world of the Bible raises questions. We must deal with it as a literary document containing various forms of literature, some strange to us. Though we have excellent English Bibles, we know the text was written originally in Hebrew and Koine Greek, with some brief passages in Aramaic. These languages are not like English. Different alphabets are used, different grammatical structures, different ways of communicating a thought. Though it is best for a preacher to study these languages and literary forms, few of us will ever be experts in the languages of the Bible. We will need a number of reference books to help us as we raise literary questions in our study of the Bible. The theological distance to the world of the Bible raises questions. One theological mystery has to do with the religion of the

ancient peoples who were neighbors, enemies, and captors of God's people. You will want to know about the gods of ancient Mesopotamia at the time of Abraham. For another text you will study the religion of Egypt that Moses confronted. You will confront the beliefs of the Hebrews at various stages in their history along with the religion of the Greeks and Romans. Beyond these mysteries we must plumb the depths of the theology of the biblical writers, the theological error they addressed, and the consistency of biblical views. So why do we need to do this research? Because we do not know all this information. The most knowledgeable scholar cannot know everything. Admitting we do not know all about the text and its background is the necessary beginning point for finding out what we need to know to understand the writer's original message and its contemporary significance.

Research Resources If you already have access to a good library, the challenge will be to make good use of it. I have a lot of books that I must admit are of little use in preparing expository sermons. When I bought them, I thought they would be helpful, but in practical use they have not been. On the other hand, I have some books I go to over and over. The resources you choose will reflect your intentions for dealing with the text. Here are some basic suggestions for the resources needed to do effective expository sermon preparation. My first resource is the Bible itself. As we have already emphasized, the best way to understand the Bible is with the Bible. There are many other texts that will help you understand and explain your sermon text. Other incidents recorded in Scripture will add to your knowledge of characters in a text. The same subjects arise in text after text of various kinds. I also look at the material in my several translations of the Bible—center-column references, introductory material, concordances, maps, and such. Concordances lead to related texts. Since the Bible itself is my first resource, I need a way to find the texts that will help with my text. In the first place there are parallel passages, as in the Gospels when the texts in Matthew and Luke are almost the same. This is also the case in some of Paul's writing, as when he deals with marriage and with the qualifications of bishops. Other texts help interpret one another because they address the same subject in different ways. These cross-references use some of the same words or address the same themes. Concordances can help you find them. Word study books are my next resource. I find Greek and Hebrew lexicons and other word study books the most helpful. But here is a caution. There is a danger here in understanding what a word in the original text meant by using the classic word study books. Some volumes deal with words mainly in terms of their etymology, that is, their history and development. While that kind of analysis of a Greek or Hebrew word is helpful, the real key to understanding it will be its context. The way the word is used in your text will tell you more than its ancient history about its meaning. Bible handbooks help get the whole book in view. When you are preaching a series through a book, you will want to know its overarching theme and how it is developed. You will want to know something of the background of its writing—author, original readers, circumstances, issues. Getting the big picture of a Bible book will help you keep the context in mind as you go through the series. Bible dictionaries allow you to look up any topic related to your text. You will be able to look up particular persons, places, customs, events, and things that are mentioned in your text. This may include such matters as ancient kings and kingdoms, wars, monetary values, regions, towns, tribes—anything you need to know of the Bible and the ages and places mentioned in it. Atlases may also be helpful, with maps of different periods. Commentaries help you analyze and interpret your text. Be aware, however, that all commentaries are not of the same order. Some are critical commentaries that concentrate mostly on analyzing the text in terms of its words, textual variants, interpretation problems, and cross-references. Others are homiletical commentaries designed to help the preacher with his sermons. These may include sermon outlines and support material. Devotional commentaries tend to concentrate on the application of the message of the text. As a general rule, do not buy a set of commentaries on the assumption that they are all of equal value. It is better to find the best commentary you can on each book or section of the Bible. Also avoid using commentaries that try to give you a sermon instead of the information you need to prepare a sermon. Bible software can put it all together. All of the information in all of the books I have mentioned here is also available in Bible software for your computer. More and more preachers are finding that they can prepare their sermons on the computer and have all the reference materials they need at their fingertips. Some software programs are expensive while others are reasonable. In deciding what software to purchase, consider the hardware requirements and make sure your computer can handle it. Then determine how much you want to spend. Look carefully over the list of resources in the software you examine. You may discover that a number of books are included that you will never use. So find the balance between getting what will really help you and not spending more than necessary.

Your Reference Library

Bible atlases will answer your geographical questions by showing the location and relationship of various places mentioned in the text. Bible dictionaries deal primarily with words used in the Bible but also present much other material similar to that found in an encyclopedia. Almost any subject related to the Bible can be found there. Bible handbooks offer information similar to that in dictionaries, with more emphasis on the text of various books of the Bible. Commentaries offer an explanation of the text and its meaning with features varying from one commentary to another. Concordances list the words that appear in the Bible and show where they appear, their meaning, and Greek or Hebrew roots.

Interlinear Bibles offer the Greek or Hebrew text between the lines of the English translation. Lexicons deal with the Greek or Hebrew words as to their meaning in various forms and contexts. Topical Bibles list many texts of the Bible under various topics, printing the complete wording of major themes and the reference of others. Word studies provide language, background, and usage information on words from the English Bible. Your reference library will continue to grow through the years. These are the tools of the trade for a preacher. They will help you develop sermon preparation skills and grow in your knowledge of the Bible. They are worth the considerable investment they require. Now, let's go over two general kinds of questions you can raise as you continue your analysis of the text.

Investigative Questions The first set of questions you can ask are the standard journalistic questions used to get the facts in a story. They are who, what, when, where, why, and how. I kept six honest fighting men,

They taught me all I knew;



Their names were what and why and when,



And how and where and who.



—Rudyard Kipling You can see immediately how helpful such simple questions could be. Though they are not directly related to the Bible material, they can help identify the factors in the text for which you need answers. Raise all the questions you can about the text. But remember that some of your questions cannot be answered. Though some things, places, persons, customs, and other matters in the Bible will remain a mystery, you will not know which until you ask your questions and seek the answers. The who question asks about the people in or behind the text. In every text the writer and the recipients are important. In 1 Peter 5:1, the writer addresses “the elders who are among you” and refers to himself as “a fellow elder.” You may ask, “Who are these elders?” and “Who is any elder, in this use of that term?” Even though you may think you know the answer, ask concerning 1 Peter 5:4, “Who is the Chief Shepherd?” Raising the question can keep you from assuming that those in your audience know who this is. The who question will be especially effective in analyzing narrative texts. But it is also useful in identifying the many names mentioned in Paul's epistles, as in Romans 16 when he greets certain of the believers in Rome—Phoebe, Priscilla and Aquila, Epaenetus, Mary, Andronicus and Junia, as well as others. You will want to ask, “Who is Andronicus?” But you may not find an answer. Though some of these are mentioned in other texts, the names of some are found only here. It is clear that some of your questions cannot be answered. The what question asks about the identification or definition of some matter in the text. You will often ask, “What is the meaning of this word in the original language?” “What is the issue Paul is addressing?” This will be helpful as you ask about significant terms in the text. You may often ask, “What is the significance that this word appears in the text five times?” The what question may need to be addressed to every significant word in the text to seek its meaning in the original language and its use in this context. The what question can lead you to more subtle, between-the-lines questions. You may ask, “What is that cause of the disciples' repeated failure of faith?” (Luke 8:25). You may ask, “What was the sin in looking back on the part of Lot's wife?” (Gen. 19:26). Or, “What is Paul's expectation when he says he is ready to be poured out as a drink offering?” (2 Tim. 4:6). These questions will send you back to the text for a closer reading. The when question relates to time. This question usually seeks answers about historical events or circumstances. In Isaiah 6:1 you read, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne.” You will want to ask, “When did King Uzziah die?” In Luke 2:1 the writer tells about a census “in those days” and further specifies it with “while Quirinius was governing Syria.” You can ask, “When was this census taken?” Though answers to these questions will not change your interpretation of the passage, they will allow you to communicate the historical events more vividly. A new scene in narrative is often signaled by a change of place or time. The passage of time is sometimes a critical factor in the story. In John 11, Jesus arrived in Bethany after Lazarus had been dead for three days. When did he get word of Lazarus's illness? When did he decide to go to Lazarus? How long did the journey take from where he was? Sketching the time line will help clarify the story for your audience. The where question inquires about location. The exact location of a person or event is often critical to the understanding of a text. “Where was Paul when he wrote Philippians?” Or any of the other epistles. As mentioned above, where was Jesus when he received word of Lazarus's illness? That is important if you are to know how long it took to walk back to Bethany. Where are Hazazon Tamar and En Gedi (2 Chron. 20:2), the location of the armies that threatened Jehoshaphat? Where is the “Ascent of Ziz” that is mentioned here? Answers to these questions will allow you to trace the route of the invaders. The where question may also be appropriate to ask about dimensions or spheres beyond the geographical. Where may mean “in what condition” or “in what relationship.” In Romans 5:2, Paul writes that “we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand.” A reasonable question is, “Where do we stand by faith?” The answer seems to be, “In grace.” Ask the question to focus on this important idea. In the epistles of Paul, there are a number of references to the sphere of spiritual activity: “in the heavenly places,” “in the Spirit,” (Eph. 6), “in the liberty by which Christ has made us free” (Gal. 5:1). The why question asks about the reasons or causes for a condition, action, or assertion. Sometimes, in examining your text, you wonder about the reason for a statement by the author or the report of an action someone takes. Whether there is a definitive

answer, you should ask the question. Why does Paul say, “You would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me” (Gal. 4:15)? Why did God forbid Moses' entering the promised land when his offense seemed rather minor (Num. 20:7–10)? The why question can often lead you to deeper insights as to the purpose of God. You may ask, “Why did God seem to use Jacob's deceptions for his purposes?” (Gen. 27:33). Or you may ask, “Why did Jesus turn the water into wine after saying his hour had not yet come?” (John 2:4). The how question seeks answers as to some process in the text. We may ask this question of a historical passage. We can ask, “How did Gideon and his three hundred men defeat the vast army of the Midianites and Amalekites?” (Judg. 7:19–22). “How did passenger traffic on ships work in those days?” (Jon. 1:3). Another how question can be raised concerning the dynamics of grace in the Christian life: “How does walking in the Spirit overcome the desires of the flesh?” (Gal. 5:16). You may ask, “How is it that faith comes by hearing?” (Rom. 10:17). If you are to preach the practical walk of the Christian life, you will need to be able to explain to your hearers how these familiar affirmations actually work in experience. These questions are seeking basic information. Some of that information may affect the interpretation of the text. Much of it will affect the presentation of the sermon.

Interpretive Questions Another set of questions you may ask focuses on an interpretation of the text. Whereas the investigative questions identified above primarily pursue the facts, interpretive questions seek out the meaning of the text. Here are seven questions that will help open the meaning of the text. 1. What other passages help clarify the meaning of this text? A key to understanding any text, as we have already noted, is what we call cross-refer-ences. The best way to interpret the Scripture is with Scripture. The Bible is comprehensive and consistent in its theological message. Other references will help clarify your text by contributing something in addition to the information in the text. No single text says all the Bible has to say on a given subject. Even though you deal with the text in an expository way, you still need to balance the ideas in it with those from other texts that address the same subjects. This balance will help clear up some of your questions. It will also give a broader base to the theological ideas you are teaching from the text. You will avoid a one-sided presentation of the biblical truth. 2. What does the context of this book tell me about the message of this text? The process of interpretation first moves from the particulars to the generals. That is, we understand the whole piece of literature by the specific ideas the writer communicates. From the specific themes we can discern the overall message of a larger section or book. We can assume that the smaller parts are in harmony with the writer's general theme. The interpretive focus then shifts from the particulars to the generals. An understanding of the overall theme of the book then provides guidance as we examine particular passages. If we are correct about the theme of a book, we will want to see how the specific text fits into that theme. We will look at the material before and after our text to see the line of argument and better understand the text at hand. 3. How does this text's literary genre affect its message? We must not think that the message of a text can be divorced from the literary form of the text. Like shelling pecans and throwing away the hulls, we may just want to get at the meat of the passage. But human communication does not work that way. The means of communication are so intertwined with the message of the text that the style and form of the writing becomes part of the message. In a larger sense we usually think of literary forms such as historical narrative, poetry, prophecy, Gospel, parable, epistle, or apocalyptic material. Even without consideration of more specific subforms, we can see that these different kinds of literature present their message in different ways. As we ask the question of genre, we will find important insight into the message of the text. 4. What seems to be the writer's purpose in this text as a part of the whole book? The message and the purpose of the writer may seem to be one and the same. But they are not. Though intertwined, the writer's purpose and the ideas he communicates may be distinguished. The purpose of the writer often arises out of the circumstances of his time. He sees a need and addresses it. The purpose may be to confront the sin of God's people. But the message may be the holiness and judgment of God. Paul's purpose in Galatians seems to be to confront the errors of the Judaizers among the believers there. But the message is better characterized as freedom in the grace of God. As you ask about the purpose of the writer, you are looking behind what he said to what he wanted to accomplish. If you can discern that purpose, you can better understand his choice of material and the way he presents his ideas. 5. What are the overall tone and style of the text language? The attitude of the writer is often apparent in the way he expresses himself. Is he rejoicing? Is he frustrated? Is he sorrowful? Is he affectionate? This tone may differ within a book and even within a preaching text. Noting the tone of the writer will help understand his message. Remember, the manner of his presentation becomes part of the message with the ideas. Different writers have different styles. A single writer may express himself in different styles as well. The factors of style can often be seen in a text—passion, zeal, harshness, formality, fluency, accusation, entreaty. Discerning the tone and style of the text will help you understand the meaning of the words the writer uses. 6. What are the apparent implications of the writer's statements in the text? Theological ideas come in various forms. They can reflect the character of God. They can be presented as principles. They can take the form of commands. They can be exhortations. Whatever their form, there is a connection backward or forward to another form. Descriptions of the character of God imply principles and commands. Statements of exhortation imply a foundation in the character of God. You will also find that some statements have intended implications for the original audience that should be identified if the message is to be fully understood. Sometimes there is an unspoken message the writer intended and the original audience understood because of their common experience. But the message may have a somewhat different implication for today's hearer. Raising the

question of implications can lead you to insights you might otherwise miss. 7. What is the significance of the ideas in the text for the response of contemporary believers? Preaching is interpretation. First, we interpret the message from the Scripture text. Then we have to interpret the message as theology. Finally, we interpret the text message to the contemporary audience. The aim of this process is to communicate the timeless theological message of the text to the audience we face in their own context. Meaning and significance have been separated to emphasize that the message of the text can be distinguished from the application of that message. Even as you analyze the text through asking questions, you can think forward to the “so what” question in the minds of every audience. If you cannot determine the significance for our faith of the message, you may not really understand it. This sketch of investigative questions and interpretive questions demonstrates the wide range of questions you can ask of any text. But do not limit yourself to these lists. Remember, your understanding of the text may well depend on the questions you ask and the answers you find.

Completing the Exercise The skill we are aiming to strengthen in this chapter has to do with asking the questions that will lead to an understanding of the text writer's meaning. The exercise is Asking Research Questions. Now that we have considered the many questions you might ask about your text, let me offer some brief guidelines for the exercise. Begin the process of asking questions only after completing your immediate observations for all the verses in the text. This may be a difficult discipline to maintain. Observations you note about the text will often bring questions to mind. For instance, you will notice a significant word and need to ask what it means. Write for your observations, “significant word.” Then wait for the research questions step to raise the question about the definition of the word. Begin with your structural diagram and your observations before you. These three tasks in analyzing the text are separate but dependent on one another. As we move from observation to research, we still need our observation skills. Now we must examine the text in terms of what mysteries it holds. We must look for what we do not understand, what will require research in other texts and in resources beyond the Bible. In asking questions of the text, you may ask whatever you wish. Remember, however, that your aim is the proper understanding of the text's message as the writer intended it. As you raise questions, you may not be sure which ones will lead you to the answers you need. It is better to raise too many questions than to talk yourself out of one that might prove fruitful. More experience with this exercise will give you a feel for the best questions. Write everything down. Just as you must work on paper to do the structural diagram and record your observations, you must write out your questions and the answers you find. Not only will this provide a permanent record of your study; it will also help you notice gaps in your research. Number your questions so you can use the same numbers for recording answers. Numbering your questions and answers will help you keep track of your research. For those questions that seem to have no answer, just write “no answer” beside the number. Be sure to cite sources with page numbers for what you find. Your thorough study of a particular text will be a valuable resource in the future. At some time you will preach from this text again. You may need to check on the sources you used for clarification and further insight. With this exercise we have completed our initial analysis of the text. Now, in Section 2, we will move on to precisely wording our theological interpretation of the text.

Study Questions 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.

Why is it necessary for the preacher to use expert sources? What are three major distances between the modern interpreter and the world of the Bible? What are some of the resources the preacher will use for his research? What are the investigative questions? What are the interpretive questions? Why should the preacher number his questions and answers?





Theological Interpretation Skill 4: Naming the Text Idea Skill 5: Bridging from Text to Sermon Skill 6: Writing Sermon Divisions

Section 2

Theological Interpretation Interpreting the world around us is an everyday part of life. The television meteorologist presents his interpretation of air currents, temperature, barometric pressure, and other factors that tell him what the weather is likely to be in the next few days. Sometimes he is even right. We read experts' predictions about the economy as they interpret the various indexes of economic activity. We listen carefully as the physician goes over the results of an annual exam and what they mean. These professionals interpret the information available so they can explain to us what it means. You and I are interpreters as well. You receive a letter from your Uncle Jack and try to decipher what it says and then what it means. You examine the spots on the leaves of a rosebush, try to figure what is causing it to wilt, and what to do about it. You hear a noise in the night and go downstairs to stalk around in the dark in search of the source. In every case you are asking three basic questions: (1) What do we have here? (2) What does it mean? and (3) What is its significance for us? These are the larger questions of interpretation. In order to understand the meaning of anything you must first examine the phenomenon carefully to see what it is. This analysis requires some knowledge of the field, a skilled eye for indicators of one sort or another, and an understanding of what the indicators mean. A dentist who examines your teeth has to know something about teeth, what to look for in teeth, and the meaning of what he finds. We also use the idea of interpretation to go beyond meaning to significance. The meteorologist can tell you what the weather patterns mean, but you want more. You want to know their significance for your local weather tomorrow. Significance means the bearing the meaning has on you. You are glad for your dentist's expertise in describing the condition of your teeth, but you want more. You want to know what it will take to fix them and how much it will cost. In this section of our study, we will learn a method for taking the meaning of the text to its expression in the sermon. That meaning is essentially theological. It is about God and his nature, his ways, his dealings with his creation, particularly mankind. In our analysis of the text in section 1, we began to see what the writer is talking about. Now we must not only understand it but also communicate his message to our audience. Our aim is to have the sermon say what the text says, as to theological meaning. God revealed himself once through our text, and we want that revelation to come again to our hearers. Skill 4 is Naming the Text Idea. In this task our aim is to designate what the text writer is talking about with clear terminology.

Skill 5 is Bridging from Text to Sermon. The work we must do in this task is to get the message from the biblical text to the contemporary audience without losing it along the way. Skill 6 is Writing Sermon Divisions. This step in our sermon preparation involves discovering what the text writer says about his subject and stating it in clear sentences for the sermon outline. The three skills of this section are all focused on the interpretive process by which we discern the meaning of the text and prepare to present it in the sermon with its central idea and what the writer says about that idea. Here is a brief explanation of the classic method we will follow in this process.

A Classic Method A basic challenge in every sermon preparation system is how to get from the text to the sermon with the message. You may wonder why homileticians struggle over such an obvious connection. Why not just read the text and then preach what it says? In one sense that is what we do. But there are a number of dangerous pitfalls along the way. We need a plan that will keep us on track. We want the basic structure and message of the text to shape the sermon. Just as we worked step-by-step in our analysis of the text in Section 1, now we will work step-by-step in our theological interpretation of the text as it is expressed in the sermon. These steps are concentrated in the writing of four related sentences.1 Carefully writing these specific statements will challenge us with the discipline of clear thinking as we let the text shape the sermon. The first sentence you will write is a complete statement of the text idea. The heart of this statement is the careful wording of the writer's main idea. Rather than identifying a broad theme only, we will learn a way to focus the general subject the way the writer does. We will practice this vital task in the chapter on skill 4. After discovering the writer's central idea, we will also identify key elements in his original writing of the text and include them in our text idea sentence so that it is a past-tense historical statement. The second sentence in this interpretive method is the sermon idea. This statement keeps the heart of the text writer's idea but drops the historical elements in favor of a timeless and universal statement of theological truth. The sermon idea sentence contains the same meaning as the text idea but states it for the contemporary audience. The entire sermon will be planned as a fuller expression of this sermon idea. Writing these two statements will be part of the work of skill 5, Bridging from Text to Sermon. The third sentence in this method is called the interrogative, in which the sermon idea is written as a question. Writing this sentence will be part of the work of skill 6, as we plan the writing of sermon division statements. Finally, you will write a transition sentence designed to open the way into your sermon body and division statements. This sentence will include an important element called the KEY WORD. This method is sometimes called the key word method because of the central role of this element. This transition sentence will point to the text writer's treatment of his subject and introduce the sermon divisions that reflect the text structure. These four bridging sentences take you faithfully from the meaning of the text to the preaching of it in the sermon. I realize that this process may seem like a rather mechanical approach to interpretation. You will find, however, that these sentences will keep you on track. They will provide a straight line of thought from text to sermon that allows you the confidence that you are preaching the intended theological message of the text.

Text to Sermon: Four Sentences The Text Idea: The core idea of the text stated as a complete, past-tense sentence. It contains reference to certain historical elements associated with the text—writer or speaker, secondary persons or readers, the tone or purpose of the passage, circumstances of the writing, and special literary features.

The Sermon Idea: The same core concept as the text idea, worded as a present-tense, universal statement, without the historical elements of the text idea.



The Interrogative: The sermon idea translated into a question by the use of one of the following: who, what, when, where, why, how. It then calls for the various features of the text writer's treatment of his theme.



The Transition Sentence: Answers the interrogative by the introduction of a KEY WORD that categorizes the various features found in the text and introduces them as sermon divisions.

These bridging sentences will also help the audience clearly grasp the topic and thrust of your sermon. You may think it awkward to state the four sentences in your introduction, but it will not seem mechanical to the audience.

The Interpreter's Challenge Biblical interpretation is a challenge for three important reasons: (1) the nature of the believer, (2) the nature of the Bible, and (3) the difference between the Bible world and our own. The nature of the modern believer is a challenge to our efforts to interpret the Bible. The problem lies in our subjectivity. This means we naturally interpret everything, including the Bible, in terms of our own personal views and interests. Realize it or not, we bring all that we are to our interpretation. In one sense our minds are already made up. We already have opinions and ideas on most issues. But the meaning we seek in a passage is not the meaning we give to it out of our own thinking. It is the objective meaning to be found in the words of the original writer. The pressure to find something to preach is always on us as preachers. Our approach to the text is naturally going to reflect our aim, to prepare a sermon. Most of us, then, come to Scripture looking for sermons like children looking for Easter eggs in the grass. They know the brightly colored eggs do not normally belong there. That is irrelevant. The lawn is merely the place where all the eggs are cleverly hidden. In the same way the text of Scripture can seem to be merely a place where some really colorful sermons are cleverly hidden. The temptation is to ignore the larger fabric of the text; just snatch up a sermon and keep moving. The nature of the Bible itself presents a second challenge for interpretation.It is a divine-human book, written by men but containing the very word of God. As interpreters, we must deal with the tension this dual source creates as we try to sort out the human qualities of the writers from the divine source of their message. We find that the stamp of individual personality is on each text we study. Paul's writing is not like that of Peter. Luke does not write the way John does. Their choice of content, their writing style, vocabulary, and favorite themes demonstrate their distinctiveness. Even so it is the Spirit of God who inspires each one with the divinely intended message. The Bible also contains another tension for the interpreter, the particular/universal nature of its message. It comes out of particular situations in history and yet contains universal truths valid for all time. The interpreter must deal with the specific circumstances of those who wrote it and the timeless nature of their message. In fact, we can only discern the timeless truths by understanding what the original audience heard for their situation. The third challenge for the interpreter is the difference between the Bible world and our own. John R. W. Stott describes the preaching task as bridge-building. He says the preacher must build a bridge between the biblical world and the modern world to span the “broad and deep divide of 2,000 years of changing culture.”2 He sees this divide as a communication chasm. He says two mistakes are common to modern preachers in dealing with this chasm. Some tend to stay on the Bible side and never quite build a bridge to the contemporary audience. Others tend to stay on the contemporary side and build no bridges to the biblical record of the faith. We can be faithful interpreters only if we determine to let the text speak, standing with one foot firmly planted on the biblical side and one on the side of our contemporary audience. If we are to be faithful interpreters, we must deal carefully with these three challenges: (1) the nature of the believer, (2) the nature of the Bible, and (3) the distance to the biblical world. Now let's consider principles to guide us in our interpretation of the Bible.

Principles of Interpretation3 The word interpret can be used to mean “to understand,” “to translate,” or “to explain.” These three functions of the interpretive process are also appropriate for preaching. First we seek to understand what the text is saying. Then we translate that information into the intended theological message. Finally we explain that message to the congregation. The interpreter needs to have a working knowledge of basic principles of interpretation. These hermeneutical principles are like the tricks of the trade for an interpreter. They guide us in our examination of the text so that our work is kept within the bounds of legitimate hermeneutics. The assumption behind these principles is that, properly handled, the text will disclose its meaning to the interpreter. Interpreting the Bible—hermeneutics—is the science and art of understanding, translating, and explaining the meaning of the Scripture text. To guide this process the preacher can follow basic principles that help the interpreter discern the intended meaning of

the text writer rather than imposing his own ideas on the text. Here are seven principles I would recommend. 1. Identify the kind of literature your text is for insight into its meaning. Bible scholars call this the genre of the text. That means the general form the text takes—narrative, prophecy, poetry, history, gospel, epistle. The various kinds of literature present their message in differing styles and with different structure. Narrative texts do not operate the same way epistles do in getting their message across to the reader. The variety in literary forms can become a complicated study. Bible scholars go beyond the basic forms I mentioned here to subforms with subtle differences the ordinary reader might not notice. Often they disagree with one another about these subtleties. In spite of these technical distinctions, the preacher can still recognize the text's form and how it affects the meaning. 2. Consider the context of the passage for a better understanding of its meaning. This is often considered the first and most important principle for accurate interpretation. Bible scholars use the term context to discuss various aspects of the original writing of the text—historical, social, political, religious, literary. It is this literary concern I have in mind as the context of the passage. The writer follows a logical line of thought in what he writes. What he said in the previous verses or chapters and what he said in the ones that follow will help make the text in question clear. Taking the text out of that context risks misinterpreting it. Often clues in the surrounding verses will open aspects of the meaning in your text you would have otherwise missed. 3. Read the text for its plain and obvious meaning. A common and persistent myth about the Bible is that its real meaning is hidden behind the surface message. Even though the Bible uses symbolic or figurative language, most of it is clear to the reader. Even when you do not know about the people, places, and events in question, you can grasp the point of the text. The use of figurative language in Scripture only enhances the plain meaning of the text. “Why do you complain about the splinter in your brother's eye when you have a plank in your own eye?” Jesus said (Matt. 7:3 NIV). Even though this is figurative language, we have no trouble understanding what he meant. His use of the metaphors makes it even clearer. 4. Try to discern the writer's intentions when he wrote the text. This principle of intentionality is critical for the expository preacher. You study the text not to find a sermon in it but to discover the writer's intended message. Unless you can learn the intended meaning of the text writer, you will not be able to preach the message of the text in your sermon. Remember, “The text cannot mean what it never meant.”4 Discovering the writer's original meaning is your first task as you prepare to preach to your own generation. The intended meaning of the text writer will also be the intended meaning of the Holy Spirit who inspired him to write. As you read his words, you are dealing with a revelation from God. Remember, “All scripture is God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16 NIV). The same Holy Spirit who inspired these words in the first place wants this message to be preached again through your sermon. And you want to preach in a way that is in line with the Spirit's purposes. 5. Look carefully at the language of the text for what it reveals about its meaning.Words carry thoughts. The words of the text are all we have of the writer's thoughts. If he hadn't written it down, we wouldn't know what he was thinking. So we can look closely at his words, examining each one carefully for the part it plays in his message. Also look at how the words and phrases connect with one another and how the sentences are constructed. If you can study the text in the original language, you can gain greater insight into the meaning. Many preachers study Greek and Hebrew for that reason. But even if you cannot read your texts in those languages, you can still use lexicons and word study books to guide you. Though your congregation is probably not interested in the Hebrew and Greek, your study will open insights that will make the message clearer to them. You can do this without going into detail about tenses and forms in the original languages. 6. Notice the various theological themes in the text. Though a text has one intended meaning, it can have a number of significant theological themes. It can also have a number of different applications. When you do the structural diagram and your observations, you will list these themes and what the text says about them. Identifying these themes and understanding how they relate to one another in your text is a most helpful key to grasping its meaning. These same theological themes will show up in different combinations in various texts throughout the Bible. In your preaching text you will try to discover the best wording for the writer's subject and the modifier that limits and focuses it. You will also look through the text for the predicates, the various things the writer is saying about his subject. The theological themes in the text will give you what you need for these tasks. 7. Always take a God-centered perspective for interpreting your text. This means looking at the text in terms of what it reveals about God and his dealings with his creation, particularly man. This is theological interpretation. It arises from the assumption that the Bible is really God's means of making himself known to us. What it says about him will always be central to every text. The Bible was not given by God to tell us about ancient religious people and how we should all try to be like them. It was given to tell us about the faithful God whom they either served or denied. Their response is not the central message; God's will and his involvement with his creation are. Even texts that give instructions as to how we should behave reveal something about God. I will address the problem of moralistic interpretation later.

Planning Theological Interpretation Effective interpretation of the text focuses on theology. Our text study for sermon preparation involves the historical, the literary, and the theological aspects of the passage. Nonetheless, the focus of our interpretation of the text for the sermon is theological. Theology is the study of God and his ways with his creation, particularly humankind. The message of Scripture is essentially theological. So the content of the sermon is theological. In this phase of our study for preparing an expository sermon, we are now dealing with the theological interpretation. In the first section we focused on the analysis of the text. Now we shift our attention to discerning the meaning of the text as it will be expressed in the sermon. All preaching is interpretation, and biblical interpretation is ultimately theological. Whether you have thought of your preaching in these terms before, I hope you will see your task as interpreting the theology of the text to the experience of your audience. Three tasks are involved in this section: naming the text idea, bridging text to sermon, and writing division statements. Our

premise is that you can strengthen your preaching by enhancing your skills in these tasks. Though we are focusing on the traditional key word model for expository sermons, skills in these three tasks will serve you well for any legitimate approach to biblical preaching. Our first task in interpreting the text is naming the text idea. In this step we take into account all we learned from analysis of the text in order to identify the text writer's intended theological subject. We sort out all the theological themes and their connections in the text to discern which theme dominates and which are subordinate. We name from the text a subject and a modifier that together express the text writer's theme, an idea that will become the theme of the sermon. The subject will answer the question, “What is the text writer talking about?” The modifier addresses, “How does he limit his discussion of his subject?” The second task in this interpretive phase of your sermon preparation is bridging text to sermon. Interpreting the text in preaching involves three phases: interpreting the meaning from the text, as theology, and to the audience. The bridge between the text and the sermon is the theological task. In this study we will suggest four sentences the preacher can word to construct that bridge: the text idea as a sentence, the sermon idea as a sentence, the interrogative sentence, and the transition sentence. The third task for theological interpretation is writing division statements. Once we discover from his words what the text writer's central idea is, we have a basis for discerning what he says about that idea. The text reveals the writer's treatment of his subject. In the text we discover aspects of his subject as the writer expresses them in what he wrote. These divisions of his thought will then become divisions of the sermon idea. We will express each in a clear statement of theological truth. With the basic aspects of the interpretive work in view, we will move first to the challenge of naming the text idea.

Study Questions 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7.

What are three basic questions for interpretation? What is the classic method of interpretation presented in this study? What are the four sentences in the classic method? What are three reasons biblical interpretation is a challenge? What principles of interpretation can guide the preacher as he interprets his text? What is the preacher's first job if he is to preach God's message to his own generation? What are the three tasks in this section on theological interpretation?

The words “subject” and “theme” are used by many interchangeably, but it is a loose use of terms, the result of hazy thought and indefinite aim. The subject is general; the theme is par ticular. “Faith” is a subject; “The Promptitude of Faith” is a theme. “Faith” is broad and general; it makes no affirmation or denial; it suggests no limit or purpose. “The Promptitude of Faith” is specific, gives definite relations and has an un mistakable purpose.1



Theological Interpretation Skill 4: Naming the Text Idea Skill 5: Bridging from Text to Sermon Skill 6: Writing Sermon Divisions

Skill 4

Naming the Text Idea Naming things is natural to us. If we don't have names for the things around us, we have a hard time talking about them. In the garden of Eden, God formed the animals and birds and brought them to Adam to name. So Adam and all his descendents have been naming things ever since. Animals and plants are known to us by their popular names, but they also have scientific names in Latin. The common sunflower is technically helianthus. Daylilies were named so because the flowers only last a day, but the technical name is hemerocallis. Each of hundreds of varieties of roses has a name. The poet wrote that “a rose by any other name is still a rose.” But it has to have a name. We human beings (technically homo sapiens) name everything—continents, seas, rocks, stars, storms, forests, lakes, rivers, roads, houses, and children. Not only do we name every natural phenomenon, we name ideas as well. We name attitudes like arrogance or sympathy. We name conditions like poverty or affluence. We name character qualities like courage or honesty. We name ideals like freedom and peace. Without names we couldn't talk about these ideas. As preachers we want to talk about theological ideas. But these ideas have to have names. The Bible interpreter is not expected to come up with new names for the ideas he encounters in the text. But to talk about those ideas, he must identify them as accurately and precisely as possible. His job is to discover from the text writer's words what he was talking about and designate it with the best word for communicating the idea to his audience.

Thought and Language There is a basic assumption by mankind that our language can carry the thoughts in our minds accurately and clearly to the minds of others. At best, though, we are only partly successful. It is not that our language cannot handle precise communication. It is rather that we take our words for granted and don't always choose them with the hearer in mind. As preachers, however, we must take the communication task seriously. We cannot be satisfied with an indistinct, murky expression of what we believe is a message from God. In oral communication the one speaking carries the greater burden for making contact in the thoughts of the hearer. We expect the preacher to cover most, if not all, the distance to his hearers to complete the communication connection. The hearer is seen as generally passive, not only expecting clarity from the preacher but interest as well.

The great failure of much preaching is fuzzy thinking. The preacher is not quite clear about his subject and the ideas that express it. His language is imprecise. The progression of his thought meanders in search of a line of direction. The basis for this vague and uncertain communication in an expository sermon is a failure to identify the text writer's central idea and how he expresses it. If the preacher is unsure of his thoughts, the audience will be even more unsure of what he is saying. The key to clear thinking is the careful use of precise language. In normal use our words and thoughts are so tied together that it is difficult to separate them. The thought uses the word to give it expression, but the uncertain thought is also clarified by the word. Muddled ideas are always connected with muddled language. And we preachers are not immune to this confusion. The greatest weakness of preaching is fuzzy thinking. The sharp focus of precise thought is lost in the flow of slogans, platitudes, and other “preacher talk” that seems designed to sound good rather than to communicate clearly. Language is not only the vehicle of thought; it is also a great help in the thinking process. Thoughts are often vague and nebulous until they are forced to take on the clothing of words. Simply put, you may not really know what you think until you try to put it into carefully chosen words. Counselors have learned this in many sessions with some perplexed or distraught persons. Just talking out his trouble will allow a man to get it into focus. Then, seeing the nature of his problem, he is able to deal with it. He goes away grateful for the help of his counselor, who did little more than listen. In this chapter we will introduce the exercise we call naming the text idea. The skill we hope to develop with the exercise is this: discovering the writer's central idea in the text and designating it with precise terminology. After completing the previous exercises with a text, you will be able to identify the writer's idea. The task then is to express that concept with such careful wording that you can communicate exactly what you mean. We will do this by using a formula for wording a concept as subject and modifier.

The Skill of a Craftsman Verne Griffith of Beaverton, Oregon, was a wood crafter. He loved wood—the look of it, the feel of it, the smell of it. He collected scraps and pieces of wood of various kinds and sorted it in storage racks in his shop. He would take a piece and show it to me with loving admiration: “This is myrtle wood. It grows in only two places, in the Holy Land and here in the Northwest. Look at this marbled grain. Isn't it beautiful!” Verne made clocks and bowls, platters, and other such items out of various woods. He knew in his mind what the thing would look like before he began, but only in the making of it was it defined. He would glue pieces together in intricate designs. Then he

would turn and shape the laminate into a bowl or plate. When he was finished, the natural beauty of the wood would show in the combination of grains and colors. As professional communicators, we are called to be word crafters. Several different skills are necessary to any craft. You need to understand the raw material you handle, its possibilities and limits. You need to be skilled in the use of the tools necessary to that craft as you prepare and shape your material. You also want to be skilled at combining the stuff of your craft and in finishing your product with smooth edges, vibrant color, the right touch. Are you a word crafter? Do you love words? Do you like the look of them, the feel, the sound? Are you impressed with their texture, their color, their uniqueness? Are you skilled in the use of word crafting tools—dictionaries, thesauruses, lexicons, concordances, style manuals? Can you distinguish one kind of word from another and tell how each might be used best? Do you rummage around for the precise word? Or do you just pick up any old sound and send it forth to confuse those who hear you? Let me emphasize again that the great fault of preaching is fuzzy thinking. We may say good things. Some of our thoughts may be helpful. We may use the text. But even with those advantages, we may find ourselves wandering in the wilderness (our audience with us) and unable to find the crossing into the promised land of clear thinking. Even if our delivery is effective, the main issue is still content. Did I say anything worth hearing, and did the audience really grasp what was said? Becoming a skilled word crafter calls for the capacity for critical thinking. By critical thinking we mean analyzing thoughts, sorting out ideas, distinguishing one concept from another, evaluating arguments, and making judgments about the best way to express ideas. It requires levels of precision and craftsmanship not necessary to casual thinking. You want to find the words that exactly express the idea. You want to distinguish it from ideas that are similar but not quite the same, such as various words for preaching: proclaim, declare, exhort, bear witness. It is this kind of thinking that is so needed among preachers today. It is always difficult to be completely objective, but we must try. We must avoid reading into the text some idea we bring with us. Our goal is to let the text speak. As we hear what the text is saying, we are identifying the text idea. That theme will become your sermon idea as well. This brings your word crafting skills to their real test, as we will see.

A Concept Needs a Name Once the text idea begins to emerge out of your careful inductive study of the text, you face your next challenge, naming the idea. I know that may sound strange. Why do we need to name the text idea? Why not just call it what it already is? Are we trying to come up with an impressive name? Won't it be clear what the idea is without naming it something? I enjoy bird watching and try to learn more about the birds native to our area. So when my wife asks me what I have seen this morning as I have my coffee on the porch, I wouldn't say, “An animal.” That's too vague. I wouldn't even say, “A bird.” That's still too vague. Neither would I say, “A big bird and two smaller birds.” Still too vague. Those birds have names that precisely identify them. So I use those names. I can answer, “A male spotted thrasher,” or “A female American robin.” By naming the text idea, I am saying you have to call it something. You have to choose words that will name it best, identifying the idea in as clear and precise terms as are possible in language. The words used to name the idea are not the idea. Those words are the label, the designation, the name we give the idea so that we can identify it clearly and distinctly. The idea of God's mercy and the words we use to talk about it are both distinct from the reality of this attribute in God. God's mercy is a reality whether we think about it or talk about it at all. Finding the right words for the text idea can be a difficult task, but there are several important reasons it is vital to your sermon preparation. A first reason for accurately naming the text idea is to make sure it reflects what the biblical writer is saying. How can you take an idea through the text, verse by verse, to see if it is on target, unless you give it a precise name? You want to see if what you are calling the subject is actually what the writer is talking about. We are sure that there is an idea in the text that was in the mind of the writer when he wrote it. Whether we can name that idea with suitable words does not affect the idea. It was there in the mind of the writer and is there in the words of the text. But you will never be sure you have grasped it until you can name it. In the second place you need to name the idea carefully so as to define it precisely in your own mind. Unless it is clearly defined by a careful choice of words, the idea remains vague in your own thinking and may be confused with similar concepts. You may know the idea is there. You “see” it in your mind. But you do not see it clearly until you name it. When you keep working at your craft until you find just the right words to name the idea, you know, “That's it!” It is like looking through a file of photographs until you see someone you know. Third, you must give the text idea an accurate name so that the same words can be used in the sermon idea. Our aim is for the text idea to become the sermon idea. Then the sermon idea will be the guiding concept in the writing of sermon division statements. We want to maintain a straight line of thought from the text to the sermon. Unless we find the right words to identify the text idea, how will we ever preach that idea?

Wording the Text Idea An idea can be more easily worded by breaking it down into its component parts. This helps as you identify the core of the text idea, which later becomes the basis for the sermon idea. Though it is best to state the text idea and the sermon idea as complete sentences, the concept at the heart of those sentences can be stated in two words. A sermon topic stated in one word is too general and broad. A general subject can be focused into a pointed idea by the use of a modifier to limit its scope. So the clear wording of the text idea involves a subject and a modifier. An idea is not really an idea unless it has both a subject, the central topic of the idea, and a modifier, the defining focus of the idea.

When we talk about the subject of a text, we mean the theme that, in one word, best answers the question, “What is the writer talking about?”2 The subject could be a topic like love, as in 1 Corinthians 13, but that subject is too broad. It tries to cover much more than the text itself covers. So we must limit and define the subject love in the same way the text limits it. That limiting element in formulating an idea is the modifier. This word clarifies the idea by answering the question, “How does the writer limit the scope of what he's talking about?” Since he doesn't intend to say all that can possibly be said on his subject, what is the limiting factor in his discussion of the subject? In the example from 1 Corinthians 13, we have said our subject is love. That's what the writer is talking about. Now we must ask how he seems to limit and focus his comments about love. A careful inductive study of the text calls our attention to Paul's introduction of the passage by these words: “And yet I show you a more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31). From that statement and the tone of the text, we might conclude that the writer limits his focus on love by the theme, excellence. If we think the subject is love and that the limiting factor in the discussion of love is excellence, we have a subject and a modifier. I usually write it as subject/modifier, in this case, love/excellence. So our text idea might be entitled “The Excellence of Love.” Where did we get that idea? From the words of the writer. It is not love only but the excellence of love. Love is always a rich subject, but adding the term excellence makes it specific and expresses an idea with real interest.

The text idea is a concept derived from the words of the biblical writer that the preacher takes to be the writer's intended message to his original readers. The text idea is designated by two words carefully selected as subject and modifier. The one-word subject answers the question, “What is the writer talking about?” It is the dominant theme of the text. The oneword modifier is a second theme that focuses and defines the subject. It answers the question, “How does the writer limit the scope of what he is talking about?” The two themes in combination identify as precisely as possible to the preacher the idea presented in the text. The full statement of the text idea requires a complete past-tense sentence including the subject/modifier with the historical context from the text. The subject/modifier of the text idea becomes the subject/modifier of the sermon idea as the text shapes the sermon. This is a most helpful way to understand the difference between a subject and a complete idea. This exercise calls for you to choose a one-word subject to answer the question, “What is the writer talking about?” Once you are satisfied that this is what the writer intended to talk about, then you add the modifier to limit and focus the subject, completing the idea. The modifier asks, “How does the writer seem to limit the scope of what he is talking about?”

Searching for the Text Idea The work you have done in your exegetical analysis of the text will now be your resource for naming the text idea. You will look at your structural diagram, immediate observations, and research questions for guidance in your selection of the best words to reflect the text writer's central idea. The work you have done in the previous exercises may make the idea obvious. Here are six guidelines for arriving at the best wording of the idea. 1. Carefully consider all the theological themes in the text for insight into its central idea. The task of identifying a subject/modifier to name the text idea is complicated by the number of biblical themes in a text. By themes I mean theological subjects you will find in different combinations in texts throughout the Bible. As you look at the text before you, you may see themes like faith, obedience, grace, sin, mercy, and so forth. Of these many themes, you must decide which one is the dominant theme and how the other themes support it. Pay special attention to themes that are repeated in the text. In our first exercise, the structural diagram, we made a point of highlighting the significant words in the text. These are the words that carry the weight of meaning for the text. Notice in the diagram the ideas that have the most support in the writer's wording. The example from 1 Peter 3 clearly shows clusters of thought supporting subjects the writer is emphasizing. The ideas with the most support are obviously the most important ones in this particular text. Beyond that, in the observations exercise, we wrote out complete sentences about each theological idea as it is revealed in the selected text. These sentences were designed to get into precise words the ideas in the text and how they connect with one another. If you look over those sentences now, you will see that we have already laid the groundwork for the task of naming the text idea. 2. Examining the context of the passage will help identify the writer's central idea. I am using the word context here to mean the literary context, the place of the text in the chapter, the book, the writings of this author, and the whole of the Bible. We have identified significant words in the text that appear to carry theological meaning. But each biblical word has a range of meanings. When you look at a word in isolation, you cannot be sure what it means. What the writer intended by that word is only clear in a sentence or paragraph, the whole unit, or the book. You must take clusters of words together to understand clearly what the writer meant by any of them. Beyond defining significant words, the context is necessary to discern the writer's central idea. James 1:2–4 has a good many themes in it: joy, trials, faith, maturity, endurance, completeness, and so on. Which of these might be the primary theme of the text? Look at the context. The previous verse is James's greeting to the scattered tribes. “Why were they scattered?” we ask. Because of persecution. The following section begins, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, …” How does a lack of wisdom connect with verses 2–4? Could it be that their hard times especially called for seeing matters from God's perspective (wisdom)? The context, then, seems to support

trials as the primary theme. A good modifier might be response. Thus you have trials/response, or “Response to Trials” as a text idea. 3. Look closely at any expression of intention by the writer for an understanding of his central idea. We have already mentioned that the intention of the text writer is a key to faithful interpretation of Scripture. Any time we impose a meaning on the text rather than allowing the text to yield its intended meaning, we are corrupting the interpretive process. The writer's purpose may be indicated by the overall theme of the book. You will examine the particulars of the book to discover that purpose. Then you will use that purpose as a referent for interpreting every unit of text. The intention of the writer for a specific passage must be understood in light of his intention for the entire book. You discern the general theme from the particulars of the book and then apply that theme to the interpretation of each unit to set it in its larger context. So we ask, “Why is this text here? What is its intended message?” In Luke 18:1 the writer made his intention and that of Jesus clear: “Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart” (NASB). This is a clear statement of intention by the writer. What Jesus and Luke intended for this parable is clear, so your subject is not difficult to name as “prayer.” The challenge will come in naming the modifier. But look at the intention of the writer again. He speaks of praying “at all times” and “not losing heart.” Does that suggest as a modifier, persistence? If so our subject/modifier could be prayer/persistence, or “Persistent Prayer.” 4. Translate figurative language in the text for insight into the writer's theological subject. Figurative language is like a dialect of its own. In figurative language the writer's or speaker's ideas are communicated in an imaginative way. Many figures of speech are commonly used in the Bible. The most common figures of speech are metaphors and similes. Jesus used metaphors when he said, “I am the vine” and “you are the branches” (John 15:5). Similes use like or as to accomplish the same thing: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field” (Matt. 13:44). Unless you interpret the meaning of the figures of speech, you cannot understand the theology of the text. In Matthew 5:13–16 Jesus says that his disciples are the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world.” Unlike some other figures he uses, he does not explain what he means by “salt” and “light.” We may assume that we all know. But it is better by far to translate the metaphors into conceptual terms. In this case you will have the subject of this text. My suggestion is that Jesus is here talking about the influence of his followers on their world. The figurative terms that dominate this passage carry the text idea. But do not use these metaphors as your subject or modifier because they are not universal theological concepts. They are illustrations that must be translated into theological terms. I have identified the subject/modifier in this text as influence/world. Whether that is the best wording to use can be easily tested by whether it works as a key to interpreting the passage. If your subject and modifier are too far off the text writer's intention, the text will not cooperate in their use. Like a mismatched organ transplant, they will be rejected. 5. Look for the plain and obvious meaning of the text as the key to the text idea. In the Bible as a whole, few texts are written in such a way as to hide the meaning. The Bible is intended to reveal God's message to us, not to conceal it. Imagine talking to a child and telling her in simple words what the text is about. Though you should not talk down to your audience in a sermon, the most important quality of good communication is clarity. Unless the text idea is clear enough for a child to grasp, the adults may not get it. In Matthew 7:7–12, is the well-known passage about asking, seeking, and knocking? If you look at this text for the plain and obvious meaning, you will probably think of prayer. Though the word prayer is not in the text, the theme is still clear. It makes sense, then, to make prayer your subject. As you look further for a modifier, you may be impressed with the repeated promises in this passage. You could choose assurance as your modifier, the idea being prayer/assurance. 6. Look at the rhetorical functions and grammar of phrases in the text for dominant themes. With the structural diagram exercise, you can see the rhetorical function of each phrase in the text. You also see sentences (subject plus verb) with the verb underlined. In the various ways these phrases and words function, there is a hierarchy of strength that will help lead you to the writer's central idea. We have already called attention to highlighted theological words. Now look at other features of grammar and rhetoric. Assertions carry more weight than supporting material. Assertions are truth claims. They state what the writer considers to be correct. Your structural diagram may show three or more modifying phrases for the assertion, but they cannot carry the weight of that direct statement. Commands and exhortations should get special attention. They are rooted in the theological convictions of the writer. Though they may be practical as application, they arise out of basic theological assumptions. Ask concerning every command and exhortation, “What basic truth gives rise to this requirement?” In narrative passages look closely at the dialogue for indications of the theological truth of the text. What someone says will usually be more important than description or actions. But the rest of the story will support the themes revealed by the dialogue.

Choosing the Right Words The practical challenge of naming the text idea is in choosing from among similar terms the best words for the subject and the modifier. There is often quite a difference between the right word and the almost right word, just as there is a difference, as Samuel Clements pointed out, between lightning and lightning bug. The words you choose must not only reflect the writer's thought but also serve to communicate the same idea to your audience. Though you insist on being faithful to the text writer's intended idea, you cannot avoid your responsibility to declare that same message to your contemporary audience. Here are four suggestions for making the choice between similar words. 1. Choose the word that has theological roots throughout the Bible. Remember that your wording must be theological. You are looking for terms that are clearly theological. That does not mean they cannot be used in a more general sense. But in your use in interpreting the text, they are theological. The words you use should call to mind other texts in which the same idea emerges. 2. Choose the word that best communicates the idea in vocabulary suitable to your audience. Technical theological words may

be the most precise, but they may not be the clearest with your audience. Remember, you are going to interpret the text ideas for this day and in its vocabulary. That does not mean you will avoid technical language altogether. But it does mean that you want to make sure your interpretation is understandable. 3. Choose the word that is neither too broad nor too narrow in its meaning. Avoid the tendency to use broad common themes like obedience, salvation, discipleship, and commitment when the text addresses a narrower subject. Do not use terms so narrow that they only apply to a part of the text. Finding that balance between the general term and the more particular one will often be a challenge. 4. Choose the word that has the best application to the experience of the audience. When you can name the same idea with either a word that is foreign to the experience of your audience or one that is familiar, choose the familiar one. This does not require you to compromise the idea but only to interpret it in today's language.

Words Not to Use Several kinds of words do not work as a subject or modifier for the text idea.

Do not use instructions or commands because those identify a type of written or spoken material but say little about the content.



Do not use God as your subject or modifier; all subjects are theological, but using God as a subject (unless that is the explicit content of the passage) says the obvious and does not frame a dynamic idea. Avoid using words like appropriate, true, authentic, genuine, real, and such, for your modifier. These do not really limit and describe the subject; they only say you are positive about it. Do not use places, persons, or objects as your subject or modifier; they cannot be theological ideas.

Avoid using figurative words in the text as subject words. You will not have a legitimate subject if you try to word the idea in the text's figurative language. Do not use not, never, or any other negation for the modifier. The terms you use for your subject and modifier are all to be understood as plus-or-minus values. Whether it is discussed as positive or negative does not change the nature of the concept itself. Godliness as a subject can be positive (plus) godliness or negative (minus) godliness, that is, ungodliness.

Completing the Exercise Using the work sheet at the end of this chapter, follow the three steps to complete the exercise, Naming the Text Idea. Base your choice of words on evidence in the text itself. Do not play a guessing game. Step 1. Write down all the one-word possibilities the text seems to suggest that might serve as subjects or modifiers. These are words from the text plus others that designate ideas in the text. There is no essential difference in the words you use for subject or modifier. As you write a list of possible terms, keep in mind that you may use one of them as the subject and another as the modifier. The dynamic of the idea comes in the combination of the two words. Step 2. Take the most likely word from your list and ask of the entire text, verse by verse, “Does this word identify what the writer is talking about?” If the word you chose seems to be suitable with only a part of the text, choose another and see if it covers the whole passage. Some of the ideas in the text are only aspects of the overall subject and may be the basis for division statements. It is important to see how the ideas in the text are related and which of the words on your list could be the main subject, which the modifier, and which the core of the division statements. Step 3. Once you have settled on a subject word, now choose another word for your modifier. This word is to identify the limit placed on the treatment of the subject by the writer. The addition of the modifier makes a creative combination of two themes that form a complete idea. The word for your modifier may not be in the text but rather suggested by the situation described, the progression of thought, or the overall message of the text. Step 4. Turn your subject/modifier into a working title for the sermon. It may turn out to be the title you keep. This title, from the text subject and modifier, will keep your sermon on track with the text.

Study Questions 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9.

What is the greatest weakness of preaching? What is the aim of the skill exercise in this chapter? What is a word crafter? What are three reasons that naming the text idea is vital for sermon preparation? Define the text idea. What are the two basic components of an idea? What is the difference between the subject and modifier of the text idea? What are some of the guidelines you might follow in wording the text idea? How does the idea of being a word crafter fit into your concept of the teaching and preaching ministry?





I have the conviction that no sermon is ready for preaching, not ready for writing out, until we can express its theme in a short, pregnant sen tence as clear as crystal. I find the getting of that sentence is the hardest, the most exacting, and the most fruitful labor in my study. … I do not think any sermon ought to be preached, or even written, until that sentence has emerged, clear and lucid as a cloudless moon.1



Theological Interpretation Skill 4: Naming the Text Idea Skill 5: Bridging from Text to Sermon Skill 6: Writing Sermon Divisions

Skill 5

Bridging from Text to Semon The Millau Bridge in southern France is the tallest bridge structure in the world. Completed in late 2004, the automobile bridge spans the Tarn Valley in the Massif Central mountains. The roadway is held aloft by what appear to be cobwebs of steel attached to seven graceful pylons that arise out of seven piers rooted in the valley below. The tallest pillar is over eleven hundred feet high, taller than the Eiffel Tower. The bridge carries as many as twenty-five thousand vehicles a day the 1.5 miles across the River Tarn valley, passing over eight hundred feet above the valley below. It replaces a winding road that regularly became a bottleneck in the well-traveled route between Paris and Barcelona. The bridge itself, with its beautiful soaring lines, has become a tourist attraction. Getting from one side of a gorge to the other, crossing a wide river or spanning a stream that divides one part of a town from the other, man is ever a bridge builder. He looks wistfully across to the other side and dreams how to make a road for getting there The building of a bridge is an apt metaphor for the interpretation challenge we face as preachers. We look across the chasm between our own day and that of the biblical writers. For the sake of our hearers, we must cross to the other side and bring back the message once delivered to those ancient believers. We are to receive and proclaim a message from thousands of years ago, worlds apart, separated from us by generations, connected by just a thin line of print. We must hear them, though their language was different. We must understand them, though their culture is foreign to ours. We must faithfully report their message, though we have never seen their faces. This understanding and reporting is what we mean by hermeneutics, biblical interpretation. And this is one of the primary tasks of the preacher. Like an interpreter from one world translating the thoughts of another, you are to listen carefully and speak faithfully. You are to allow the message once delivered to speak again to this generation. But it must be the same message. The connection must be kept clear. This is done best with expository preaching. Our aim is to have the primary message of the Scripture text come through as the primary message of the sermon. In a way every biblical writer is described in the words written about Abel in his faithfulness to God: “And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead” (Heb. 11:4 NIV). And every one of us is called to fulfill the word of Jesus to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Those who wrote are dead, but they still live through their faithful report. We who read today have not seen what they describe, yet we believe through the message heard anew. The exercises in previous chapters have concentrated on skills for examining the text inductively. Our aim was to discover the writer's main idea and its treatment in the passage. Now, after that study is completed, we must carefully bridge the gap between the text and the sermon. The exercise for this chapter is Text to Sermon. The skill we want to strengthen is this: constructing an interpretive bridge for bringing the truth of the text to its expression in the sermon. The concept revealed in the text must be carried safely across the chasm of language, culture, and history so that it may be heard again today in its intended meaning.

What Connects Sermon and Text? We assume that a good sermon should have a text. Even bad sermons we have heard claimed at least one text. But have we asked specifically what it is that connects the sermon to the text? Is the connection only a matter of ritual? Do we read a text for our sermons as a religious routine? Do we cite a text to claim legitimacy for the sermon, even though the text plays little part in it? H. C. Brown pointed out that the connection of the sermon with a text is its basis for authority.2 He described four kinds of authority for the sermon based on the extent to which it reflects the subject and purpose of the text. The sermon has direct biblical authority when its central idea and purpose are the same as that of the text. Indirect biblical authority comes to the sermon when a secondary theme of the text is the main idea of the sermon. Beyond that the sermon has only casual biblical authority or even corrupted biblical authority when it does not reflect the central idea and purpose of the text at all. There is no doubt that the connection between the text and the sermon will make a difference in the authority with which the preacher speaks. If we believe the Bible is authoritative for the Christian community, we will want our preaching to draw on that authority. A faithful messenger must report what he is given to say, not declare a message of his own, however helpful he may think it is. Sometimes sermons have a loose connection with the text. Like a loose electrical connection, they blink and sputter and only occasionally shine the light of truth faithfully. Our purpose in this study is to tighten that connection as securely as we can so that the text speaks through the sermon with its intended message. Some contemporary scholars are skeptical about any relevance for today's hearer of an ancient text from another culture. They raise a good question: What does the literature of ancient Hebrews have to do with our lives today? Let's consider some possible links. Perhaps the link between the original text and the contemporary sermon is the situation. If we see in the ancient text circumstances similar to our own, we can see how the sermon connects with the text. Perhaps texts about the ravages of war can speak to us when we are in wartime. Perhaps a text about the oppression of the weak by the powerful can speak if we are oppressed. But is this the best factor to link the sermon to the text? Another possible link between sermon and text could be human need. If we see that the psalmist was depressed, we can connect with his emotion because we experience the same thing. It is obvious that people are much the same today as they were thousands of years ago. The technology has changed dramatically from the time of King David, but has human nature changed? A sermon that uses a text on the common struggles of man can surely find a hearing with the contemporary audience. Perhaps the link between sermon and text is experiential. Most of the Bible is narrative. The stories of faithful believers of old can inspire us to faith today. In a sense their story is our story. If the preacher can take the hearer back to that ancient day and draw him into

the story the text tells, he has made the connection. Or has he? Is a common experience of family conflict the connection between a sermon and the story of Abraham and Sarah? Preaching is not the interpretation of the lives of ancient religious people and how we should try to be like them. It is not their situation that interests us. It is not their needs that make their story worth telling. It is not their adventures that are important to the contemporary congregation. The link between text and sermon is much more significant than any of these.

The Theological Connection Though these links between sermon and text may seem reasonable, they ultimately fail. There is one sure connection between the ancient text and the contemporary sermon. It is theology. The Bible is historical material, but it is essentially theological in purpose. It has psychological references, but it is basically theological. It addresses social issues, but it is fundamentally theological. By saying that the Bible is essentially theological, we mean that it was written to reveal God. Theology is the study of God and his dealings with his creation, particularly mankind. The Bible writers were writing to make God and his will known. The history, poetry, prophecy, Gospels, and epistles are all intended to communicate from God about God. Though the message was written by human beings to human beings, the central theme is not mankind. The theological link between text and sermon is only possible because God does not change. Just imagine trying to preach from an ancient religious document if the god presented there was of a different nature now than then. But the God of the Bible does not change in any aspect of his nature or his purpose for his creation. That means that whatever we can learn of him from the ancient Scriptures will be true today. Another constant that makes preaching the Bible possible is the nature of man. Even though the connection between text and sermon cannot be human circumstances or experiences, we can know that those who encountered God in the pages of the Bible were like us. They also were made in the image of God. They also were corrupted by the fall into sin. The theological message for their day, given by an unchanging God to a predictable human audience, is still valid for our day. Text to Sermon: Two Statements The Text Idea: The core idea of the text worded as subject/modifier and stated as a complete, past-tense sentence. It contains reference to certain historical elements associated with the text—writer or speaker, secondary persons or readers, the tone or purpose of the passage, circumstances of the writing, and special literary features.

The Sermon Idea: The same subject/modifier as the core of the text idea, worded as a present-tense, universal statement, without the historical elements of the text idea.

In the introduction to this section, we already explained the classic method we will use for getting from the text to the sermon. In this chapter we will work to establish the theological link between the text and the sermon by writing two separate statements. The first is the text idea that presents the theological truth of the text in its original setting. The second statement is the sermon idea, in which you word the theological idea of the sermon. The common factor in these two statements is the theological subject and modifier that are the heart of the text message. Look at the “Then and Now” chart on page 95 to see how these sentences compare. Two other statements will be addressed in the next chapter. They are used to introduce the sermon divisions. The third sentence is called the interrogative, in which the sermon idea is written as a question. Finally, you will write a transition sentence as a statement designed to open the way into your sermon body and division statements. These four bridging sentences take you faithfully from the idea of the text to the preaching of it in the sermon. I realize that this process may seem to be a rather mechanical approach to interpretation. You will find, however, that these sentences will keep you on track. They will provide a straight line of thought from text to sermon that allows you the confidence that you are preaching the intended theological message of the text. These sentences will also help your hearers follow the sermon.

Why Two Separate Statements? Why is it important to distinguish between the text idea and the sermon idea? Let me offer four reasons for writing two different statements, even though they are similar. 1. The revelation of God in Scripture comes in particular historical settings. Think of the text message as the revelation of God wrapped in historical garb. Though God has chosen to reveal himself in the affairs of mankind, he intended to make truths known that are timeless and universal. Timeless means that the theology of the text is good for all generations. Universal means that the message is ultimately intended for every tribe and nation of humankind. Not only has God chosen to enter into human history with divine revelation; he has also chosen to use human agency to communicate it. Though the original writers addressed the issues of their day, the Holy Spirit had us in mind as well. God did not reveal himself in a vacuum, with abstract generalities, but in the midst of real-life struggles for faith. This original setting cannot be ignored or stripped away without damage to the revelation within it. 2. Discerning the timeless theological message requires giving due attention to the historical particulars of the text. The setting of the original writing shapes the message. Understanding the message of the text requires dealing with it in its context. The circumstances of the writing were so vital to the message as to become a part of it. Understanding what the text means for today begins with understanding what the text meant for its original audience. You might think of the bridge again, as connecting the world of the text and the world of the preacher. On the text side is a

“particularized” message. A particular writer in particular circumstances addressed a particular audience about particular issues in a particular language at a particular historical moment … and so on. You get the idea. We must write the text idea statement as distinct from the sermon idea because of the particularized nature of the text's message. 3. The theological message of the text must be isolated from the text for clear statement. In order to express what the Holy Spirit had in mind for us in the biblical text, we have to separate the message from its historical trappings. Even though the original circumstances shaped the message, we have to get to the heart of the theological teaching that transcends that situation. Part of our job as interpreters is to isolate the message we find in the text and remove it from that original setting so that it can be declared in this generation. This does not mean that we make no reference to the writer's situation. Picturing the original setting for our audience is important for our communication task. But we are not giving a history lesson. We must lift out the central truth of the text and state it as the universal and timeless revelation of God that speaks today as well. This is why we must write the sermon idea statement as distinct from the text idea. 4. The “particularized” message of the text is to be “reparticularized” for the contemporary audience. In reality we do not preach the biblical text. We preach a concept from the biblical text. We preach the message of the text that we discern from the words of the writer. We look for the theological message that transcends the original setting. But now we must declare that truth about God and his intentions to this generation. We must reclothe that message in the garb of this culture and time so that our hearers can receive it and act on it. Though the central idea of the text becomes the central idea of the sermon, today's audience needs to hear the message in terms of their frame of reference. The particulars of our sermon—explanations, arguments, illustrations, applications—must be planned to communicate best with this generation. Though we will call their attention to the original setting of the text, we will direct them to the implications of the biblical truth for their lives. I hope you can see how important it is that we not confuse the text and the sermon. We are interpreters. We intend to stay close to the text. But we must translate its meaning for our audience. The theological truth of Scripture is always relevant. We do not have to make it relevant. But if we do not distinguish between text idea and sermon idea, we could very well lose the theological truth in a tangle of history and platitudes.

The Text Idea In the previous chapter we addressed the need to name the text idea. We were identifying the theological theme that is revealed in the words of the writer. We do not impose a theme on the text. We do not use the text to preach on some idea of interest to the preacher or the congregation. We do not pluck up some secondary theme or passing comment and preach on that. Even when choosing a text because it addresses a particular theme, we still allow the words of the text writer to set the subject and its focus. The text idea is a clear, precisely worded sentence that concisely states the idea of the text writer. It includes several elements in the historical situation from which the text comes. The statement provides a model to follow in the wording of the sermon idea so that you can see at a glance whether you are allowing the text to speak its message. The first step in writing the text idea in a complete sentence is to discover the single subject of the text, as we have practiced in skill 4. That subject is discovered not by guessing but by looking carefully at the evidence in the text. But the subject alone is not a complete idea yet. A complete idea must have two parts: a subject and a modifier. The subject is “what the writer is talking about.” The modifier is “how the writer limits the scope of what he is talking about.” The text idea should be characterized by brevity, as long as it contains the elements necessary to it. It should be a theological statement in that it contains the basic theological idea of the text. Every part of the biblical record is history as we discuss it today, so the text idea is stated in the past tense. This is not yet the sermon idea, which will be in the present tense. It is rather a statement of what the text writer said in his own historical context. There are several ways to designate this sentence. We are calling it the text idea. It is also called the exegetical idea or the central idea of the text (CIT). Be alert to the difference in terminology as you read from various writers. As you encounter other ways of dealing with this text idea under different names, also note that some writers do not distinguish between a statement of the writer's idea and the sermon idea. They may just call the sermon idea by one of the terms mentioned above, or perhaps “thesis” or “proposition.”

Sentence 1: The Text Idea Statement We have already mentioned that the text idea statement contains the subject and modifier we think represent the text writer's intended idea. The statement also contains a number of features from the original setting that may be used to clarify the writer's intended message. Together these elements provide us a sort of “recipe” for writing the text idea statement. Let's look at these elements and see how they work in the statement. Include the writer, speaker, or key character in the statement. The historical nature of the original writing of the text means that certain actors were involved. Consider first the writer of the text, particularly for epistles, psalms, prophetic books, and apocalyptic material. In these cases the writer is the one expressing himself. In narrative texts the speaker or key character may be the important person who shapes the message. Include this person in the writing of the statement. In the Gospels, you may be uncertain whether to refer to the Gospel writer as the key character or the speaker or actor in the narrative. It is legitimate to refer to either. If Jesus is speaking, you may write, “Jesus taught his disciples that …” Or you may use the Gospel writer as the key person. “John introduced his Gospel by …” “Jeremiah recorded his call of God to be a prophet.” Note the purpose of the writer or tone of the text in the statement. As you read the text, you can discern the writer's purpose in what he has said. In the epistles the purpose is often didactic; the writer is intending to teach theology. Sometimes it is exhortative; the writer is urging his readers to faith or action. Prophetic writers are warning against sin and judgment. The psalmists often express

praise and call on others to praise God. The Gospel writers generally intended with their accounts to demonstrate that Jesus is the Son of God. Key characters in a text may also reflect a purpose in what they say. In narrative passages the dialogue is often the key to interpretation. You can tell by the context what the nature of the speech is. So you can word your text idea statement by saying, “Jesus taught the people …” or “Jesus admonished his disciples …” You might write, “David praised God …” In each case your characterization of the tone or intention will express the text more fully. Make reference to secondary characters, hearers, or readers. Other than the writer or key character in the text, there will be readers, hearers, and other characters in the drama. For the sermon at Pentecost, you might write, “Peter preached to the gathered multitude.” Then you would follow with the substance of his message, which will be the theological message of the text. You might write, “Paul explained to the believers at Rome that …” Sometimes secondary characters will be individuals; sometimes groups. Sometimes they are named; sometimes only identified in general terms. “Jesus responded to the Pharisee's question by …” “Joshua challenged the Israelites to …” “Jesus pointed his disciples to the needs of the multitude to emphasize …” Consider the occasion of writing, the situation or circumstances. The circumstances of the writing often have a real effect on the message of a text. When Paul writes from prison, his message about contentment is all the more meaningful. “Paul wrote from a Roman prison to testify to his contentment in Christ.” Think how dramatically the occasion of the writing affects the message of the Old Testament prophets. “On hearing of the coming of the invading Chaldeans, Habakkuk nonetheless expressed his faith in God's faithfulness.” The occasion or circumstances may be on the reader's end. “In the midst of their moral confusion, Paul instructed the Corinthian believers that …” “The writer wrote to the Hebrew believers to convince them of the sufficiency of Christ.” These situations are an integral part of the text message in its original form. Include any literary features relevant to the meaning of the text. Literary features include recurring themes, the particular genre of a text, figurative language, or reference to other events or stories. “Paul used the analogy of military equipment to urge his readers to stand fast against evil.” “The psalmist used the metaphor of the shepherd and sheep to illustrate …” “Jesus emphasized with the repeated use of words for love that …” “Jesus used a series of arguments to emphasize the foolishness of worry in light of the care of the Father.” Sometimes the literary feature will not be the central element of the text but should be mentioned. “Jesus explained to Nicodemus the necessity of regeneration in the kingdom of God.” The recurring theme of the kingdom of God in this text should be reflected in your text idea statement. “In her song of deliverance, Miriam sang of the victory of God over the Egyptians.” “Paul used a hymn text to urge his readers to follow the humility of Jesus.”

An Example Text Idea In John 3:1–8 Jesus told Nicodemus he “must be born again.” It seems clear that the subject in this passage is regeneration, meaning “new birth” or “birth from above.” Let me point out that birth is a metaphorical expression in this text. It may almost seem literal to us because new birth is commonly used as a theological expression for spiritual birth or conversion. It is best not to use figurative terms as your subject and modifier but to translate them into conceptual terms. The theological meaning contained in the figure is what you want as your subject or modifier. In the sermon, however, you may want clearly to define and use the figurative language for its impact. In this case the word regeneration is your theological subject even though it does not convey the strength of the figurative expression “born again” in English. At this point our aim is to identify the concept as clearly and precisely as possible. With that understanding in mind, let's say the subject for John 3:1–8 is regeneration. That is “what he is talking about” in the text. Now we need to find the modifier or “how he is limiting the scope of what he is talking about.” These two elements will make a complete idea. If you look closely at the text, you can see that Jesus is talking about the necessity of regeneration. This is the modifier to the subject and makes a complete idea. At this point you have “The Necessity of Regeneration” as a working title and the core idea of the text. Your aim is for this to be the idea of the sermon as well. It is the concept revealed in the dialogue recorded by John. Whatever the historical trappings of that late-night meeting, the theological principle carried in the story is the necessity of regeneration. As best we can tell by the words in his report, John recounted this story to his readers to communicate something about the need for a radical spiritual transformation, a new birth from above. To write the idea as a statement, simply identify the actors or writers and state what you see as the idea originally intended in the passage. Since it is a narrative account, we note the persons in the story, Jesus and Nicodemus. A special literary feature is the repeated mention of “the kingdom of God.” With the core idea (as subject/modifier), we include these historical elements. So our text idea may be stated as follows: Jesus explained to Nicodemus the necessity of regeneration in the kingdom of God. Though you might state it in somewhat different terms, you can see how the text itself determines this statement. This is what the text says, so it is what I want my sermon to say. Having this statement carefully written, we now move across the bridge to the sermon idea.

Sentence 2: The Sermon Idea Statement Every writer on speech or homiletics emphasizes the importance of a single idea as the theme for any address. The speaker is urged to write a carefully worded sentence that expresses the idea. Different terms are used to designate this sentence. As we have noted, some refer to it as the “proposition.” Others call it the “thesis.” Discovering and writing the text idea is the hard part. But when you have done a careful inductive study of your text, it is not so

difficult. Now you want to state the sermon idea. This will be a contemporary translation of the text idea. I stated the sermon idea this way for John 3:1–8: Regeneration is necessary in the kingdom of God. This simple and direct statement is the basic truth of the text and, therefore, the basic truth of my sermon. The key to maintaining that truth intact across the hermeneutical distance is to use the exact words of the subject/modifier for the text idea and the sermon idea. The sermon idea is a universal principle that applies to everyone who might hear it instead of a particular message to the writer's audience. It is a timeless truth that can be stated confidently in any generation instead of a historical statement for the biblical world. Thus it is stated in present-tense language as a universal theological principle. You should be able to pull the sermon idea away from the rest of the sermon and state it as a complete idea of theological truth. It should stand on its own as true and clear, even without the sermon structure and development. Once clearly stated, this sermon idea guides the preparation of the sermon. Notice that the kernel idea of the text, regeneration/necessity, is the kernel idea for the entire sermon. It may seem like an unnecessary task to write this sermon idea in such careful terms. But it may well be the most important task of sermon preparation. Until this statement is clear, you are not sure what the sermon is to say and where it is going. In Genesis 3:1–7 is the report of the encounter of Eve with Satan as she and Adam were deceived and took the forbidden fruit. Though the word temptation does not appear in the text, it is a good word to name the subject. For the modifier we are looking for the limit the writer seems to put on his treatment of that subject as the story is told. Since this text is so clearly interpreted by James 1:14 NASB (“But each one is tempted when he is carried away … by his own lust”), perhaps we could use appeal as our modifier. We then have temptation/appeal as our subject/modifier. A working title is “The Appeal of Temptation.” The Idea Then and Now The Text Idea

The Sermon Idea

What the text writer said

What the preacher is saying

Based on subject/modifier

Based on subject/modifier

Written as complete sentence Written as complete sentence A historical statement

A timeless truth

Of a particular occasion

Of a universal principle

A theological concept

A theological concept

The text idea always includes elements from the historical setting of the text. Adding these elements to temptation/appeal, our text idea may be stated: Adam and Eve fell to the appeal of temptation presented by the serpent concerning the forbidden fruit. To translate that text idea into a sermon idea, we exchange the historical features for the universal and timeless while maintaining the theological concept. It can be stated, “Christians should beware of the appeal of temptation.” This is one way to state the lesson of the text for all time. In dealing with a narrative passage, it is important to note that narrative does not teach in the same way as law, prophecy, or epistle. Whereas these other literary forms teach more directly, narratives teach by example or demonstration. Be careful not to read into a narrative some teaching not really there. Remember that a Bible passage is best interpreted by other biblical texts. Your security for theological truth is the clear confirmation of an idea in other texts. Though different in expression, our first two bridging sentences, the sermon idea and the text idea, are identical in concept.

Writing a Purpose Statement In one sense all sermons have the purpose of persuasion. Even though a sermon ought to teach the meaning of the text, it is essentially a persuasive speech. Persuasion is aimed at a change in the audience, to influence them for a particular response. In chapter 11 of this study, we will emphasize that the overall purpose of all preaching should be to call for a faith response to the message of the text. A more specific purpose for the sermon flows naturally out of the message of the text. The subject and modifier form the specific idea of the text. That same idea then becomes the sermon idea. Basic to any purpose for the sermon is the intended message of the text and the sermon. Getting that message across is the basic aim of the sermon. Another way to think of the sermon purpose is to project what the audience response might be to the specific message of the sermon. Think about changes you want to see. Are they changes in the thinking of the hearers? Then your aim might be said to be cognitive. That means you want to communicate ideas and have the audience accept them as credible and relevant to their own lives. You might want the audience to make changes in attitude. Your aim might be volitional, in which you are hoping for a clear decision by your hearers. Or you may have in mind behavioral changes. Whatever kind of changes you would like to see, it should be a direct reflection of the message of the text. As you preach a particular text, that text will not only shape the way you plan your message; it will also determine your purpose for the sermon. Your intention will be to have the people respond to the particular truths in the text. Writing a purpose statement will help you express your intentions for the sermon as you plan it. Every sermon should accomplish something in the audience. We do not preach just for the religious exercise. We believe God's Word is active and powerful to change lives. Sometimes we preachers invest our hopes for change in one sermon. We want to see a major spiritual awakening from one sermon. Our attitude is reflected in the title of my friend Bill Bennett's book, Thirty Minutes to Raise the Dead. We sometimes go from Sunday to Sunday hoping for a resurrection.



Realistically, however, we usually find that the changes we hope for in the congregation come in smaller steps. They usually grow and develop in Christ incrementally rather than all at once. This takes time. That is not to say a single powerful sermon cannot make a real difference. But the preacher is wise to look at his purpose for his preaching program for the long run. Over time the preaching of God's Word will have an effect. Understanding, attitudes, intentions, and behavior will change. As to the specific sermon, write a purpose statement that flows from the central idea of the text. You are really dealing with the application of the theological idea you will present. If your aim is cognitive, you may write, “I want the congregation to understand the doctrine of justification.” If your aim is essentially attitudinal, you may write, “I want the congregation to be in awe of God as the Creator of all that is.” If your aim is volitional, you could write, “I want to see a significant number of people decide today to surrender more fully to Christ as Lord.” If it is behavioral, you might write, “I want to see people in the congregation become more faithful in their giving.”

Completing the Exercise Our purpose in this chapter has been to provide an exercise for strengthening the preacher's skill in constructing an interpretive bridge for bringing the truth of the text to its expression in the sermon. The exercise for practicing this skill is Text to Sermon. Here are the steps to take in completing the exercise. Step 1. Identify the subject of the text in one word. You will notice that this exercise goes back to overlap the end of the Naming the Text Idea exercise. As we have said repeatedly, unless you accurately identify the subject of the text, nothing else in this method will work. Step 2. Identify the modifier. This word represents the writer's way of limiting the scope of his treatment of the subject.

Step 3. Now state your subject/modifier together as a working title for the emerging sermon.



Step 4. Write the text idea statement as the first of the four bridging sentences. Remember the formula: the subject/modifier plus elements of the historical setting and the literary context of the text. Step 5. Write the sermon idea by rewording the basic statement of the text idea without the historical trappings. Test its validity by seeing whether it will stand alone as a timeless and universal statement of theological truth. Step 6. Write a purpose statement for the sermon to identify the change you want to see in the hearers in response to the central message of the sermon.

Study Questions 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.

What is the connection that links the sermon to the text? What are the four sentences in the classic text to sermon method? What is the importance of stating the text idea as a historical statement? Why is it important to write both the text idea and sermon idea as separate statements? What elements in the historical setting might be included in the text idea statement? What are four kinds of purpose statements you might write for a sermon?





In the desire to make a sermon seem free and spontaneous there is a prevalent dislike to giv ing it its necessary formal structure and organ ism. … True liberty in writing comes by law, and the more thoroughly the outlines of your work are laid out, the more freely your work will flow, like an unwasted stream between its wellbuilt banks.1



Theological Interpretation Skill 4: Naming the Text Idea Skill 5: Bridging from Text to Sermon Skill 6: Writing Sermon Divisions

Skill 6

Writing Sermon Divisions People think in orderly patterns with logical connections and associations, with a reasonable sequence of ideas, with unity of thought. So there is an unspoken understanding that a sermon should be presented with a reasonable arrangement of its ideas. It must proceed in an organized fashion for the sake of the preacher and the audience alike. Grady Davis asserted that sermon structure is an expansion of the basic thought. If the sermon idea is not clear, the structure will not be clear. We will discuss two phases in the writing of sermon divisions in this chapter. First is a careful analysis of the writer's treatment of his subject. Second is the wording of the divisions as a contemporary expression of the sermon idea. The exercise introduced here is Writing Division Statements. The skill we aim to strengthen with the exercise is this: wording sermon division statements clearly to reflect the text writer's treatment of his subject. Like the other skills in this section, this one is centered in the conceptual link between text and sermon.

What Are Division Statements? At this point in our study, we come to one of the most important elements in sermon structure. Whatever the preacher has on his mind as he prepares his sermon, his chief goal will probably be to come up with a good outline. No matter what else the sermon has to commend it, it will likely flounder without that clear and concise outline to follow. What preachers traditionally call sermon points, we are here identifying as division statements. These statements are clearly and carefully worded theological truths. They express the theme of sermon divisions, the portions of the exposition that correspond to the various elements of the text writer's thought. Remember that the subject answers the question, “What is the writer talking about?” The modifier answers the question, “How does the writer limit the scope of what he is talking about?” Finally, the predicates answer the question, “What is the writer saying about what he is talking about?”2 The word predicate is a grammatical term referring to that part of a sentence that expresses the being or action of the subject. In this sense a sentence has two elements, the subject and the predicate. As a verb, predicate means “to proclaim or declare, to affirm or assert.” In logic it means “that which is affirmed or denied concerning the subject of a proposition.” We are using the term here to mean what the text writer is saying about his central idea. He may express two, three, four, or more elements of his idea in his treatment of the idea in the text. These elements are the predicates that carry the thoughts that become sermon division statements.

The divisions of the sermon are the sections of the sermon body where the main treatment of the sermon idea is presented. Each of the divisions is related to the sermon idea as a logical aspect of its truth.

The division statements are sentences that express the idea to be treated in that section. These statements, like the sermon idea, are complete sentences in the present tense that express universal theological truths.



Division statements reflect the text writer's treatment of his subject. They complete the text-to-sermon bridge by expressing the predicates of the sermon idea as they are revealed in the text.

The subject and modifier together form the core of the sermon idea by making a complete theme. Multiple predicates express the features of the sermon idea as the text reveals them. The role of these predicates is the dividing of the sermon idea based on the writer's treatment of his subject. These predicates determine our sermon points, which we are here calling division statements. So we have determined the subject, the limit of its scope, and the things said about that subject. All these together form the conceptual skeleton of the sermon as it reflects the thinking revealed in the text. As the bridging sentences take the writer's idea to the sermon, the pattern may be diagrammed: [subject/modifier ----> predicates]. The method being presented in this study maintains a straight line of thought from the text writer's idea to the preacher's sermon. Like a well-maintained railway, the discipline of this method will keep the preacher's train of thought from wandering off and ultimately getting stuck in a bog of fuzzy thinking. That train of ideas is pulled by the core concept, the text idea as subject/modifier. Every other aspect of the sermon must follow that concept down the same track.

Discovering the Text Structure The writing of sermon divisions must begin with the discovery of the various aspects of the writer's treatment of his subject. By the writer's “treatment” of his subject, we mean his handling of it, his approach to it in the text. We have assumed that the writer had a definite idea in mind as he wrote the text before us. We also assume that he had in mind certain aspects of that idea that he revealed in the text. Having discovered and named the writer's idea, we return to the text for what he is saying about it. Here are four steps to take to discover what the writer says about his idea in this text.



1. Use the rhetorical functions of text material to identify the portions most likely to contain text concepts. Go back to the structural diagram exercise and look at the column for rhetorical functions. There you will find various kinds of rhetoric the writer used to communicate his ideas. The general kinds of rhetoric are explanation, illustration, argumentation, and application. These are the ways the writer's material functions to get his ideas across. The list of particular rhetorical functions breaks these general persuasive elements down to more specific roles. Some of these rhetorical functions indicate a more direct expression of concepts the writer intends to communicate. Look first for assertions, action, explanations, source, agency, cause, purpose, result, condition, contrast, basis, relationship, and so on. These are more deductive statements by the writer that tend to carry ideas. Material you have identified that is illustrative may express the same concepts in figurative language. Application material will express the ideas as commands or exhortations, and so on. 2. Take the subject/modifier through the text a phrase at a time to find possible features of the writer's idea. The text idea as subject/modifier is the controlling concept of your text. You have discerned it from the text writer's words so you are confident it is his theme. Now look at every verse in the text and see what it may say about that text idea. You want to identify the distinct ideas that further express that theme. In a way they are subideas to the main idea. They fill it out and complete it. Basically we are asking, “What does the writer say about his idea (subject/modifier)?” Whatever he says is his treatment of the idea and completes the presentation of it. These predicates may take the form of assertions, metaphors, parables, or arguments. Whatever their form, you will want to identify the basic concept in theological terms. At this point you are not wording your sermon division statements, just identifying the ideas. 3. Reexamine your structural diagram for indications as to the writer's treatment of his main idea. The diagram itself will show which clusters of thought are supportive of which concepts. The phrases or words that support an idea are placed above or below that idea in a vertical line. This lining up shows that these ideas are equivalent in their function. In the 1 Peter 3 example from skill 1, you can see that “has begotten us again” is supported by four clear ideas that complete the thought. They are “according to his abundant mercy” (basis), “to a living hope” (result), “through the resurrection” (means), and “to an inheritance” (result). These four ideas are all about “has begotten us again.” You may find other details here that complete that idea. The rhetorical functions we have identified for these phrases show that the giving of the new birth is described in this text by the use of a basis, a result, a means, and a second result. These rhetorical functions express different usages for the material, but they nonetheless show how the concept of our being given new birth is filled out more in detail in this text. 4. Read over the summary sentences you wrote for the observations exercise to identify specific aspects of the text idea. These sentence summaries were designed to help us sort out the relationship of ideas in the text. Some of the ideas will express a relationship between your sermon idea and another thought in the text. For the text in 1 Peter, I listed the sentences I wrote to summarize the relationships between ideas in the text. These sentences follow the structure revealed in the diagram. Notice that sometimes you may write the summary sentence by including the rhetorical function in the sentence. This shows not only that the two ideas are connected but also how they are connected. As you identify these predicates, you are laying the groundwork for writing sermon divisions. Seeing the way the secondary ideas support the main idea will make a difference in how you word your division statements.

Kinds of Division Statements Sermon division statements can be written in any number of ways. They can be questions. They can be commands. They can be short phrases or complete sentences. They can be mixed as to format so that they do not seem to belong together. But these various forms are not all of equal value. Toward the end of this chapter, I will suggest qualities of good division statements. For now I want to go over formats for wording them that can make a difference in the clarity and appeal of your sermon. Sermon divisions can be written as historical statements. Dealing carefully with the biblical text sometimes leads preachers to think the sermon should focus wholly on the original message. This may result in sermon material, including division statements, that is mostly past-tense history. The preacher may cite biblical characters as his authority: “Paul tells us …” Historical division statements tend to keep the truth of the text far away from the hearers of the sermon. Unless the application shifts to the present audience, the sermon becomes a lesson in historical characters and their views. Here is an outline of the Genesis 22 story of Abraham's test of faith as God commanded him to offer his beloved son Isaac as a sacrifice. The title might be “The Faith of Abraham.” 1. In his faith Abraham was open to God's voice. 2. In his faith Abraham determined to obey God completely. 3. In his faith Abraham made whatever sacrifice God required. 4. In his faith Abraham expected God to meet every need. 5. In his faith Abraham remained alert for further instructions. 6. In his faith Abraham celebrated God's faithfulness. I do not recommend that you use this kind of division statement. The sermon should not be a history lesson about ancient religious people but a challenge for the contemporary audience. The historical background of the text can be given as explanation of the theological idea you are presenting. But the historical particulars should not be stated in your subject and division statements. Sermon divisions can be written as propositional statements. A second type of division statement is the propositional. In this case you state a biblical idea in general, present-tense terms as it applies to everyone in this generation and for all time. This way of wording division statements and of interpreting the theology of the text can be called the “principlist” approach. The sermon from the Genesis 22 passage could be entitled “Daring Faith.” In the propositional format the division statements might be as follows.

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.

Daring faith is open to the voice of God. Daring faith determines to obey God completely. Daring faith makes whatever sacrifice God requires. Daring faith expects God to meet every need. Daring faith remains alert for further instructions. Daring faith celebrates God's faithfulness.

They are universal in application and timeless in relevance. They are general theological statements of what is revealed in the particular narrative of the text. Sermon divisions can be written as applicational statements. A third type of division statement is worded as application. Whereas the historical statement speaks of Abraham and his faith and the propositional principle of faith speaks in general and timeless terms, the applicational statement addresses the audience in particular about what they can do. The subject of the sermon remains, “Daring Faith.” The six divisions in the applicational format could be stated as follows. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.

If you dare to trust God, you will be open to his voice. If you dare to trust God, you will obey him completely. If you dare to trust God, you will make whatever sacrifice he requires. If you dare to trust God, you will trust him to meet every need. If you dare to trust God, you will remain alert for further instructions. If you dare to trust God, you will celebrate his faithfulness.

Notice that each statement completes the central idea, “Daring Faith,” in application format. Each statement is a challenge to act, a promise of results from daring faith. Sermon divisions can be written as exhortative statements. In this kind of division statement, you speak directly to the hearer but not with a description of what he might do, as in the application type. This time you give him a direct command. We have already established that the subject is “Daring Faith.” An exhortative statement urges, even commands the hearer to express daring faith in the particular ways suggested in the text. 1. Listen for the voice of God. 2. Determine to obey God completely. 3. Make whatever sacrifice God requires. 4. Expect God to meet every need. 5. Remain alert for further instructions. 6. Celebrate God's faithfulness. Notice that each statement completes the central idea, “Daring Faith,” in an exhortative format. Each statement is a command to act. This is the most direct of the four types of division statements.

A God-Centered Approach Our normal tendency as preachers is to focus on the human drama in the text, particularly in narrative passages. In the epistles we tend to see the ideas in the text in terms of our duty as believers. We usually want to preach about the moral obligation of the Christian. For that reason most of our sermons take on a moralistic format. They are about what we should do for God. The Bible was not written primarily to reveal man but to reveal God. Even the moral requirements of Scripture reveal him. Our texts are not intended as the story of ancient religious people and how we are to try and be like them. They were written rather to tell us about the God who intervened in their experience. The Bible is written to make him known. If that is the case, perhaps we should approach every text with the intention to discover what it tells us about God—his character, his intentions, his capabilities, and his track record. Every text can be interpreted in either an anthropocentric (man-centered) or a theocentric (God-centered) way. The text is the constant. The truth is there. The variable is the interpreter. What we bring to the text may overshadow its intended meaning. The primary reflection of the preacher's interpretation of the text will be in his division statements. Using the basic concepts revealed in the text, consider how they point to God. You may use God-centered points and make the support material applicational. The same four formats for division statements can be used as God-centered. Let's revisit our four models for writing sermon division statements. First, consider how the historical format could be worded in a theocentric way. The focus is on God's intention and action in the text rather than that of Abraham. 1. God made his purpose clearly known to Abraham. 2. God expected Abraham to obey him completely. 3. God required Abraham to sacrifice his most cherished possession. 4. God intended to meet Abraham's every need. 5. God provided Abraham the instruction he needed. 6. God intended Abraham to celebrate his goodness. Now let's revisit the propositional format. But this time we will word it as God-centered rather than man-centered. Using the same text and following the same basic outline, the wording for a God-focused interpretation makes a great deal of difference in the outcome for the sermon.

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.

God reveals his will clearly to those who trust him. God expects complete obedience of those who trust him. God requires unconditional sacrifice of those who trust him. God promises to meet every need of those who trust him. God will give ongoing instruction to those who trust him. God desires to be glorified by those who trust him.

Though the wording can be adjusted somewhat as you wish, you can see that these statements shift the attention from Abraham to God and what he is doing in the story. Now let's look at the applicational format for wording our division statements. How could they be worded from a theocentric perspective? 1. You can trust God to reveal his will clearly to you. 2. You can trust God with your complete obedience. 3. You can trust God with whatever sacrifice he requires. 4. You can trust God to meet every need. 5. You can trust God to provide ongoing instructions. 6. You can trust God to glorify himself in your experience. As we come to the final format for division statements, you may wonder how we can make a God-centered statement exhortative. This model for division statements is to take the form of a command or exhortation. We are to speak directly and personally to the hearer about what he should do in response to the truths of the text. Here is a way those statements might be worded. 1. Trust God to reveal his will clearly to you. 2. Trust God with your complete obedience. 3. Trust God with whatever sacrifice he requires. 4. Trust God to meet every need. 5. Trust God to provide ongoing instructions. 6. Trust God to glorify himself in your experience. The man-centered sermon concentrates on what believers should do. But the God-centered sermon focuses on who God is and what he has done, what he promises, what he will do, what he can do. That kind of information builds faith. Preaching what Christians should do for God does not build faith. How the preacher words his truths from the text can make a real difference.

Qualities of Good Division Statements Good sermon division statements can be tested by a number of qualities as indicated in the CHECKSHEET box. These tests can serve as a checklist to keep you on track as you plan your outline. Some of these qualities have been mentioned already. Now I want to emphasize some of the major ones. Use complete statements rather than phrases or single words. Most sermon outlines are sketchy lists of words or phrases. Few are written as complete sentences. It is just easier to use a clever word or phrase than to craft a carefully worded statement. The problem with that, however, is that such one-word division statements do not contain a complete idea. For that reason they often do not really say anything. Consider this outline from Luke 18:6–8. 1. The helpless 2. The helper 3. The appeal 4. The encouragements3 It is only in the context of the sermon itself that this outline makes any sense. Otherwise it seems to be a code of some kind. Ask those who listen. What is there to write down? What is there to remember and share with another? Is it clear and complete or simply clever? Not only does the hearer have trouble understanding precisely what you mean to say, but you will find that you are not so sure yourself until you write out the statement in clear language. Make sure your division statements are distinct from one another. As your outline begins to take shape, be alert for divisions that are similar in concept. Answering the question raised by the interrogative from ideas in the text may lead you to state the same essential idea in two different ways. You may not notice you have done so until you begin to work on development. Then you will realize that you are explaining, arguing, illustrating, and applying the same concept twice. Indistinct division statements will also confuse the audience. Though they may appreciate your comments in support of similar truths, they will not be able to grasp the ideas. It is a good exercise to look at each division for its essence. If the hearer were to write down only one or two words for the concept of your statement, what would he write? What do you think is the core of the idea? Make sure it is distinct from each of your other division statements. Use parallelism in phrasing, rhythm, and terminology for poetic symmetry. To follow the key word and thus show the family relationship of your division statements, you will want to try to make them parallel. Please be cautious, however, not to bend the truth to make it fit some clever outlining pattern you want to follow. Your aim is to let the text give you its outline, not to impose one on it. There are several ways to write your division statements to be parallel. Phraseology can be parallel. The rhythm of the statements can be similar, like the lines of a poem. The choice of words can offer parallel terminology. All of this can help you to remember your outline. It will also help the audience recognize your main points and distinguish them from support material. It can also force you to be more careful in your wording.



Use present-tense contemporary language suitable for the audience you will address. Your division statements are addressed to the contemporary audience. This brings us back to the two worlds the preacher has to deal with: the historical world of the biblical revelation and the contemporary world of the sermon audience. A Bible lesson focused in the biblical world can use historical, pasttense language to state what the passage says. A sermon planned for a contemporary audience, however, will use familiar, present-tense wording. I recently heard a sermon with the points all stated in terms of Simon Peter. They were not universal principles. They were historical observations about Peter. It would have been much more effective if those observations had been stated as universal principles of faith. I can assure you that the audience is much more interested in biblical truth for their own experience than in what you may observe about the experience of Simon Peter. Use statements that will stand alone as universal principles. The Bible reveals uncounted principles of universal application. These are timeless truths that are always valid, no matter what the circumstance or who is involved. As you outline your sermon in terms of the single sermon idea, word your division statements in such a way as to present guiding principles for the Christian life. Though the text idea is a historical statement in the past tense, the sermon idea and the division statements are universal principles that are relevant for any people in any generation. A good test for sermon division statements is to pull them out of the sermon and see if they make sense standing alone. Is this a clear statement of principle not covered with the trappings of cultural mores? Does it distill the essence of the idea from the text, even though that was written for another audience in another world long ago? Does it make complete sense even when separated from the rest of the sermon?

CHECKSHEET: Sermon Divisions I used complete statements for divisions rather than phrases or single words. I made sure each of my division statements is distinct from the others I used parallelism in phrasing, rhythm, or terminology. I used present-tense, contemporary language for my audience. I used statements that will stand alone as universal principles. I arranged my divisions in a logical order of progression. I avoided subpoints not explicit in the text. I have tried to express text ideas clearly rather than contriving alliteration. Follow a logical progression of thought in the arrangement of the division statements Most of the time the order of the ideas that make up your divisions will follow the text. You will find no need to make any change in the logical order of the writer's presentation. This is the best pattern to follow for your own delivery since it is easier to remember your sermon points if they are in order in the text. It is also easier for your audience to follow if the divisions are in order with the text. At times, however, you will want to rearrange the order to follow a logical form more in keeping with the sermon idea. Some forms of sermon structure require a specified order for the progression of thought to have its impact. Avoid the use of subpoints in favor of balanced development for each division Some preachers use subpoints and sub-subpoints to outline in an intricate and complex manner the audience cannot possibly follow. This seems to me to be an effort at development in the guise of outlining. Development is to be done by the use of explanation, illustration, argumentation, and application to elaborate on the specific idea of the division. Development takes up where outlining leaves off, and outlining is best ended at the main division statements. If you see in the text that there are subpoints in the writer's presentation, these may be used in the sermon. It is best, however, not to number these subpoints to avoid confusing the hearer with too many different levels of “second” and “third.” Avoid laboring over alliteration in favor of clearly expressing the text writer's ideas There is a tradition in certain circles that sermon division statements should be alliterated. This usually means that the key term in each statement begins with the same letter of the alphabet. The preacher may also include subpoints that are alliterated as well. This artificial embellishment of the division statements apparently makes the preacher feel that he has an inspired outline. In reality, however, this kind of alliteration in expository sermons inevitably compromises the text truths the preacher aims to present. In order to find another P, the preacher must overlook the fact that the word he chooses does not express the precise meaning of the text. Sometimes this affinity for alliteration seems almost to be an addiction. One preacher told me that without an alliterated outline he would feel “naked” standing up to preach. Another confessed that he knew he was in trouble when he spent more time in the thesaurus than in the Bible.

Sentence 3: The Interrogative In this section on interpretation, we have introduced four sentences that will help bridge the chasm between the ancient text and

the contemporary sermon. This is a classic homiletical method with a long tradition. It is variously called the basic pattern,4 the foundational method,5 or the key word method.6 The core concept in each of these sentences is the theological idea stated as subject/modifier. The four sentences are the text idea, the sermon idea, the interrogative, and the transition sentence. We are using these sentences to establish a solid linkage from the text to the sermon and its development. In the last chapter we addressed the first two of the sentences, the text idea and the sermon idea. Now we will describe the function of the two other sentences in the linkage, the interrogative and the transition sentence. The interrogative is formed by turning the sermon idea into a question with the use of one of the six basic questions: who, what, when, where, why, and how. Look at John 3:1–8 in light of the sermon idea and decide which of these questions fits best: who, what, when, where, why, or how. Which question does the text want to answer? How about this one: Who needs regeneration in the kingdom of God? If this is the right question, the text will give you a description of the one who needs regeneration or perhaps various different ones who need to be born again. Try this one: What is the regeneration that is necessary in the kingdom of God? These questions do not open the writer's treatment of the idea. Very simply, they do not work. So we must try when, where, why, or how. I chose why: Why is regeneration necessary in the kingdom of God? That question seems to fit the main features of the dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus. Jesus says, “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (v. 5). That is but one idea in the text about the necessity of regeneration, but it seems to want to answer the question why. The use of the interrogative provides a way to guide the unfolding structure of the sermon along a clear line of direction. The question you use will call for a certain kind of answer. But you do not choose the question arbitrarily. You have chosen the subject from the text, the modifier from the text, and stated the text idea based on the text. Now you will allow the text to determine the question you ask of its subject. Now look again at Genesis 3:1–7. There we have named the idea temptation/appeal, or “The Appeal of Temptation.” The interrogative will probe the text for predicates, various aspects of the appeal of temptation. As the interrogative I chose what. So the question is this: What is the appeal of temptation? I looked closely at the text and ruled out who, when, where, why, and how. If I am reading it rightly, the text wants to tell me several things about what the appeal of temptation is. If you choose a question you think might work well, take it through the entire text, verse by verse, as a test. Does the text want to provide answers to the question you are raising? Can you look through the text and find, in the writer's treatment of his subject, specific answers to your question? If not, choose another question and reword the interrogative until you get it right. After that you are ready for the final sentence in the series, the transition into the sermon body.

Sentence 4: The Transition The transition sentence is the fourth sentence in the traditional method designed to take the text writer's idea safely from the text to the sermon. It answers the question raised in the interrogative and introduces the predicates of the sermon idea that will be found in the text treatment of that idea. The predicates are the answers to the question the interrogative raises and are the basis for your sermon division statements. At this point we introduce a most helpful device, the KEY WORD. The key word is a plural, abstract noun that names a category to classify the sermon division statements. The question you have attached to your sermon idea to make the interrogative will usually lead you easily to the appropriate key word. The key word identifies a set of ideas by classifying them as principles, advantages, certainties, changes, disciplines, evidences, evils, faults, and so on. Each of your division statements (your sermon points) is matched to the others as a principle, a certainty, or some other plural abstract noun. So your division statements will be a set. Like a set of tires or a set of dishes, they will match. They will all complete the sermon idea and be stated in a similar fashion. There are almost an unlimited number of terms you can use as key words.7 Note that Appendix D provides a comprehensive list of possible key words. But some words should not be used. Do not use things as a key word. It is too broad and nebulous to be useful. Neither should you use points as a key word for the same reason. Remember, the key word is simply a device to identify the nature of your sermon divisions as they emerge from the writer's treatment of his subject. Since the question I have used for John 3:1–8 is why, I have chosen reasons as my key word. I asked the question, “Why is regeneration necessary in the kingdom of God?” It seemed the answers were easily classified as reasons for the necessity of regeneration. So each of my division statements will be a reason found in the text that regeneration is necessary in the kingdom of God.

The KEY WORD is a plural, abstract noun that classifies or delineates the character of the division statements of the sermon. In the method presented in this study, it is used in the transition sentence as a way to answer the question raised in the interrogative. The KEY WORD helps build a strong framework for the body of the sermon since all division statements must then conform to it.

The KEY WORD sends the preacher back to the text to find answers to his interrogative that can be characterized by the KEY WORD. The number of KEY WORDS possible to use is almost unlimited. The right one for a text will follow the choice of the question used with the interrogative.

The four bridging sentences lead you from the text to your sermon outline. The fourth sentence, the transition sentence, contains

the key word. For Genesis 3:1–10 we named the idea “The Appeal of Temptation.” For the interrogative we asked, “What is the appeal of temptation the Christian should beware?” The transition sentence answers the question by introducing the key word and announcing the predicates stated as sermon divisions: This account suggests three deceptions in the appeal of temptation. So each of the division statements will be a deception to beware of in the appeal of temptation. 1. Beware of the appeal of temptation when the moral instructions are questioned (vv. 1–3). 2. Beware of the appeal of temptation when the consequences of sin are denied (vv. 4–5). 3. Beware of the appeal of temptation when the satisfaction of your appetites is promised (vv. 6–7). At this point we have worded four key sentences to ensure that the path from our text to our sermon is straight and true. In the actual preaching of the sermon, you could state these sentences, but you may not. If you do so, they would come in the introduction and open the way to the body of the sermon. The discipline of writing them is important even if you never express them orally. However, actually saying these bridging sentences in your introduction will help you clarify for the audience precisely where the sermon is going.

Completing the Exercise Step 1. Based on your subject/modifier, identify the writer's predicates, the particulars of how he deals with his main idea in the text. Reviewing the structural diagram, rhetorical functions, and summary sentences will help. Step 2. Write the third and fourth of the bridging sentences using the subject/modifier as the core concept in each. You have already written the text idea and the sermon idea. Now word the interrogative and the transition. Step 3. Choose a key word that establishes a set for your division statements and guides you in the wording of them. The key word is a plural, abstract noun that names a category into which your divisions will fall. Step 4. Word the division statements according to the criteria for effective statements. They will be present tense, complete sentences, theological principles, each distinct from the others, using contemporary language suitable for the audience. Step 5. Choose the kind of division statement most appropriate to the message and genre of the text and the purpose of the sermon. Review descriptions of the historical, propositional, application, and exhortative types. Step 6. Check the wording of your division statements against the checklist and reword as necessary until you are satisfied they are as clear and precise as possible.

Study Questions 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10.

What is meant by division statements? What skill is to be strengthened by the Writing Divisions exercise? What is the relationship between the sermon idea and the division statements? What is meant by “a straight line of thought from the writer's idea to the preacher's sermon”? Explain the subject/modifier---->predicates pattern. Identify four formats for writing division statements. Distinguish between anthropocentric and theocentric division statements. What are some guidelines for analyzing the writer's treatment of his subject? Why are subpoints to be avoided? What qualities should the preacher use to test his divisions statements?





Sermon Development Skill 7: Balancing Persuasive Elements Skill 8: Exploring Natural Analogies Skill 9: Drawing Pictures, Telling Stories

Section 3

Sermon Development It was the most elaborate sermon outline I had ever encountered. The preacher took his outlining to the fifth rank. He had the main level, followed by successive levels of subpoints, sub-subpoints, and even sub-sub-subpoints and beyond. I quickly lost track of where we were in the outline. At the fifth level he had seven items to suggest to the audience! Much of what he had to say was helpful. But he felt compelled to keep us informed as to where we were in the outline. After a few “seconds” and “thirds,” we were all hopelessly lost. What looked good to the preacher on paper was incomprehensible to the audience. The sermon had been outlined for the eye, but the audience was forced to receive it by ear. It didn't work. The preacher's main problem was that he thought of the whole sermon as outline. He put every Bible reference, illustration, and point of application as a feature on his outline. The sermon was all outline. What he missed was distinguishing between his sermon ideas and the support material for communicating those ideas to his audience. Since a sermon is an oral presentation intended for the ear of the hearer, it is best to keep the outline simple. Do not use subpoints to attach your support material to the outline. Instead, think of the support material as the development of the ideas in your main points. When your outline is finished, the development is what you do to complete the picture: the information, the meaning, the images, the admonitions—all that is required for the effective communication of those ideas. Since you could read your outline and your text in a minute or two, it is obvious that most of your sermon will be development. Very simply, sermon development is the preaching you hang on your outline. Sermon development is an important element in your sermon design. It is what you say to amplify and clarify the meaning of the truths you state in your sermon idea and division statements. If your outline is the skeleton, sermon development is the muscle and skin that make a body of it. In normal conversation you use four basic kinds of discussion for persuading others about your ideas. These are also the elements you will employ in your sermon development. This simply means that everything you might say to develop your points will fall under the heading of one of these: explanation, illustration, argumentation, and application.1 Let's say you declared that Ford is making a better automobile these days than other manufacturers. You might immediately get a difference of opinion from others. So you would want to support your assertion with support material designed to make your point.



The word development comes from a verb that means to cause to grow gradually in some way. The French source of our English word means to unfold or unwrap. Sermon development, then, means the unfolding of the sermon ideas in a fuller, larger, better way.



Sermon development takes up where outlining leaves off. It is the material that supports the assertions made in the outline of sermon ideas. The purpose is to guide the sermon ideas into the thinking of the hearer for understanding, acceptance, and action.



A variety of material can be used for sermon development, anything that contributes to the unfolding of the sermon ideas. Four forms of development have been identified in the actual use of sermon development. They are explanation, illustration, argumentation, and application.

For one thing, you might explain what you mean by a better car. You might also illustrate your assertion by giving examples of technology and design you think are superior. You might want to bring out an article from Car and Driver magazine to argue your point. Then you might apply your assertion to your audience by urging them to test-drive a Ford. Just as you would need to support your contention that Ford builds a better car, you need to support the sermon ideas your text has given you. Though dealing with a biblical truth from a text is not the same as defending your opinion, the ways you support the idea will be much the same. You will explain, illustrate, argue, and apply.

Generals and Particulars Effective appeal for your sermon must include a balance of generals and particulars.2 By generals we mean statements that present a whole idea at once, in its full scope and meaning. Your sermon idea and division statements are generals. Generals are more abstract, conceptual, and universal. Particulars, on the other hand, are more specific and concrete fragments of some general idea. Your sermon development will be made up largely of particulars. In one sense all development is a matter of particularizing a thought, bringing it down to earth in experiential terms. As we have noted, some preachers prepare a detailed outline when they are actually working on development. They add to the main sermon points a clutter of subpoints and sub-subpoints. This is often an effort to plan all they want to say without knowing when outlining leaves off and development begins. I recommend that you do no outlining beyond your main divisions. The ideas that would go under your main points should be considered sermon development and not outlining. Your audience will not easily be able to follow you into subpoints. They have trouble enough clearly grasping your main ideas. Occasionally a text will call for subpoints—contrasts, comparisons, or other obvious divisions in the thought. Unless these natural sub-points are called for by the text, it is best to avoid them. Generalizations have the advantage of presenting a whole thought in one statement. Crafting that one statement, whether the

sermon idea or a division statement, is challenging mental work. These generalizations, however, can only communicate the essence of the concept. They do not convey the experience of it. The attitude, the emotion, the behavior, the benefit of a biblical concept can only be carried in the particulars you use as development. “God answers prayer” is a general statement that presents the audience with the essence of an idea. A story about a specific answer to prayer is a particular that appeals to the audience in terms of the experience of that idea. While generals are interpretations of reality, the particulars aim to have the hearer experience the principles of Scripture in his imagination. The generals set the concept forth in principle. The particulars drive it home in the understanding, imagination, reason, and volition of the hearer. They connect the concept to his experience, either remembered or imagined. Without this connection to experience, the principles are remote, irrelevant, not credible. You have noticed the need for a balance of generals and particulars in everyday conversation. When they are not in balance, the hearer becomes frustrated, even irritable. Have you heard questions like this? “What is the point?” “What are you trying to say?” These questions call for you to state the general concept that interprets your particular facts or examples. Particulars are confusing and trivial without the meaning given by a general principle that ties them together. A similar frustration comes with an overdose of generals without the needed particulars. The hearer may complain, “What does this have to do with anything?” or “Can you give me an example?” The human mind cannot take a steady diet of generals. It craves particulars, those down-to-earth, specific details that make the sermon true to life. This is why the attention of your hearers is suddenly arrested when you begin to draw a word picture or tell a story. There is an automatic control mechanism in the mind that shuts down attention when the hearer gets an overload of generals. You can see it in the eyes, that faraway look that tells you they're not listening. Development is not all particulars, however. As you enlarge on your sermon divisions, you will make some general assertions. These complementary assertions are still general, even though they seek to enlarge on your sermon points. In our outline on Genesis 3:1–8, the third point was, “Beware the appeal of temptation when the satisfaction of your appetites is promised.” As you explain it, you might say, “Temptation appeals to us at the point of our own desires.” That is a complementary assertion, a general statement in support of your main idea. But it is not a particular. You might use an analogy and say, “When I'm on a diet, broccoli is no temptation; it's the cheesecake and the hot fudge sundaes I crave.” That is particular. A serious mistake made by preachers is developing sermon ideas by the use of complementary assertions, with little or no particulars. If the sermon doesn't have the particulars, with specifics like broccoli and cheesecake, it seems abstract and dull. It is too heavy with generals. These rather generic attempts at development are often announced with preacher talk like, “We live in a world that …” or, “Oftentimes …” or, “Many times …” What follows is usually a bland, flat generalization instead of a specific, concrete particular that makes the concept come alive. It is important in your sermon planning to keep the relationship clear between your generals and particulars. Clusters of support of various kinds should be carefully matched with the concepts they develop. This is where your skills at planning development are important. As you sketch scenes and stories from the text or from today's circumstances, make sure they are exactly on target with the idea you are developing. Otherwise the audience may become confused. This precise development is only possible if your sermon ideas and division statements are carefully worded to present the concepts you have in mind. An important skill you can develop for preaching is recognizing the level of generalization or particularization in your material. If you are not aware of what makes a general statement general and particular material particular, how can you plan your sermon design with balance and appeal?

Preaching and Persuasion A sermon is by definition a persuasive speech. Preaching is intended not only to declare the ideas from Scripture: it is also to persuade the hearer to accept those ideas and act on them. Preaching that does not aim to persuade is not preaching in the best sense. Our sermons are not on a par with television commercials, to be shrugged off as another pitch for our product. Our message is a lifeand-death issue. Preaching is inherently a form of rhetoric. Rhetoric is designed to influence others. This is a persuasive function. Kenneth Burke, in Rhetoric of Religion, wrote, “The subject of religion falls under the head of rhetoric in the sense that rhetoric is the art of persuasion.”3 He claimed that religious communication is a form of exhortation designed to persuade. Sermons fall into this category, even though Burke was not talking about preaching as such.



Persuasion is the exercise of influence, especially with ideas. Preaching aims to bring about a change of thinking on the part of the hearer. In order to have biblical ideas accepted at a deep level, the preacher will present his sermon ideas with the use of persuasive elements. These rhetorical forms are designed to appeal to the intellect, the imagination, the reason, and the volition of the hearer. This targeted appeal has the most persuasive impact. For a person to place his trust in God, he must not only understand the word that is preached; he must accept it. James wrote, “Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you” (1:21 NIV). The word of God, if it is to change one's life, must be humbly accepted. This word is ingrafted or planted in the hearer, integrated into his thinking. Faith requires this depth of acceptance if the believer is to see fruit borne in his life. If the word is only acknowledged and never accepted, it is like the seed sowed on the rocky ground. Jesus said of those hearers, “Those on the rock are the ones who receive the

word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away” (Luke 8:13 NIV). This superficial belief is not the faith that saves, with its transforming impact in a person's life. This transformation comes only by the “renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2). This is the only way to overcome conformity to the world's mold. In other words a radical change is taking place in your thinking that creates something new, a new mind that opens the way for living out the will of God. We may well underestimate the inner struggle that comes if the secular person is to receive the word of God at this depth. Not only must he understand it, but he must also incorporate it into his thinking. In a sense he is making it his own, welcoming the new idea as a friend, however unsettling it may be. He is willing to adjust the other ideas in his outlook to this new concept. That kind of integration is the renewing of the mind, receiving the word at a depth that transforms.

Natural Resistance to Change We are what we think. The very core and character of our identity is in our thinking. Over the years the cumulative effect of all I have accepted as true has formed the person I am today. It is like having all the received data stored in a computer program. The computer functions on the basis of that programming. I am so accustomed to thinking as I do that I cannot imagine thinking any other way, at least not at a level beyond merely superficial issues. My thinking makes me who I am. To the degree that my thinking changes, I will become another person. Just think how strange life would be if we did receive new input easily and change readily. Every new idea would be instantly incorporated into our thinking, creating whatever new assumptions and interpretations were required for consistency and congruity. Every day would be a new day, and every day you and I would be new people. We might not even recognize ourselves from week to week, so great the change would be. As difficult as it may seem to us as preachers, God knew what he was doing when he made man inherently suspicious of new ideas and painfully reluctant to change his thinking. I am not depreciating here the power of the Word of God to transform a person's life. Ideas are powerful. God's truth is dynamite. But God has created man with a freedom of choice to accept or reject new ideas. Only as he chooses to accept them will they have impact in his life. That reluctance to change is not a conscious matter; it is built in at a deeper level of our thinking, a level we cannot easily get at to control. Paul laments this problem in Romans 7. “I do not understand what I do,” he writes. “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” In his conscious mind the apostle knew what he wanted to do. He wanted to be perfectly obedient to the spirit and letter of the law of God. But there was a deeper level of thinking that affected his behavior, a force within him that he could not readily control. Since Paul felt helpless to make all his behavior fit his intention, he concluded that he himself wasn't consciously directing his actions. “As it is,” he wrote, “it is no longer I myself which do it, but it is sin living in me” (Rom. 7:15,17 NIV). This “sin” was not only the carnal nature but the accumulated carnal thinking that was Paul's legacy as a sinner in a fallen world. What an encouragement for us preachers to be assured that the Word of God “penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb. 4:12 NIV). Not only is it important that the hearer understand what you are saying; it is vital that he receive it as well. In the first case the ideas are registering in his mind as concepts. But if the ideas you are preaching are to have an effect in his life, they will have to be integrated into his thinking. They will have to be accepted as valid and relevant. It is not enough for him to accept an idea as valid for someone else, as valid in general, or as interesting. The process of persuasion means that the concept is accepted on a personal basis and received into the thinking of the individual. This is going well beyond the mere acknowledgment of the idea: “I understand what you are saying.” It is an intentional response: “I accept what you are saying as true for me.”

Material for Sermon Development You will be working on sermon development from the time you open your Bible to the text. When your outline is finished, you will then sort out all the support material you have noted and add more as needed for each section of the sermon. There is an almost unlimited variety of material you could use to develop your sermon ideas. There are word studies, quotations, cross-references, text background, stories, examples, personal experiences, reasons, challenges, admonitions, news accounts, and so on. Even with this unlimited variety of materials, each item will function primarily in one of the four ways we have already identified: explanation, illustration, argumentation, and application. The preacher who understands these four elements can monitor sermon development for balance. Each form of development plays a significant and distinct role in fleshing out the sermon outline. Each makes a special appeal to the hearer. Each has a part to play in effective communication. If they are in balance, sermon development is much more effective. If they are not balanced, weaknesses will limit the impact of the sermon. Understanding what each of the elements does to develop your sermon ideas will help you to think of the supporting material you need. Effective development depends on clear thinking and precise wording in your sermon idea and division statements. If your sermon division statements are fuzzy or overlap one another, you will have a difficult time figuring out what to say as supporting material. Your sermon will seem repetitious and lacking in direction. Theological ideas in the Bible can take different forms. Some statements are related to the person of God, the basis for all theology. Others present principles foundational to an understanding of the faith. Some describe practices appropriate to the life of a believer. If you will be observant as to which kind of theological statements are expressed in the text, you can allow your sermon to follow that pattern. You can also make sure you balance your presentation by tracing practices to principles or the character of God to godly living. As you plan sermon development, you will want supporting material for each of your sermon divisions. This means you will be explaining, illustrating, arguing, and applying each of these main points. You may discover that some of your illustrations or

applications will fit in more than one place, depending on the slant you give them. Your precisely worded outline will allow you to plug in each of the supporting ideas in the right place. Much of your sermon development will come from the text itself. Just as the text has given you its subject and modifier, just as it has given you its predicates for your divisions, now it will give you its development. Your inductive Bible study will uncover observations, definitions, historical background, and other material. You will also see reasons in the text to support sermon ideas. There will be figures of speech you can use to illustrate division points. Applications used by the writer will be effective for the sermon as well. Some of your material will be better suited to develop the main idea of the sermon rather than the division statements. Development for the sermon idea itself will be used in the introduction and the conclusion. As you open the sermon, you will want something to gain attention and create interest. This will require introductory material that is precisely in line with the sermon idea. Then in the conclusion, as you draw the hearer back to the main idea of the sermon, you will want to use illustration and application material to call for a response.

Skills in This Section Sermon development provides support for the ideas in your sermon. In this section we will understand and practice three skills related to sermon development. Skill 7 is Balancing Persuasive Elements. In this chapter we will explore the four rhetorical elements used for sermon development: explanation, illustration, argumentation, and application. Each of these has its distinctive function for appealing to the whole person. Skill 8 is Exploring Natural Analogies. In this chapter you will learn a systematic way to devise illustrations based on the familiar circumstances and relationships of the world around us. With illustrations based on these common experiences, we can communicate our sermon ideas imaginatively to the audience. Skill 9 is Drawing Pictures, Telling Stories. The purpose of this exercise is to develop the skill of appealing to imagination through vividly portrayed scenes and stories. Here we will learn the kind of language that triggers imagination in our hearers. In developing skills in these areas, we will become much more able to engage the audience by getting their attention and keeping their interest. In the process we will find them understanding and accepting the sermon ideas we have drawn from the biblical text.

Study Questions 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7.

Define what is meant by sermon development. How extensive should a sermon outline be? Define what is meant by generals and particulars. What makes a sermon persuasive? Why are people naturally resistant to change? Where does the preacher find support material for his sermon? What three skills are addressed in this section?

In this sense, the work of development is the composition of the sermon as distinct from the planning of it. It is the doing of the thing proposed in the plan. It is the clothing of the skeleton of the sermon with the elements of effective discourse.1



Sermon Development Skill 7: Balancing Persuasive Elements Skill 8: Exploring Natural Analogies Skill 9: Drawing Pictures, Telling Stories

Skill 7

Balancing Persuasive Elements Keith Willhite did his doctoral research on two nationally known preachers to study their approach to expository preaching. He analyzed selected sermons, each one preached from Daniel and Galatians. He calculated the amount of emphasis each one gave to word studies and context, on the one hand, and implications of the meaning for the audience, on the other hand.2 The two preachers were different in their approaches to the text and the audience. The first one focused his attention on the history and background of the text, on Greek or Hebrew words and historical context. The second spent most of his time with what the audience should do about the teachings of the text. He used a number of striking illustrations and made some pointed applications. They were both expositors. Each one of them “exposed” the meaning of the text faithfully. Their sermons were text driven. They both faithfully interpreted to their hearers what the text writer intended to communicate about God and his ways. The difference was evident in the way they worded their sermon ideas. It was clear also in the time they spent on support material. One aimed to teach while the other aimed to exhort his audience. I have observed this same tendency on the part of preachers in the seminary classroom. It seems to me that the basic motivation of preachers comes from their temperament and spiritual gifts. We aim to communicate in a form and with aims that suit our own inclinations. Some of us seem to have the teaching gene while others are disposed toward exhortation. Naturally, we see our own approach as “normal” because it seems right to us.

Motivation and Appeal We naturally express the gifts and temperament that prompt us to approach our preaching in our own characteristic way. But most preachers never consider the particular motivation that shapes their preaching. In Romans 12:6–8, Paul lists seven different gifts that show the variety of ways believers minister in the body. Here are prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, giving, leading, and mercy. Space here does not allow going over these different motivations in detail, but notice two implications for preaching. First, you must preach out of your own inherent communication drives. Don't try to be someone else. Don't copy another preacher's passion. You will always be more effective allowing your own passion to fire your preaching. Your spiritual gifts are important for the building up of the body. You must fulfill the part you are gifted to play.

Sermon development takes on four forms, each with its particular contribution to the support of sermon ideas.

Explanation is sermon development that aims for an understanding of biblical and homiletical concepts by using background and interpretation material.



Illustration is the function of sermon development that illuminates the sermon idea for the imagination of the hearer, giving the biblical truth a familiar enough image that the listener can see it in his mind.



Argumentation functions in sermon development to guide sermon ideas through the rational barriers in the thinking of the hearer by giving him reasons to accept those ideas as valid and relevant.



Application is the form of development that presents the implications of sermon ideas for human experience. It can be descriptive in analyzing contemporary life or prescriptive in advocating certain behavior.

Second, you must adapt your preaching to the nature and needs of the audience. You must preach according to the way they are designed. You must appeal to them in the way they normally process information so that they will accept the message and integrate it into their own thinking. These two admonitions may seem contradictory, but you can honor both of them. Allow your own spiritual motivations to shape your sermons. At the same time recognize that your appeal must match the experience of your hearers. The answer is simple: work for a balanced appeal to your audience while preaching in a way that inspires you to do your best. This balance is best understood in terms of the various forms of support material you will use to develop your sermon ideas. We call this support material sermon development. Sermon development is the unfolding, the expansion, the enlargement of the ideas expressed in the sermon idea and division statements. In this chapter we will introduce the exercise called Balancing Persuasive Elements. It is designed to help strengthen the skill of using normal persuasive elements in balance to make the best case for sermon ideas. Let's consider development now in terms of the material you will use and the four basic kinds of development.

Four Persuasive Elements Writers on expository preaching have for generations emphasized the use of four rhetorical elements to persuade the hearer of Bible truths. John A. Broadus originally described these forms of discourse for preaching in 1870. The most commonly used version of

Broadus is the 1944 edition, edited by Weatherspoon. Here the four functional elements are given a chapter each.3 Following Broadus, twentieth-century writers promoted the same varieties of supporting material for sermons.4 This is a classic approach to sermon development that can still guide the preacher for today's communication challenges. Each of the forms of development has a distinctive role to play as you enlarge on your sermon points—explanation, illustration, argumentation, and application. The better you understand what each kind of material contributes, the better you will be able to prepare the balanced support that gives real impact to your sermon ideas. It is easy for the preacher to think that everyone is interested in the same aspects of biblical study that he is. What is needed is an appeal to the whole person—understanding, conscience, emotions, imagination, will, reason. That can be done with a balanced rhetorical appeal designed to influence the person in all these dimensions of his response. Explanation. Your division statement needs explaining. You want to explain how your text is the basis for the principles you state in your outline. You may also want to explain further what you mean by your statement. You will go to the text and point to significant words and phrases. You will give historical background and other fruit of your textual study. You may resketch the narrative of your text. All of this is explanation. It is aimed at establishing the basic concept in the mind of your hearer. Illustration. Illustration serves to clarify the textual truth in the mind of the hearer with images that appeal to the imagination. The word illustration is from Latin, lustrare, to illuminate. It means “to throw light on an idea, to illuminate it.” A sermon illustration is any word picture that gives the biblical truth a familiar enough image that the listener can see it in his mind. Illustrations are so important that we will devote the next two chapters to the skills needed for using them effectively. Argumentation. Sermons are designed to persuade. But if you are to be persuasive, you will have to make a case for your ideas. You will have to demonstrate that your point is reasonable and worthy of belief, that what you are saying makes sense. Argument is that part of your support material in which you give reasons for accepting the principles you are presenting. Application. Application presents the implications of biblical truth for the contemporary audience. It is a call for action, for putting the principles of Scripture to work in our lives. It deals with attitudes, behavior, speech, lifestyle, and personal identity. It appeals to conscience, to values, to conviction, to commitment to Christ. Let me suggest that you take a look now at the Oral Presentation form in chapter 12. Notice how the four forms of development support each division statement.

Appealing to the Whole Person You will want your preaching to have a broad-based appeal to the audience. Since each person has several capacities for considering ideas, you want to appeal to him in as many ways as is appropriate to his nature. A full response to the biblical message will require a full appeal. Look at the diagram below for the four kinds of appeal you will make. 1. You will appeal to the intellect of your hearer with explanation. The word intellect is from Latin, intellectus, meaning “a perceiving or understanding.” The human capacity to grasp ideas is the beginning point for hearing the Word of God. This intellectual function is also called cognition, “the process of knowing or perceiving, the act of acquiring an idea.” As we have already indicated, the use of explanation is your effort to interpret the ideas of the sermon so that the hearer may understand. The fact that human beings can “acquire an idea” makes preaching possible. The ideas of Scripture can be passed along from one person to another, just as any idea can. As you preach, the theological idea in the mind of the original writer is, hopefully, the idea you have discerned from his words and are now proclaiming to the audience so that they can understand it and accept it. Explanation is critical to your desire to persuade the hearer that these ideas are credible and relevant. The Work of Development APPEAL

AIM

RESPONSE

Explanation

intellect

clear

understand

Illustration

imagination vivid

Argumentation reason Application

volition

imagine

plausible accept practical intend

2. You will appeal to the imagination of your hearer with illustration. This amazing capacity in man is the act or power of forming mental images of what is not actually present. He can picture in his mind what is only suggested by words or other impressions. As you appeal to the imagination, you want to draw pictures on the screen of the mind so that the spiritual, abstract, theological ideas of the Bible can be seen as concrete, tangible, and real. This visualizing of an idea is a powerful tool for persuasion. Your appeal to imagination in your preaching calls on you to be imaginative. You will never be able to project pictures in the minds of your hearers if you do not see them yourself. The images you present will usually be common to human experience. This is why analogy is so vital to preaching. You draw word pictures of heavenly truth using earthly images so that earthbound man can grasp what is beyond him. A person is not likely to be persuaded about an idea he cannot see in his imagination. 3. You will appeal to the reason of your hearer with argumentation. Though reason is an aspect of man's intellectual ability, I am distinguishing between intellect and reason here. Intellect is our ability to perceive and understand, while reason is our ability to analyze, to think logically, and to think systematically. In your appeal to reason you attempt to give such evidence so that the reasoning hearer will come to the same conclusions you have about the biblical ideas you preach. Appealing to reason does not mean you are placing reason over faith. Reason must be engaged if faith is to be valid. God never calls on us to believe what does not make sense. But there are natural barriers in your hearer's thinking that oppose the intrusion of

God's Word and its demand for change. Argument has a powerful role to play in persuasion as you make a case for the biblical ideas and overcome objections and resistance to their acceptance. 4. You will appeal to the volition of your hearer with application. Volition is the exercise of the will as a person settles his uncertainty and comes to a choice or decision. This is another of the wonderful capacities God has given mankind, the power of free will. Never forget that your audience can choose and decide. Effective preaching will call for decision. It is so throughout Scripture. Application presents specific changes that put the ideas of Scripture into personal experience. It is a powerful tool for persuasion. In appealing to volition, you are presenting new possibilities for thinking, attitude, and behavior. Those in your audience may have forgotten, or never known, that they have such an alternative as you present. In this sense you are bringing news. You are offering a different approach. But the choice is left to the hearer. You spell out the alternatives clearly and call for decision, but then you have done all you can do. Each person must decide for himself. The more compelling your application, the more persuaded he will be to accept the biblical truth. All preaching aims for repentance. The New Testament word for “repentance” is metanoia, which basically means “a change of mind.” Before attitudes and behavior can change, a person must change his thinking. The transformation that touches every aspect of life will only come by “the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2). Appealing to the whole person—intellect, imagination, reason, and volition—is the most effective way to accomplish that change of mind toward faith and surrender.

Working for Balance Balance is the key in sermon development. But this does not mean that equal weight must be given to explanation, illustration, argumentation, and application. As you see the role of each of these rhetorical elements, you can keep your support material in balance for the strongest appeal. After you complete the careful wording of your sermon divisions, make a place under each of the division statements for the four kinds of support. (Remember to avoid the use of subpoints.) Then jot down abbreviated notes to indicate your supporting material. You will be able to see at a glance where your development might be weak. Also look at your introduction and conclusion for balance. This simple technique will help you round out your support of each point and thus communicate the sermon truths more effectively. The four forms of sermon development are distinguished here so that you can understand the role each form plays for good communication and persuasion. In the sermon itself the four kinds of material will be intermingled. Some sentences and paragraphs will serve double duty. It is important, however, that you have clearly in mind the distinct role each of these elements can play. When the sermon material is out of balance, effectiveness is compromised. What you say does not have the clarity and impact you hope for. Look at the result when each of the rhetorical forms is too dominant or too weak. If explanation is weak, your sermon will seem to have slipped its moorings and drifted away from the text. The biblical authority you want for your preaching will be eroded. On the other hand, too much time given to explanation will turn the sermon into a history lesson, or a lecture on biblical backgrounds and word studies. As interesting as that may be to you, the goal of preaching is not merely academic. Illustration has a special role in that it can serve each of the other elements. It can help to explain, argue, or apply the truths of the text. Or it can be devoted to picturing the sermon truth solely for the purpose of clarity and vividness. Strive to keep your illustrative material concrete, vivid, and believable. Make sure that each of your key sermon ideas is adequately illustrated. If your development is weak in the area of illustrative material, it will tend to be dull and dry. It will not sparkle with the life and vividness that are so needed for attention and impact. On the other hand, too much illustrative material will make the sermon seem showy and lacking in substance. Weakness in the area of argumentation will tend to make you sound narrow and presumptuous because you are not inviting your audience to see how reasonable the sermon ideas are. Too much argument, however, can make your sermon seem belligerent and adversarial. The proper balance will depend on your subject, the audience, and the occasion. If application is weak, the sermon seems to be more or less irrelevant to everyday life. If there is too much application, the preacher may appear to “stretch the point” in order to harangue the congregation. They may become oppressed with too heavy a dose of obligation and turn him off or chalk his comments up to “just preaching.” When the sermon is balanced in the use of persuasive elements, three benefits are obvious. First, the preacher is better prepared and better able to preach without the distraction of notes. Second, the biblical message is delivered more effectively and persuasively. Third, the audience is more attentive and interested because the balanced appeal engages them in every possible way.

Aiming for Impact Look again at the diagram. After the appeal of each of the developmental elements, there is a column with the aim of the development material in each case. By aim I do not mean what you hope will be the outcome of the sermon. I mean rather your own aim for the material you are preparing for your sermon. Each form of development aims to present the sermon ideas in a certain way and with a certain impact. Each makes a certain contribution toward communicating the ideas and persuading the hearer to embrace them. Your aim with explanation is to present the ideas as clear. Explanation bridges the gap between the historical world in which the text was written and the world of the contemporary audience. It ties your sermon truth firmly to the text and confirms to the hearer that you are preaching from biblical authority and not just opinions. To do this you must go back and explain that biblical world so that your audience better understands it. You explain how what God said then is what he is saying to us now in the timeless universal principles you have presented in your outline division statements.

The Work of Development APPEAL

AIM

RESPONSE

Explanation

intellect

clear

understand

Illustration

imagination vivid

Argumentation reason

imagine

plausible accept

Application volition practical intend You simply want to plan your explanatory material in such a way as to interpret the sermon ideas as clearly as possible. Clear means “easily seen or comprehended, free from obscurity, easily intelligible.” Not only do you want the historical record of the message to be clearly understood, you want the timeless truths of the text to be clear. Unless the ideas are clear, other kinds of development are of little use. Your aim with illustration is to present the ideas as vivid. A clear understanding of any idea requires that your hearer be able to visualize it. The most common kinds of illustration are examples, like testimonials, of people applying or denying the point, and analogies, using parallel images from outside the religious dimension. Like opening a window to let light into a dark room, illustrations shed light on your sermon ideas so that the hearer can see what you mean. Illustration demands imagery; no imagery means no illustration. Test every illustration for specific, concrete imagery. Your best way to appeal to the imagination of your audience is to use vivid language, to draw pictures. Your material is vivid when it brings strikingly real or lifelike images to the mind of the hearer. These images give life to the ideas of your text. They leave an impact on the imagination so that the concepts will not be easily forgotten. Your aim with argumentation is to present the ideas as plausible. Most preachers speak to an “in house” crowd, to those who are already convinced. Our hearers, however, may not be as convinced as they seem. They live in a secular world where conflicting ideas constantly challenge their Christian faith. They need evidence to support their convictions. They need to know how common criticisms and accusations can be answered. Since a sermon is not a debate or a philosophy seminar, you will want to avoid complex and abstract arguments. A simple, direct, “common sense” approach will be much more convincing. It may seem at first that plausibility is a rather weak aim for this part of your development. You may rather want to aim for undeniable proof. Though that would be a great thing to achieve, I doubt you will ever produce material that cannot be challenged at all. Plausible means “seemingly true, acceptable.” If your argumentation achieves that level of effectiveness, you will have overcome logical barriers and opened the way to faith. That is enough. Your aim with application is to present the ideas as practical. Application is more than just attacking the congregation with the sermon truth. Application presents the implications of biblical truth for the contemporary audience. It is a call for action, for putting the principles of Scripture to work in our lives. It deals with attitudes, behavior, speech, lifestyle, and personal identity. It appeals to conscience, to values, to conviction, to commitment to Christ.5 The most common failure of application is that it is too general, too religious, and too vague. The general applications of most preachers do not really connect with the hearer's sense of what real life is about. Avoid sweeping criticisms. Aim rather for your application to be practical. Deal with real life. Give concrete suggestions as to appropriate changes in response to the ideas of the text. Show how your hearer can express his faith and experience the grace of God.

The Response You Seek Refer again to the diagram. Notice that the last column traces the response you hope for with the use of each of the four kinds of development. The sermon ideas cannot just be stated and left to stand there without the elaboration that calls for a response from the hearer. Your ideas must be clothed in appealing support that moves carefully from the hearing to the doing of the word. Notice that the response moves progressively from the mere understanding of the idea, to the picturing of the idea in concrete terms, to accepting the idea as credible and relevant, to intending to act on the idea personally. This progression demonstrates the importance of effective development in preaching. It shows also how the four forms of development work in harmony for good communication and persuasion. You use explanation for the simple response of understanding. Appeal to the intellect with clear thinking and your ideas will be understood. This understanding does not necessarily include the grasp of every detail in the text or of the larger theological and philosophical implications of text ideas. You are hoping only for an understanding of the subject of the text (and sermon) and the divisions of that subject. The Work of Development APPEAL

AIM

RESPONSE

Explanation

intellect

clear

understand

Illustration

imagination vivid

Argumentation reason

imagine

plausible accept

Application volition practical intend You use illustration so that the hearer can imagine the ideas. The power of imagination is important in all learning. Unless a person can see a concept, he does not really grasp it or remember it. Since you are preaching about theological ideas, you will picture

them in natural analogies so that your audience can form mental images of the concepts in their minds. You want only that they see it. If your illustrative material accomplishes that, it is effective. You use argumentation for acceptance of the ideas of the sermon. No idea can make a difference in the life of your audience until it is accepted. Up to this point the idea may be understood and imagined, but until it is accepted, it can do no work in the hearer. Acceptance means the person receives the idea as credible (seems to be true) and relevant (seems to apply to me). He is willing to give the idea a place with what he thinks he already knows. This does not mean you have overwhelmed him with your logic. It simply means he sees that the ideas are valid and will receive them on that basis. You use application for an initial response of intention. This may again seem like a weak goal for response to your preaching. Why not hope for decision or action? It could well be that your sermon will result in a clear decision on the part of the hearer. That decision could be expressed in some action in the meeting such as coming forward to express commitment when an altar call is given. Most of the time, however, the change desired in the lives of the people cannot be lived out in the church building. They need to make changes beyond the church service. If the response to your preaching week after week is an intention to trust God with concrete changes, you have accomplished a great deal.

Planning Sermon Development Now that we have surveyed the appeal, the aim and the response sought by sermon development, let's consider some specific guidelines for planning your development. Remember that sermon development is a major aspect of sermon planning. No sermon is fully prepared until development is carefully planned. The following guidelines can serve as a checklist for ensuring that your development is effective.

CHECKSHEET: Sermon Development I have clearly and precisely worded my sermon ideas. I have checked all development for precise support of the idea. I have planned a balance of the four elements in each division. I have tested each part of development for its intended function. I have avoided my own tendencies toward certain forms of development. I have carefully planned development for the introduction and conclusion. I have designed development order for the most effective appeal. I have planned my development in specific and concrete language. Make sure your sermon ideas are clearly and precisely worded. The wording of your bridging sentences and sermon divisions is not directly a part of planning development. Having these concepts precisely stated is so necessary to development, however, that you cannot plan well without it. You are never sure exactly what you are talking about if your concept statements are fuzzy and imprecise. If you have trouble with development planning, look first to see whether additional work should be done on the wording of your sermon ideas. Check each development segment for precise consistency with the idea it supports. At this point development is often weak. If your audience is not sure how your development supports the point you are making, they become confused and frustrated. The introduction should be developed precisely to support the sermon idea, not just to break the ice. Each division statement should be supported with development that is precisely in line with the concept. Plan for a balance of the four forms of development for each division. One key to effective development is balance. Only as you make a broad appeal to intellect, imagination, reason, and volition will you communicate your ideas effectively. Notice the place in the Oral Presentation (skill 12) form for each of the four elements so that you can see at a glance where your presentation is weak and needs more support. Test each of the four elements for the essence of its function in your development. It is one thing to put something down in your notes for some aspect of development. It is quite another to have that material function well in the role you have assigned it. Remember, explanation wants understanding—exegesis, definitions, clarification, background, restatement. Illustration calls for imagery; no imagery, no illustration, no matter what you call it. Argument means specific reasons to accept your sermon ideas. Application is about measuring attitudes and behavior by the principles you are presenting and calling for change. Avoid following your own tendencies to favor one kind of development over others. I have observed that the teacher types usually spend too much time in explanation. The creative personality may overdo illustration. The analytical mind likes argument. The exhorter favors application. Whatever you emphasize tends to edge out the other forms and leave development out of balance. Because good illustrations are such hard work, some just try to do without them. Students have asked, “Do we have to have an illustration for every point?” “No,” I answer, “you only need illustrations for the points you want to be understood and remembered.” That same quip applies in differing ways to each of the development forms. Carefully plan development for your introduction and conclusion. Development in the introduction and conclusion supports the

sermon idea itself, not one of the divisions. The introduction should (1) arrest attention, (2) awaken interest, (3) introduce the subject, (4) introduce the text, and (5) make a smooth transition to the sermon body. These purposes will require illustrative material (attention), application (the need step), and explanation (subject and text background, transition). The conclusion needs to restate the sermon idea and divisions, illustrate the sermon idea vividly, and call for a response, with specific applications. Note the sequence of development material for the most effective appeal. We have consistently listed the four forms of development in the same order: explanation, illustration, argumentation, application. Though these elements will be intermingled in the sermon presentation, the general sequence should be noted. The order of these elements moves from understanding through imagining and accepting to intending to act. It is obvious that you could not work in the reverse order; that just doesn't fit the way people think. Other orders are confusing as well. So be aware of the order for your development in your sermon design. Present development in specific and concrete language. We will address this principle at length in chapter 9. Just make sure you do not throw out general and vague references the audience will not understand. Nothing is really dynamic until it is specific. Make everything as down-to-earth and specific as possible.

Completing the Exercise The exercise sheet for planning sermon development is designed to deal with only one concept. In your sermon planning you will want the entire outline before you. If you are preparing development for the introduction or conclusion, write the sermon idea. Development for each division relates directly to that concept. Step 1. Write out your division statement or sermon idea as a complete sentence. Remember, your planning of development is directly dependent on the clarity and precision of your concept statements. Step 2. Circle the word or words in your statement that carry the central concept you are developing. Sometimes it helps to capture the essence of each idea in the subject/modifier pattern for the best precision and clarity. Step 3. Begin with explanation and write an abbreviated set of notes as to what needs to be explained from the text and its background. Also note explanation to define and clarify the principle involved. Step 4. Plan illustration that relates directly to the point you are making. Be sure it is exactly on target with the concept and contains vivid imagery. Note other illustrative material in the text itself. You may also use illustration to support the other elements. Step 5. Make notes as to argument that will support your point. Remember, it is only argument if you are offering reasons to accept the idea. Make use of any arguments in the text. Step 6. Plan application, both descriptive and prescriptive. Keep the application concrete and specific. Avoid general religious “preacher talk” that does not touch real life. Step 7. Check the development plan again for balance and for the time that will be required to present the material. Remember that written notes can deceive you as to the time needed.

Study Questions 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7.

Define what is meant by sermon development. What is the distinctive role of each of the forms of development? Why is balance so important in planning for development? Describe the appeal of the four elements used in development. What is the aim of each of the elements of development? What response does the preacher seek with the use of each element? Explain the natural order of the four elements of development.





All mental and spiritual states and operations are expressed by terms borrowed, by analogy, from the physical; all that we know of the future life, by terms derived from analogous objects or relations in this life.1



Sermon Development Skill 7: Balancing Persuasive Elements Skill 8: Exploring Natural Analogies Skill 9: Drawing Pictures, Telling Stories

Skill 8

Exploring Natural Analogies Maybe you could call it “preacher's block.” Like a novelist suffering writer's block, you draw a blank as you try to plan your sermon development. You want to explain your first point more clearly, but you just cannot think of a way to do it. You want to illustrate the idea more vividly, but the images just won't appear. You want to argue your concept, but you cannot think of any credible reasons. You want to apply it in a practical way, but you cannot make the logical connection between idea and action. This block of your creative powers can be caused by a number of factors. For one thing, poor text study leaves you with little substantive material to draw upon. Or you may be suffering from fuzzy thinking and need to clarify your ideas more precisely. You may just be tired and need to leave your unfinished sermon to simmer while you give attention to something else. Or you may be under the pressure of last-minute preparation. Better preparation habits and time management can remedy all these causes for a creative block. Sometimes you will experience this blank wall in your creative thinking because of spiritual dryness. There is no substitute for the soul nourishment of intimacy with Christ through personal Bible reading and prayer. Preaching is a supernatural enterprise. It is the work of God. It is fully beyond your natural abilities to prepare a life-changing, spiritually effective sermon. The solution to creative blockage may be a spiritual refreshing. But do not expect a spiritual bail-out for poor planning and laziness. In this chapter we are discussing the use of analogy in sermon development. The exercise is Exploring Natural Analogies. You will find this technique one of the most dynamic and valuable of all your sermon preparation methods. The skill we aim to strengthen is devising specific natural analogies for illustrating sermon ideas. We will discuss a step-by-step approach for tapping into your own memory bank of natural analogies from human experience. Specifically, we are talking about what we generally call “illustrations.” Though illustration is but one of the four functional elements of sermon development, it has a unique roll to play. Illustration can serve each of the other elements. Illustrative material can be used to explain, argue, and apply, as well as to illustrate the concept directly. In one sense all development should be illustrative; it should be vivid, clear, and picturesque.

The Limitations of Experience Much of the support material for your sermon will be gleaned from your inductive study of the text. You will probably have much more material than you can use. The challenge will come when you need contemporary development for specific ideas. Though the text will provide some material and suggest more, you want your sermon to be a present-day interpretation, with contemporary explanations, illustrations, arguments, and application. That is the creative challenge. How do you come up with the needed developmental materials for your sermons? For the most part you just “think them up,” without even examining the process you use to do it. As you ponder a sermon point and go over your notes, the ideas just seem to come. They are personal experiences, observations, anecdotes, examples, analogies, and so on. What is happening is that you are tapping into your own store of information, your knowledge of the world around you, the world of human experience. Your memory, programmed like a computer, is full of great ideas for every sort of sermon development. In one sense, though, the experience of every one of us is limited. Especially do younger preachers have a hard time bringing their knowledge and experience to bear in their preaching. There isn't much to work with. As you search for support material for your sermons, range well beyond your personal experience. Too many personal stories about family, childhood experiences, and personal activities seem to cheapen the richness of biblical ideas. Read widely. Follow your interests beyond theology into various aspects of science, philosophy, history, and current events. But do not think that exotic analogies are necessarily better than basic experiences common to people everywhere. Most of us have heard admonitions about preparing files of sermon illustrations to draw from. Few of us do that, however. Even if you have a good file, you still face the challenge of finding precisely what you want when you need it. Books of illustrations are also disappointing. Though some of the material may be good, finding the right picture for a specific sermon idea is pretty difficult. Whether you file sermon material or not, the more informed you are about the common experience of man, the better you can tap into the natural analogies that will make your sermon ideas clear and forceful. But you must read. You must stay in touch with the world around you. You must follow the news. For details needed to present an analogy, you will find help on the Internet. In fact you can find analogies by entering the focal words of the idea. Another limitation is the preacher's knowledge of the Bible. The biblical writers used analogies as a normal way of expressing their ideas. Figurative language runs throughout Scripture and makes it vivid and imaginative. The language of the Bible is not the plodding prose of a technical textbook but the soaring poetry of lofty ideas and timeless truth. Communicate as the biblical writers do, and you will be effective.

The Language of Man A concept does not affect our thinking unless we can see it. Abstract ideas elude us unless they are attached to concrete symbols. This is especially true of spiritual truth. Jesus pointed this out when he told Nicodemus, “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12). Whatever his dialect, the language of man is the language of human experience, of “earthly things.” He can comprehend ideas only when they fit somewhere into that vast store of common knowledge. He knows little or nothing beyond the range of human observation. He is bound by the limits of man's history and earth's geography. He cannot grasp eternal truth unless it is clothed in

earthly images. This is why God uses human means to make himself known to man. Since our language is the language of human experience, God speaks to us in our own language. Jesus came as man so we would understand God. “He who has seen Me,” he said, “has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Seeing the Father would be entirely beyond us unless he had come to us in human form. This incarnational (in human form) principle must guide us today as we seek, through preaching, to be channels of God's ongoing revelation. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” John wrote, “and we beheld His glory” (John 1:14). God's method is “the Word become flesh,” not only for the Son but for the preaching that declares him. The only way the hearer will “see” the reality of God in our preaching is when in it the Word becomes flesh. We must declare eternal truth in terms of earthly images. As the record of God's revelation, the Bible is written to be understood. It is not a book of mysterious philosophies and abstractions. It is concrete, vivid, experiential, and very human. Only in that format would we ever understand. Look at the way the great truths of the Bible are given. God is not presented in Scripture as the Ultimate Mind or the Ground of Being. He is rather the Shepherd of Israel, the Covenant King, the Rock and Fortress. These figures and many others communicate the eternal God to us in terms of earthly images. So it is with the miracle God works in the lives of men. It is salvation, rescue from peril and death. It is reconciliation, the renewal of a broken relationship. It is regeneration, the new birth of resurrection life. It is redemption, the restoration of what was lost, freedom from bondage. Every one of these biblical metaphors pictures God's miracle in man's life in terms drawn from human experience and so familiar to us. We can follow the pattern established in Scripture—spiritual truth clothed in natural imagery. Every biblical truth we want to communicate can be illustrated in a form familiar to the people to whom we speak. This is the essence of development by analogy. It is not an optional element to add pizzazz to our sermons. It is a function of human communication necessary to God's revelational process.

Natural and Spiritual Reality Everything other than God himself was created by God. It is all one creation, wherever it lies along the continuum of spiritual and natural. Though we cannot see the spiritual dimension, we know something about it by the revelation of God. What we know has been made known to us in terms of what we can see in the natural dimension. Heaven, unseen to our eyes and inconceivable to our minds, is nonetheless known to us as a royal city or a living garden. This understanding of what we cannot see is possible because there is a oneness and consistency in all of God's creation, whether natural or spiritual. The same patterns and principles are in operation throughout the full dimensions of reality. “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made” (Rom. 1:20 NASB). Could we ever understand, for example, how human beings respond to the eternal Word of God? We could not, except for the parallel of those spiritual concepts in the natural dimension. Jesus explained it simply when he told the parable of the sower and the seed. He illustrated the power of the Word of God and the variety of human response with the simple imagery of a farmer scattering seed in his field. Natural reality, the receptivity of the soils, corresponds to spiritual reality, the receptivity of the hearts of men. This continuity of natural and spiritual reality is a tremendous source of encouragement to those who preach. We can be sure that the powerful spiritual truths we want to communicate can be couched in language our hearers will understand. There is a parallel picture in human experience for every concept God intends to make known to man. This does not mean we can know all about God. It does mean that those truths God wants us to know can be pictured in earthly images that make sense to us. Not all the imagery you might use to support sermon ideas is analogy. Make a clear distinction between analogy and example. An example is like testimony. It presents support from experience in the religious dimension. Analogy, however, is a nonreligious parallel image. Exploring natural analogies will lead you to both analogies and examples. For the John 3:1–8 sermon our first point was that regeneration is necessary to see the kingdom of God. An example to develop this point would be a story about someone who experienced new insight into spiritual matters upon his conversion. An analogy would involve some nonreligious experience of seeing what was otherwise unseen.

Analogy: A relation of likeness between two things, consisting in the resemblance, not of the things themselves but of two or more attributes, effects, or circumstances.

Natural: Of or pertaining to the physical universe or the study of it. Natural analogies are relationships, circumstances, events, or other factors observed in the natural dimension that may serve as parallel images for theological concepts. These are analogous, having points of likeness that make them useful in better understanding, visualizing, accepting, and practicing biblical concepts. They are natural, a familiar part of human experience.

Let me suggest a simple step-by-step method for planning effective sermon material through the use of natural analogies. Natural refers to the fact that our development materials are drawn from the natural dimension, the familiar experience of man on earth. Analogy means that the continuity between the spiritual and natural dimensions allows us to find earthly images to portray spiritual truth.



There is really nothing mysterious about this method. It is actually the process you automatically use without realizing it. When you draw a blank, however, you can take these logical steps to tap into your own file of common experience for the developmental material needed for the sermon.

Step 1: Begin with a Clear Idea The first step in the process is to make sure you have a clear grasp of the idea. This is best accomplished by carefully wording precisely what you want to say. We have addressed this at length in earlier chapters. If you cannot state your sermon idea or division statement in a clear sentence, you are still not sure what you are saying. Explanation aims at understanding. You want your audience to comprehend sermon ideas. Illustrations are for the purpose of picturing the idea for your audience. You want them to see it as vividly as possible in graphic terms. Argument hopes to have them accept those ideas as credible and relevant. Application is to present practical faith actions in response to the ideas in the text. If your thinking is not precise, you will have difficulty finding developmental material to achieve these goals. In seeking to develop text ideas in our sermons, we want to illustrate each sermon idea vividly for the hearer. We will find help in the text for this task of development. But we will also want to elaborate on sermon ideas with images and parallels from the contemporary world. Clearly identifying the theological concept, we can look for natural manifestations of the same concept to use as analogies. It is obvious that the teachings of the Bible are not all otherworldly. Most of it concerns our interaction with other people in this world. Even in these ethical teachings, however, there is the dimension of faith that calls for a supernatural response. Good illustrations are needed to show the believer the faith dimension of the most mundane Bible admonitions. So the first step is to craft carefully the wording of your idea. One-word sermon points do not really say anything. Complete ideas require a subject and a modifier. Your division statements, like your sermon idea, need to state universal principles that can stand alone as biblical truth. Until each idea you want to communicate is spelled out this way, you will have trouble planning effective development.

Step 2: Generalize the Concept Once you state each idea clearly, you may find yourself automatically thinking of supporting material for your sermon ideas. To explore natural analogies intentionally, however, the next step is to generalize the idea. Here you are moving from the specific idea in your sermon text to the general idea. Every teaching of Scripture is a particular expression of a general concept normal to God's creation. So the general idea includes the sermon truth and all other expressions of that same concept. Very simply, you are moving from the particular idea to the general idea. In a sermon from Matthew 9:35–37, my sermon idea was, “There aren't enough workers for the harvest.” Each division statement answered the question, Why aren't there? The first point was, “Too few Christians see the condition of the multitudes” (v. 35). To illustrate this idea, I moved to the general concept of seeing need. Whereas Jesus saw the multitudes in their need, there is no indication the disciples saw them that way. We often fail in the same way. Moving to the general concept of seeing need opened a whole channel of input from my own memory bank of information. I could think of a number of instances in which this concept shows up in life. So I illustrated the point by talking about how people are aware of the needs of others according to their point of view. Barbers notice shaggy hair. Auto salesmen see worn-out cars. I made this concrete by telling of walking into a barbershop and seeing the barber check out my haircut. I told of the car salesman who sized up every customer's car for replacement. The point was, of course, that we may not see the spiritual needs of others because we are not thinking in those terms. By going from the specific sermon idea of our failure to see the spiritual needs of people to the general idea of seeing needs, I was able to go to the third step and recall particular instances where that general concept emerges in life. These became pictures for my sermon idea right from the familiar experience of my hearers. The key to this step, generalizing the concept, is to identify the specific idea and make sure you are clear about it. Remember, the concept is generic, nontheological, and nonreligious. It helps me to circle one or two of the focus words in each of my division statements so as to distinguish each from the others and isolate each idea. Notice how this works in the Genesis 3 outline. The Appeal of Temptation

Genesis 3:1–8



1. Beware of the appeal of temptation when the moral instructions are questioned (vv. 1–3).



2. Beware of the appeal of temptation when the consequences of sin are denied (vv. 4–5).



3. Beware of the appeal of temptation when the satisfaction of your appetites is promised (vv. 6–7).



From this outline we have three distinct concepts: instructions questioned, consequences denied, and satisfaction promised. Each of them carries the implication of deceit (temptation). Each of them has a certain appeal to the carnal nature. But the concept in each statement goes beyond the religious dimension. It is common to human experience. As we identify that general concept, we are ready then to think of natural analogies (in nonreligious areas) that could be used to communicate the idea effectively. This brings us to the next step in exploring natural analogies: discovering as many specific manifestations of the concept as we can.

Step 3: Brainstorm Natural Analogies

This is the third step in this process of pulling developmental material out of what you already know. Notice the pattern in the example above. First you precisely state your idea. Second, circle the one or two focal words that express the idea. Now you look for specific expressions of that concept in areas other than the spiritual dimension. These expressions can be natural analogies. You will also think of examples. Once the general idea is clear, search for it in arenas of life other than the religious. You will find that the concept will show up repeatedly. Some of these other arenas are science, politics, business, nature, family, children, history, athletics, current events, friendship, workaday world, and so on. There is really no limit to the arenas of human interaction where you might find an analogy for your sermon idea. Notice what happens when we explore for analogies in these arenas using the points in the outline above. Can you think of examples of instructions questioned? Science—contractor for space shuttle not following design exactly Politics—judges reinterpreting the Constitution to accommodate contemporary trends Business—new employee not agreeing with company policy at some point Family—children questioning instructions brought by a brother or sister Animals—dog trained to obey who runs around ignoring his master's instructions Athletics—quarterback questioning the play sent in by his coach. As you can see, the point is to come up with instances in which the same concept appears in normal human experience. The list above could go on for more than the few I have identified. It is best to write more than you need so that you will have a better selection for the few you will use. If you are looking for explanation material to make the concept clear to the contemporary audience, look for analogies that will help your hearers understand the idea. For the example given above, questioning instructions, I would look for instances that make clear in everyday terms that this questioning is normal to human nature. If we are so prone in other arenas of life to question instructions, we can understand what a temptation that is in moral and spiritual matters. For argumentation you are looking for analogies that will prove your idea to be credible and relevant to the audience. In the example above the political analogy might be useful for argument. The relationship of contemporary law to the Constitution is much like that of current Christian ethics to the teachings of Scripture. In both cases we are tempted to question the fundamental instructions in favor of our own desires. Where this has led in constitutional law shows where it leads in biblical ethics. Sermons need concrete and practical application. Most preachers exercise little creativity at this point, reverting inevitably to church-related applications like attendance, personal witnessing, and tithing. Exploring natural analogies will open a world of application for any sermon idea. Think of all the arenas of life in which the Christian functions and ask whether faith can act on this idea in that arena. Take the example of questioning instructions. You can think of situations when a Christian might be tempted to question, to his own apparent advantage, the plain teachings of the Bible.

Step 4: Choose the Best Analogies After you have brainstormed natural analogies for the idea, you must decide which ones to use in your sermon. It is obvious that you cannot use all the illustrations you come up with. You want to use the best ones. But how will you determine which ones to develop? Here are several suggestions. You want to use the analogies or examples that fit your sermon idea best. Even though you have begun with the idea and worked from there, some of your illustrations will be more sharply on target for your idea. An illustration that is just a bit off center is sometimes confusing and always weak. Another test for the best analogies to use is whether they are appropriate to your audience.The range of experience can vary widely from one church to another. Some are rural, some urban or suburban. Different regions of the country call for adjusting your sermon material. Different economic and social status in hearers calls for different illustrations. I have preached in many rural churches in which my background in farm life was easily understood and appreciated. In city settings I have to be more cautious about farm stories. Exploring Natural Analogies [1] Clearly identify the biblical concept with as precise wording as possible.

Regeneration is necessary to see the kingdom of God. [2] Using the subject/modifier pattern, generalize the concept in nontheological terms. Special qualifications for seeing the unseen. [3] Explore modern life and experience for appearances of that concept, listing all you can think of.



Astronomer sees constellations.



Engineer sees circuitry.



Fisherman sees where the fish are.



Lover sees facial expressions.

[4] Choose from the list of natural analogies you have named those that can be most effective for your sermon.



[5] Particularize your analogies as specific anecdotes, situations, events, or conditions.

You can also test your illustrations as to whether you can handle them well. One pastor used an elaborate analogy of the circulatory system of the human body to illustrate the efficacy of the blood of Jesus. But after the service a physician came to him fuming about the mistaken information in his sermon. He complained, “You had better stick to something you know about, preacher.” The last test for choosing your best illustrations leads us to step five in this process. You want to keep in mind whether you can present the analogy in a vivid and imaginative way and make the meaning clear to the audience.

Step 5: Particularize the Analogy The fifth step for exploring natural analogies calls for particularizing your analogies by tailoring them for specific use in the sermon. To be effective for development, your analogies will need to be true to life, concrete, and believable. You cannot just say, “Like a child receiving instructions from his sister.” Though some may get your point, it has little imagery to it. Tell a story. Draw a picture. Make it live. Tell of the time you questioned your mother's instructions brought by your sister. Particularizing your analogies for use in the sermon is really a matter of packaging them best for communication. The vivid and concrete language you use will make a big difference. We will focus on the use of stories and vivid language in chapter 9. Another aspect of packaging your analogies for use in the sermon is tailoring them to the congregation. As we have said, your selection of development material should take your audience into account. There can be a great difference between audiences. Background, region, local community, education level, vocational mix, ages, and other factors cause each audience to be unique. Packaging your analogies requires clearly drawing the analogy. This means clearly indicating the point at which the analogy compares to your sermon idea. Illustrations will be effective depending on the twist you give them. Do not assume everyone gets it. Go ahead and state clearly what the point is. Use some of the same wording of the analogy in making the point so that the hearer recalls the imagery. To demonstrate the point that “God can help us fully only as we trust him,” I told of an incident with my wife's cat. The cat ran up a pine tree to escape the neighborhood dogs. Then he started to slip on the flaky bark. As I tried to talk to him about coming down, he just climbed higher. He finally fell some twenty feet to the ground. My point? If the cat had trusted me, I might have helped him. Here is how I drew the analogy with my audience. Does some snarling trouble have you up a tree? You are losing your grip. You are tired. But you are afraid to face your trouble. You are like that kitten in the poster hanging by one paw, with the caption, “Hang in there, baby.” But listen. God cannot help you if you won't let go and trust him. Just let go. He will always be there to catch you. You can trust him.

Notice that the language of the analogy is used to make the point. The words used to describe the hearer's experience come from the cat story. In a sermon about the implications of the return of Christ, one point was, “God has set a point of no return in human affairs.” To find an illustration for this idea, I moved to the general idea, “point of no return.” From there I did a search for expressions of that concept. What I came up with was a novel I had read called Fail Safe about nuclear war. A second picture was the common idea of going over the falls in a canoe after passing the last chance to get ashore. For both analogies, their effectiveness depended on how realistic and concrete I made them.

Searching the Web Preachers today have a resource no previous generation has enjoyed for getting the particulars for contemporary illustrations. We have the Internet and search engines that allow us to find the stories we seek. News of events or circumstances you have heard can be quickly verified and fleshed out with the detail that makes them vivid and believable. My first memory of using the Internet to find particulars for an illustration was in about 1987, when I searched for information on a nuclear power plant near where we lived. In another sermon on the return of Christ, I also needed an opening illustration to get attention and create interest in my subject. As always in the introduction, I wanted to illustrate the sermon idea itself. My sermon idea was, “The return of Christ gives urgency to the demands of the Christian life.” The general idea was “life urgency.” Using this generalized concept, I searched for a graphic contemporary picture. Quickly coming to mind was the Colombia disaster in which seven astronauts died. I did a search on the Internet to retrieve the details of the loss of Colombia—date, place, times, names. I described how I felt, that somehow we couldn't do enough to acknowledge that tragedy. But I also pointed out that, even after such a disaster, life goes on. From there I described other historic events after which “life goes on.” Then I moved into the text by indicating that one day it would all be over and we could no longer say, “Life goes on.” One preacher was making a point about freedom from sin and wanted an analogy about a prisoner who was uncomfortable with his freedom and tried to return to prison. He found a detailed account of just such a story with an Internet search. Another preacher wanted to illustrate “completing the mission,” so he searched for a story he vaguely remembered about an army captain who lost a foot in battle but returned to war on a prosthetic foot to complete his mission. Remember, the key to effective analogies for sermon illustration is twofold: (1) use enough particular details and imagery to appeal to imagination, and (2) tie the analogy to your idea with the use of similar wording.

Completing the Exercise Exploring natural analogies is basically a method for manually operating the normal creative process for planning sermon development. The steps are simple: clearly state your idea, generalize the concept, brainstorm natural analogies, choose the best analogies and examples, and carefully particularize them for effective communication. After you get the feel of it, you will never run out of illustrative material again. I can assure you that there is an ample supply of vivid images, striking arguments, and practical applications to be called to mind by this systematic look at the world around you. The exercise, Exploring Natural Analogies, is designed for use with one specific idea from your sermon. This can be either the sermon idea itself or one of the division statements. Step 1. Write your sermon idea or division statement in a precisely worded, complete sentence. Remember, you cannot plan good support for an idea that is not clear. Step 2. Identify the generic concept in your idea and state it in one or two words. This generalization of the concept should be in nontheological terminology. Step 3. Brainstorm the areas of experience listed on the exercise form for analogies that reflect the generic concept. Do not second-guess yourself as to the value of the analogies. The more you list, the better your final choices for use in the sermon. Also make use of any examples you discover. Step 4. Choose the best analogies from your list on the basis of your subject, your audience, and your best judgment about your own ability to make them work in the sermon. Your background and knowledge will make some analogies more usable for you than others. Step 5. Particularize the analogies you choose by presenting them in concrete, specific terms. For the exercise, describe how you will present each analogy in realistic terms. Write out how you would present one of the analogies in your sermon. Also draw the analogy, bringing its point home clearly and directly for your audience.

Study Questions 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9.

Explain, “The language of man is the language of human experience.” Define natural analogy. What is the incarnational principle? What is meant by “a continuum of natural and spiritual creation”? What are the four steps for exploring natural analogies? What arenas of life should be explored for natural analogies? What does “drawing the analogy” mean? How do you “particularize” an analogy? What is the difference between analogies and examples?





He who would hold the ear of the people, must either tell stories, or paint pictures.1



Sermon Development Skill 7: Balancing Persuasive Elements Skill 8: Exploring Natural Analogies Skill 9: Drawing Pictures, Telling Stories

Skill 9

Drawing Pictures, Telling Stories It is a miracle. At least it seems to be miraculous to the preacher. He is preaching along, struggling through the apathy like wading in two feet of muddy water. He can see it in the faces of the audience. They are not with him. What he is saying is not interesting to them. Then the miracle occurs. They suddenly look his way. They become very still. Some lean a little to the side to see around the person in the next pew. An older man cups his hand to his ear. Children who have been drawing look up in anticipation. What has happened? Has the preacher suddenly become a great communicator? In a sense, he has. He has begun to tell a story or vividly describe a scene. And for no other reason than that the communication connection is suddenly complete. Suddenly they are really interested in what he is saying. The attention of the audience is riveted on him. Not only are word pictures and stories essential to good speech communication, but they are also inherent to the revelation of God in Scripture. Ours is a historical faith. What we believe has been made known in history—in particular events, specific places, the lives and sayings of real people who have encountered God. Our faith has not come to us in philosophical pronouncements, mysteries, secrets, or theological formulas. God has revealed himself instead through the experiences of ordinary people made extraordinary by his special involvement in their lives. In the stories and scenes of their lives, we learn who God is and what he is doing. We meet him ourselves in their stories as he awakens our understanding to the meaning of what happened there. Ultimately we come face-to-face with the God of creation in the story of Jesus Christ. In the life of Jesus, we see him as never before. He meets us there, in that “gospel,” that story of the life of one man who was actually God himself. If the revelation of God comes to us in scenes and stories, the preaching of that revelation should be given to the audience in the same form. This does not mean, of course, that we are storytellers only. We are interpreters as well. We must not only draw the pictures and tell the stories; we must also interpret their meaning for the audience. And we must tell new stories and draw new pictures for this generation. In them they will see the truths of the biblical stories replayed in contemporary places and lives. In this chapter we will deal with the preacher's skill at vividly and imaginatively portraying biblical and contemporary scenes and stories. The exercise aimed at strengthening this skill is Scenes and Stories. This is the third chapter devoted essentially to sermon development. Now we will consider how to use narrative and word pictures to develop sermon ideas.

Story and Plot A large portion of the Bible is narrative of one kind or another. When you preach a passage that carries a story line, you will want to make sure that story lives again in the sermon. The narrative passages of Scripture are not fairy tales or Disney fantasies. They are actual accounts of historical events. The people and places and happenings are real. Unfortunately, however, many preachers retell these stories in such a manner as to make them seem remote, dull, and hardly believable. I have heard many a sermon from narrative texts that reported on the story rather than telling the story. Like an autopsy on a dead body, the preacher gives a technical theological analysis of the story. But narrative texts are best preached with the telling of the story along with theological interpretation and application. Though most Christians would claim to believe the biblical accounts, they may believe them in a different way than they do secular history. These are stories they have heard since childhood. They know them by heart—Adam and Eve, Jonah and the whale, David and Goliath, Daniel in the lion's den. But they do not seem real in the same way other historical accounts do. I can remember as a boy going to a church camp and hearing for the first time a Bible story told as though it actually happened. It was the story of Naaman and his healing in the river. The preacher described the chariots and the dust they raised as they approached the home of the prophet. I have never forgotten it. I saw it. I was there. Some preachers may be reluctant to tell biblical stories with such realism. It may seem to be adding to Scripture to tell more than is there. There is no violation of the sacredness of Scripture to retell its stories imaginatively. It may be a violation of biblical intent to tell them in such a way that nobody can believe them. Preachers may fear being thought of as showy by their congregations. They may fear making a fool of themselves. They may not be sure how to draw pictures and tell stories. I can understand each of these concerns. But I think the desire for effective communication overshadows each of them for preaching. Stories follow certain patterns as they unfold. For a novel we call that pattern the plot. This means that the story is told in such a way as to make its point or accomplish its purpose. Eugene Lowry has used the idea of a plot to describe a sermon form like a story. He writes, “In whatever type of narrative plot, the event of the story moves from a bind, a felt discrepancy, an itch born of ambiguity, and moves toward the solution, a release from the ambiguous mystery, the scratch that makes it right.”2 I am not suggesting that you plan your sermon in this form. If you wish to read about how to preach that way, read Lowry and others on narrative preaching. For now I want to point out the pattern he sees in the plot, the movement from a bind to a solution. Story Outline Stories ordinarily follow a pattern of five phases. These phases may not be in balance or of equal weight in the story. Some aspects of the account may be only implied. The preacher may use the normal story pattern to analyze his narrative texts and to plan narrative as sermon development.

Phase 1: Situation. The setting and background, characters, etc.



Phase 2: Stress. The trouble that gives the story its dynamic.



Phase 3: Search. The various solutions explored as the story unfolds.



Phase 4: Solution. The solution discovered, resolving the stress.



Phase 5: (New) Situation. The new circumstances that prevail.



Five Phases of a Story Let's consider how stories normally unfold. Here are five phases you will see in stories: situation, stress, search, solution, (new) situation. Each story in the Bible can be analyzed according to this pattern. Analyzing a narrative text in this way will help you notice insights into the meaning of the account, outline the writer's structure, and prepare your retelling of the story. A story begins with the situation.This is the background, circumstances, persons, and so forth, which set the scene for the narrative. In the parable of the good Samaritan, the situation is established briefly: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho” (Luke 10:30). We are used to this phase of the story in the classic formula, “Once upon a time.” As you analyze biblical accounts, look for this setting of the scene. If it is understood or presented in an earlier chapter, you will want to check the context for the details. In using stories in your sermon, do not spend too much time on the situation phase. In a few sentences you can let the audience know the setting of your story. Use only the information relevant to the story. Remember, a story is told with a specific aim in mind. Whatever does not contribute to that goal is not needed. As you set the situation, use specific and concrete information like names, places, and dates. When retelling a biblical account, dig into your research to get at these details. The second phase of a story is the stress of a problem that arises. This phase creates interest and draws the audience into the struggle. In the good Samaritan parable, Jesus presents the stress phase in these words: “And [he] fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went off leaving him half dead” (NASB). This phase of the story demands resolution. It cries out for a satisfaction of this terrible situation. Remember that this story is designed to address the question, “Who is my neighbor?” The condition of the traveler leaves the hearer most curious as to where the drama is going. In retelling biblical accounts, make sure the stress phase is credible. Sometimes biblical stories seem strange to the modern hearer. It is important for the preacher to fill in the information necessary to understand the human struggle involved in the story. Explanation is needed, for instance, to understand why Abraham would take seriously God's command to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. Otherwise your modern audience may have a hard time relating. Work to make the biblical characters human, as much like us as they really were. Do not labor the stress phase. State it clearly and quickly. It will have its own impact. A story moves from the stress phase into a search for the solution to the problem. The parable describes the three men who came by and saw the wounded traveler. The search phase is explicit here. The priest saw the man and passed by on the other side. The Levite took a look and passed by also. Then Jesus says, “But a certain Samaritan …” He is here announcing a possible solution with the Samaritan. He came upon him, saw him, and felt compassion. The solution is not presented yet, but the search seems to be over. The search is simply that phase in which the possible solutions are explored. Always take some time here to explore alternatives. Sometimes the search is not spelled out, as in Abraham's sacrifice. As you retell that story, you might imagine him going over alternative solutions as he traveled to the dreaded mountain of sacrifice. I have pictured him sitting by the fire on the second night while the servants and the boy Isaac slept. He prays for any answer but the one he fears. He watches the boy sleep and remembers God's promises and the miracle of his birth. Make it live for your hearers. After the search comes the solution to the trouble at the heart of the story. In the parable we are following, the solution is given in detail as the Samaritan treats the man's wounds and takes him to an inn for further care. Jesus obviously intends to have his hero go beyond the normal call of duty. Remember that his aim is to answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?” In reality Jesus is changing the question to, “Who is neighbor to those in need?” The solution is more dramatic and surprising because of the racial element; the hero is a hated Samaritan. The solution is the second turning point in the story. The first, of course, is the stress. Sometimes the solution will be a surprise, as with the Samaritan. Sometimes it will be a return to what was lost or forgotten. In the biblical accounts it often involves the intervention of God himself. The exodus from Egypt involves many stories. Analyze the Red Sea episode with the formula. Situation: they are leaving Egypt. Stress: the Egyptians again pursue them. Search: there seems no escape as they face the sea. Solution: God intervenes mightily to open the sea. The final phase of a story is the (new) situation. The story has come full circle to a resetting of the scene. But it is a new scene, a new situation. The events in the story have changed the circumstances. Nothing is quite the same. For the Red Sea experience, the (new) situation sees the Israelites continue their journey, with the Egyptian army drowned in the sea. The wounded traveler is restored to his health by the care of the Samaritan. The prodigal son returns home and is restored with a grand celebration. Abraham receives Isaac back, having proved God's faithfulness. The (new) situation is to be sketched quickly. Once the solution is found and applied, the problem is essentially resolved. The (new) situation merely brings a closure that settles and delights the audience. This phase represents the classic statement, “And they all lived happily ever after.” Of course it is possible that the story does not end happily. The parable of the rich fool is resolved with a surprise solution, the announcement of his death. The (new) situation is, “And now who will own what you have prepared?” (Luke 12:20 NASB). So these are the five phases of a story. As you analyze a biblical narrative, look for these elements. Your retelling of it will be much more effective if you plan for the five phases. Think through contemporary stories as well and plan them with this outline. For practice, think of any testimony from your personal experience about God's blessing, and plot the story with the five phases.

Language with Appeal If you are to draw pictures and tell stories effectively, you will need to use certain kinds of language. These words and phrases particularize your concepts. They create in the hearer's imagination a personal involvement and experience with the truth you are presenting. Generalizations cannot do this. Language that particularizes has some of the following qualities: figurative, descriptive, sensate, concrete, and specific. Though these categories will overlap in actual use, let's consider them separately. Figurative language portrays one thing in terms of another to create a more exact and vivid image. Figurative language helps your hearer understand your ideas by seeing them more clearly. Most figurative language is based on the comparison or association of two things that are essentially different but alike in some key way. Notice how James describes the tongue, “See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity” (NASB). What a vivid way to present the destructive power of speech, represented by so small a member, the tongue. The most common figures of speech are simile and metaphor. Similes make direct and explicit comparisons, usually introduced by like, as, as if, or as when. In Psalm 1:3 an extended simile is used: “He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither” (NASB). Metaphors present the comparison less directly but just as vividly. Jesus used metaphorical language when he said, “I am the vine, you are the branches” (John 15:5). Figurative language can be most effective if it is fresh and creative. This will take some thought and planning. Worn out and overused figures become so familiar that their impact is lost. They are nothing more than clichés or hackneyed expressions that no longer carry their original impact. Have you ever heard these? “Flat as a pancake,” “strong as an ox,” “the big gorilla,” “hard as nails,” “sings like a bird,” “we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.” The hearer probably no longer sees the imagery of these figures. Descriptive language uses modifiers to add color and precision to the picture. The figurative language we discussed above can be descriptive, of course. But here I am talking about nonfigurative description to add vividness to your narratives. Adjectives describe nouns or pronouns; they are descriptions of persons, places, things. Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. Either of these modifiers can be single words or word groups. A single word of description can change the scene dramatically. “Paul and Silas were led to the jail.” Now add one word. “Paul and Silas were led, stumbling, to the jail.” With one word you see them beaten, weak, and abused. “David moved toward the giant, stopping to pick up several stones as he went.” Try this: “David moved warily toward the giant.” What a difference in the scene. You see David as cautious but unafraid, keeping his eyes on his foe, knowing the danger. Use descriptive language carefully. Flowery language designed to impress or appeal to emotion is best avoided. Choose words and phrases that exactly capture the scene you want to present. Your work as a word crafter is involved here. Never settle for the almost right word to say what you want to say. One of the marks of novice writers and speakers is an overuse of adjectives and adverbs. Use description sparingly. As we noted above, one word will color a whole scene, so do not use more where it is not necessary. Sensate language identifies qualities particularly perceived by the senses. As you describe a scene, always survey it for what the senses would pick up in it. What are the sights? What sounds would be heard? What are the odors that one would notice? How would objects feel to the touch? What about tastes? Then, of course, there is that sixth sense, the emotional. It is often represented as a visceral sense as emotions are physically perceived. A survey of the scene with the senses in mind will allow you to describe it much more realistically. Consider, for instance, the Philippian jail where Paul and Silas were imprisoned that night. They had been severely beaten. Then they were placed in the inner dungeon, a maximum security cell. What did they see? Maybe nothing but the dense darkness. What did they hear? A drip of water. A rat scurrying across the floor. The moans and curses of other prisoners. What did they feel? The stocks about their ankles. The throbbing pain of their bloody backs. The coldness and dampness. What did they smell? The stench of human waste. The musty, stale air. Can you describe that scene? With just the right sensate language, you can help your audience experience that cell with Paul and Silas. They will never forget the Philippian jail because they have been there in their imagination. You may also describe how the two men felt at the time—angry, discouraged, tired, and so forth. But be careful in describing emotions not to overdo it. Just telling what they did in that dungeon will reveal their attitudes about the situation. Concrete language brings ideas and principles down to earth for clarity and understanding. Concrete means “those things which can be perceived by the senses as actual and particular.” The opposite is abstract, which means “conceptual, transcendent.” Abstract words identify qualities, ideas, and concepts, like love, honesty, wisdom, sincerity, authority, weakness. Concrete things, perceived by the senses, are like roast beef, apple pie, yeast rolls, all concrete expressions of the abstract idea nourishment. Sermons present abstract ideas in the sermon idea and division statements. As we have said, all sermon development involves particularizing these general ideas. One way to particularize is to use concrete language. You may talk for some time about love. But a few concrete examples of love will really bring it home to your audience: “She always could tell when he had a particularly hard day.” “He never forgot the anniversary of their first date.” “They listened patiently while he shouted at them angrily.” There are many levels along the way from abstract to concrete. Your aim is to recognize when you need to use abstract language and when concrete is needed. Good communication calls for both, used in the right balance and at the appropriate times. Similar to the abstract/concrete distinction in words is the general/specific difference. Notice the diagram below for some clarification. Specific language refers to individual members of a larger class of things. The opposite term, general, refers to all members of a class or group. There is some overlapping in our discussion of general and specific with abstract and concrete. To distinguish them, think of abstract and concrete as referring to the degree to which something can be perceived with the senses. Think of general and specific in terms of the degree of individuality of something. Weapon is general. Sword is more specific. Two-edged sword is even more specific. You can see that weapon is a large class of things, while two-edged sword is a specific, individual weapon. Use the most specific term you can in drawing pictures and telling stories. One word will call up an entire segment of the scene when it is a specific word. When Martha spoke to Jesus about Mary helping her with the chores, Luke says, “She rebuked him.” This is much more specific than “she spoke to him.” Speak is general, while whispered, yelled, rebuked, whined, or growled are all specific.

The goal in using concrete and specific language is to come “down to earth,” as the diagram indicates. To the left is the broad category of things, the general. To the right are the individual things, the specific. For words and phrases that speak to the imagination, move to the right. The upper line represents abstract ideas, the lower line concrete objects, actions, and such. Again, move down for more concrete language. So overall you want to move to the right and downward for more particular and vivid pictures.



Word Pictures Jesus Used Let's look at some of Jesus' analogies. As we do, think about how you would enlarge on his word picture to help your people see the idea in their minds. Also think of how you could plan similar analogies from your experience. Some of Jesus' word pictures are stories. Look at the list of major parables below. For now we will concentrate on the briefer analogies that do not tell a story. Jesus' word pictures came from the many different aspects of life the people knew. When you plan word pictures for your messages, think about these life experiences. Household affairs. Normal life around the home provided Jesus with many familiar word pictures: a lamp giving light (Matt. 6:22–23); sewing unshrunk cloth on an old garment (Matt. 9:16); new wine in old wineskins (Matt. 9:17); a strong man guarding his house (Matt. 12:26); pet dogs (Matt. 15:26–27); straining out a gnat (Matt. 23:24); hen and chicks (Matt. 23:37); the eye of a needle (Luke 18:25); sifting wheat (Luke 22:31). Eating and drinking. Everyone understands eating and drinking, so Jesus used this picture often: man shall not live by bread alone (Matt. 4:4); hungry and thirsty (Matt. 5:6); the children's food (Matt. 15:26); the leaven of bread (Matt. 16:6,11–12); drinking the cup (Matt. 20:22–23); taste (Mark 9:1); a drink of water (John 4:13–15); seasoning (Mark 9:46); food that perishes (John 6:27); bread of life (John 6:32–35); eating and drinking (John 6:52–59). Farming. Jesus used many word pictures from farming: gathering fruit (Matt. 7:16–20); abundant harvest (Matt. 9:37–38); a yoke for oxen (Matt. 11:29); trees and fruit (Matt. 12:33); lack of laborers for the harvest (Luke 10:2); one sows and another reaps (John 4:35–38); how a seed germinates (John 12:24); grapevine and branches (John 15:1–8). Shepherd and sheep. One of the richest and most familiar sources of word pictures was sheep and sheep herding: wolves in sheep's clothing (Matt. 7:6); the lost sheep of Israel (Matt. 10:6); sheep among wolves (Matt. 10:16); the sheepfold, doorkeeper, and shepherd (John 10:1); the sheep following the shepherd (John 10:4–5); voice of the shepherd (John 10:3,27); thief, hireling, and shepherd (John 10:10–14); feeding and tending sheep (John 21:15–17). Light and darkness. Men commonly experience light and darkness in the day and night. They could understand Jesus' use of this experience: the light in you (Matt. 6:23); light reveals what is in the darkness (Luke 12:2–3); light, walking in darkness (John 8:12); stumbling in the night (John 11:9– 10); make the most of daylight (John 12:35–36); a light, living in darkness (John 12:46). Natural world. God's creation provided a good source for Jesus' analogies: birds of the air (Matt. 6:26); flowers of the field (Matt. 6:28–29); grass of the field (Matt. 6:30); dogs and swine (Matt. 7:6); foxes and birds (Matt. 8:20); wise as serpents and harmless as doves (Matt. 10:16); sparrows (Matt. 10:29–31); a reed in the wilderness (Matt. 11:7); predicting weather (Matt. 16:2–3); serpents and vipers (Matt. 23:33); lightning flashing (Matt. 24:27); an eagle at a carcass (Matt. 24:28); the sun, moon, and stars (Matt. 24:29); clouds (Matt. 24:30); wind (John 3:8). The human body. We experience everything through our bodies. Jesus used this familiar source of analogies: an offending eye (Matt. 5:29); a hand causing sin (Matt. 5:30); a good or bad eye (Matt. 6:22–23); bodily stature (Matt. 6:27); a speck in the eye (Matt. 7:1–5); health and illness (Matt. 9:12); sight and blindness (Matt. 9:39–41); hairs of your head (Matt. 10:30); hand or foot (Matt. 18:8); dead men's bones (Matt. 23:27); body and blood (Matt. 26:26–28). Besides these aspects of life, Jesus used others as well. He used figurative speech about servants and masters (Matt. 6:24). He talked about family life (Matt. 7:9–10), children (Matt. 11:16–17), wedding customs (Matt. 9:15), military life (Matt. 10:34), politics (Matt. 12:25), robbers and thieves (Matt. 12:29), doors and keys (Matt. 16:19; Luke 13:24–25). It is difficult to separate these word pictures from the more elaborate parables Jesus told. In the following list look at those parables. They tell a story while the figures I have cited here are mostly passing analogies. Major Parables of Jesus Lamp under Basket—Matthew 5:14–16 Wise and Foolish Builders—Matthew 7:24–27 Sower—Matthew 13:3–9,18–22

Growing Seed—Mark 4:26–29 Watchful Servants—Mark 13:33–37 Moneylender—Luke 7:41–43

Wheat and Tares—Matthew 13:24–30,36–43 Mustard Seed—Matthew 13:31–32 Pearl of Great Price—Matthew 13:45–46 Dragnet—Matthew 13:47–50 Lost Sheep—Matthew 18:10–14 Unforgiving Servant—Matthew 18:21–25 Workers in the Vineyard—Matthew 20:1–16 Two Sons—Matthew 21:28–32 Wicked Vinedressers—Matthew 21:33–40 Wedding Feast—Matthew 22:2–14 Fig Tree—Matthew 24:32–33 Faithful and Evil Servants—Matthew 24:45–51 Wise and Foolish Virgins—Matthew 25:1–13 Talents—Matthew 25:14–30 Sheep and Goats—Matthew 25:31–46

Good Samaritan—Luke 10:30–37 Friend in Need—Luke 11:5–8 Rich Fool—Luke 12:16–31 Unfruitful Fig Tree—Luke 13:5–9 Lowest Seat—Luke 14:7–14 Great Banquet—Luke 14:16–24 Building Tower—Luke 14:27–30 King to War—Luke 14:31–33 Lost Coin—Luke 15:8–10 Lost Son—Luke 15:11–32 Shrewd Manager—Luke 16:1–8 Rich Man and Lazarus—Luke 16:19–31 Master and Servant—Luke 17:7–10 Persistent Widow—Luke 18:2–8 Pharisee and Tax Collector—Luke 18:10–14



Presenting Scenes and Stories There is tremendous communication power in scenes and stories. Plan to use them in your sermon not only in the retelling of biblical accounts but in contemporary illustrations as well. Before we work on the exercise of this skill, consider six guidelines for making the most effective use of word pictures and stories. Distinguish between the inner story and the outer story. In every word picture you draw and story you tell, two different realms are involved. The outer story or the outer scene is the objective events and circumstances in the situation. They include whatever action takes place, whatever dialogue is included. The inner story, on the other hand, is the interpretation and response taking place within the actors in the story. The inner story may include the purposes of God that are not apparent in the objective facts. Give most of your attention to the outer story. Only present the inner story as it is necessary to understand what is taking place. You may speculate about the inner responses in biblical accounts, but do so carefully. Report the scene or tell the story as if you are an eyewitness. This does not mean you refer to yourself. It means you tell what would be seen by any eyewitness. Remember, you are a reporter. Notice the details—names, places, times, events. Describe what you see. To do this, you will have to place yourself there in the situation. For contemporary scenes and stories, try to get the specifics down so you do not sound like your story is only rumor. The details will add greatly to your presentation. Do the research necessary for getting the information you need. Biblical narratives have historical settings that may not be familiar to you. Who are these people—Amalekites, Philistines, Moabites? What were their origins, culture, and religion? Find out. Where is this place, and what is the terrain like? Details like these will make your sermon alive with interest. As you tell contemporary stories, go to the trouble to find out the details. You cannot use concrete and specific language if you do not know the particulars. Keep your presentation simple in language. Clarity calls for simplicity. Avoid elaborate terminology. A sure sign of inexperience is the attempted use of impressive vocabulary. Do not try to be dramatic. Let the drama of the scene or story come through. Do not try to manipulate the response of the audience. There is emotional impact built into stories and word pictures. You need not try to create an emotional response. Avoid technical terms unless you explain them. Use people talk. Use language that particularizes the scene for the hearer. The use of language that particularizes will keep the scenes and stories interesting and vivid. This requires using figurative language with similes and metaphors. Descriptive language is needed with careful use of adjectives and adverbs. Use sensate language that can evoke experience of the scene. Use concrete language as opposed to abstract. Use specific language rather than general.

CHECKSHEET: Scenes and Stories I am distinguishing between the inner story and the outer story. I am reporting as an eyewitness to the events. I have carefully researched the setting for details I need. I have kept my presentation simple in language. I have used language that particularizes the scene. I am presenting the scenes and stories with flair. Present scenes and stories with enough flair to compel attention. Let me balance the call for simplicity above by urging you to put something into your presentation of scenes and stories. Do not let inhibitions keep you from telling the story or sketching the scene with some drama. Notice how parents tell stories to their children. They do not use a monotone voice and listless expression. A story or word picture calls for vitality and involvement in the presentation.

Completing the Exercise The exercise, Scenes and Stories, is designed to strengthen your skills in drawing pictures and telling stories. In order to practice this skill, we will analyze and retell a biblical story. The exercise form helps with your analysis and the planning of your presentation. Step 1. Read the biblical narrative or scene over several times, perhaps using several translations. Watch for details as you read. Discern the theological purpose. Step 2. Note the descriptive details of the scene and jot them down on the form. Look for figures, descriptions, sensate language, concrete and specific details. Relax, close your eyes, and walk through the scene in your imagination. Step 3. Look for the dynamics of the situation and note them as well. Here you are watching for characters, relationships, motives, changes, divine involvement, incongruities, and surprises. Step 4. Sketch the story by using the five phases: situation, stress, search, solution, and (new) situation. Jot down features of the story under each section. Step 5. Make notes for your presentation, filling in where the text account gives little or no information. Add descriptive details. Use the five phases to plan your presentation.

Study Questions 1. 2. 3. 4. 5.

Why does a scene or story seem magical in a sermon? Explain five qualities of language needed for scenes and stories. What phases do stories usually follow? Why is research necessary to scenes and stories? What are the outer story and the inner story?





Sermon Design Skill 10: Touching Human Experience Skill 11: Aiming for a Faith Response Skill 12: Planning the Oral Presentation

Section 4

Sermon Design When the Edsel came out in 1957, it was Ford's wonder car. I was a teenager when my dad and I went to see it. It left an impression on me to this day. It was strange—with a yawning grill and push-button transmission controls in the center of the steering wheel. We had not seen anything like it before. But the test of the Edsel was finally in the hands of the consumer. And they said, “No, thank you.” Instead of record sales as promised, the Edsel was canceled after the 1959 model. What looked good to the automobile professionals fell flat with the car-buying public. Ford brought out another new car a few years later. This one, designed under the supervision of Lee Iacocca, was called the Mustang. It was sporty and economical. What a different story this was from the failure of the Edsel. The design appealed to the target market, and it was an instant success. What was the difference between the two cars? One was an embarrassing failure and the other an overwhelming success. The difference was in the design. For a car, design refers to its concept, its shape, the feel of it to the driver, its power and responsiveness. Good design works. It connects, functionally and aesthetically, with the target audience, striking a chord of response. Poor design, on the other hand, does not have the same appeal. It does not fit the tastes, needs, or desires of those who must respond to it. Design in preaching is much the same as design in anything else, including cars. Design in this sense means the arrangement of parts, details, form, color, and such, especially so as to produce a complete and artistic unit. Design for sermons is a matter of arrangement. It has to do with how the various parts will be assembled, the order of details, the shape of the presentation, with its style and tone. This will include the selection of materials, balance in proportion, unity of thought throughout, and movement in the presentation order. Some sermons are designed well. They connect with the audience, appealing to the hearer both functionally (according to their intended purpose) and aesthetically (according to a sense of beauty). Poorly designed sermons do not have the same effect. No matter how good it may look to the preacher, sermon design will ultimately be judged by the audience. Poor design receives its still and silent assessment—boredom, indifference, resentment, even embarrassment. No matter how sincere and earnest the preacher is about his message, poor design will cripple his presentation.

Sermon design involves the selection and arrangement of the materials to be presented in the sermon. Sermon design must take into account the message of the text, the audience to be addressed, and the nature of oral communication.

Sermon design is not for the eye but for the ear. Significant differences in written communication and oral communication call for sermon design specifically geared to the hearer.

Sermon material must be arranged for a presentation in time instead of a portrayal in space. A sermon is a series of word groups used to convey the sermon idea a piece at a time. The order in which the pieces are presented is vital to the interest and understanding of the hearer. Effective sermon design must give serious attention to three points of reference. The first of these is the message of the biblical text. We have already discussed this at length. A second point of reference is the nature and needs of the audience. That will be addressed in our discussion of human experience in this section. The third reference point for good sermon design is the nature of oral communication. We will introduce the dynamics of oral communication and how to design your sermons for the ear of the hearer.

Understanding Design Design for anything man makes must involve four major factors. These aspects of design must be considered from the beginning stages of planning all the way to the final presentation of the product. So it is with the design for sermons. Let's examine these four factors as they affect sermon design. The first consideration in design is function. The question asked to determine function is, “What is it supposed to do?” Unless we are clear about what a thing is to be used for, how can we know how to design it? In the manufacture of automobiles, this question of purpose is not taken for granted, even after a hundred years of experience. What is it supposed to do? It is supposed to carry passengers from one place to another. This intended function guides every decision made in the planning and construction of the car. The question of function is the first one to be asked because nothing would be made without some reason to do so. The function factor for preaching addresses the issue of purpose. What is preaching for? What is this particular sermon supposed to accomplish? We take for granted that preaching is good for something. Defining what that “something” is addresses the issue of function. The overarching purpose for preaching is to declare the biblical truth in such a way as to communicate it effectively and thus contribute to a faith response in the hearer. The particular objective for each sermon depends on the text content and purpose, the audience and their needs, and the occasion or circumstances. The Bible offers a number of apparent preaching purposes. Paul writes, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16 NASB). He charges Timothy to “preach the word: … reprove, rebuke, exhort” (2 Tim. 4:2 NASB). Sermons are to be designed, then, for purposes such as teaching, reproof, correction, training, and exhortation. All of these purposes depend on effective communication. And all are to contribute to building faith in the hearer, for “whatever is not of faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). This leads us to the second factor in design, form. The question raised by the form issue is, “What shape should we make it?” This is, of course, the structure of the thing. The form of anything must follow its function. You don't know what shape to make it in unless you know what it is supposed to do. The shape of a shoe is determined by the function of it, to wear on the foot. No one would think of shaping a shoe in any form other than what is appropriate to a foot. So it is with a chair, or reading glasses, or a telephone. Though some creativity can go into the design, the basic form is limited to the demands of function. Form in preaching means the structure of the sermon, the outline, the organization. As we will see, oral communication structure is best conceived as the order of presentation for sermon material. What comes first, what is said next, how the ideas are related to one another—this arrangement of sermon ideas must be planned. Since the function is communication, the form should be shaped to communicate. The sermon cannot do what it is supposed to do unless it is made to fit that function. Design not only involves a consideration of function and form but also of the fabric to be used. In most cases the material used in making something is already available. Shoes are made of leather; cars of steel and other materials; furniture of wood and cloth, vinyl, or leather. Suitable materials for one thing might not be suitable for another. Materials are chosen to suit the function and the form. A car cannot be made of paper because its function and form won't allow that. Neither is my writing pad made of steel. It wouldn't do what it is supposed to do. The fabric of a sermon is the material it is made of—the ideas in the sermon and the words used to express them. That fabric must also serve the function and the form. The things you plan to say as sermon material will reveal what you think the sermon is supposed to do, its function. The arrangement of the sermon, its form, will also affect the choice of materials. Just as houses in different areas are made of different materials because of what is locally available, so a sermon begins with a given body of material, the biblical text. The word text comes from the Latin textus, meaning “woven or fabric,” from textere, “to weave.” The basic fabric of our sermons is to be the biblical text. The fourth factor to consider in designing anything is the finish. Auto manufacturers have had much to say in recent years about “fit and finish.” By fit they mean “the close tolerances with which the various parts of the car are assembled.” Finish has to do with “the final look and feel of the product—the color, the smoothness of the surface, the care given to detail.” The finish, along with the form, appeals to our aesthetic sense, our appreciation of and desire for beauty in the things around us. In preaching, finish primarily means “style.” This is your characteristic way of expressing yourself. It is the clarity, force, and beauty with which you present the sermon ideas. The overall impression left by the sermon in its appeal to the audience is affected by all the factors we are mentioning, but the finish you put on it can make the difference between a good sermon and a great sermon. As we plan the design of our sermons, it is important to take each of these factors into account. Remember that the factors are all interrelated. Function shapes the form by setting the purpose as the guiding principle. Form must also take the fabric, the available materials, into account. The biblical text is a given. The expository preacher does not make up his own message. So the shape of the sermon must reflect the shape of the text. The form of the sermon is also affected by the finish, the style of the preacher, and the creativity he brings to the communication task.

Design for Communication Sermon design, like the design of anything else, will follow the purpose of the designer. Without even realizing it, many preachers assume their purpose is to deal in an organized fashion with their sermon subject. So sermon structure usually follows the rhetorical patterns of an essay or speech—introduction, body, and conclusion. As preachers, our greater concern is communication. We want to make an impression in the thinking of the people. We want to have them understand and accept the principles that emerge in the sermon text. Communication is the functional aim of preaching. By functional aim I mean “the immediate practical goal of sermon delivery.” Communication means “making contact in the thinking of the hearer with the message preached.” Unless genuine communication takes

place, no other objectives can be met. It is easy for a preacher to think his aim is to present a sermon. That cannot be it. Presenting a sermon is a means to the goal of communication. But communication requires more than presentation. It requires that the message also be received and understood as intended.

Communication has been defined as the “sharing of meaning.” The Latin word is communicare, meaning “to share or impart.” It essentially means “to hold in common,” to have the same understanding or meaning.

The communicator aims to have his hearers hold his meaning in their minds with the precise understanding he intended. This is not just the sharing of information but the significance of that information for those involved.

If communication is our primary concern, let's not design our sermons solely around the treatment of a subject. Let's design them around the communication challenge of our audience. Let's deal with the subject not only in terms of the ideas we want to present but also in terms of the needs of the audience. These aims are not in conflict. The issue is focus. Is your sermon design subject oriented or hearer oriented? Is the arrangement of your material planned only for a well-rounded treatment of the subject or for a maximum communication contact with the hearer as well? Since God has chosen to use human agency to communicate his revelation to man, the preacher becomes a partner in that divine endeavor. He has a great responsibility to do all that is humanly possible to bridge the communication gap and present the message in the most effective manner. The Word of God is alive and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword, able to penetrate to the separating of soul and spirit, discerning the thoughts and intents of the heart (Heb. 4:12). The Spirit works to guide us into all truth (John 16:13). Paul described his communication strategy in these words: “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Cor. 9:22 NIV). We do well to begin with a realistic recognition of the communication gap we face in every preaching situation. The audience may not be eager for our message. They may not even be passive and neutral. Their minds are on other matters. They are distracted and preoccupied with their own personal concerns. Imagine that everyone in your audience has a remote control in his hand to change channels as he likes. You may be the religion channel, but he has plenty of other options in his own thinking. So he is surfing for something interesting to think about. And it may not be your sermon. The Word of God is too vital to the lives of the people for the preacher to give no attention to bridging that communication gap. Every sermon could well be a life-changing event. The audience is not likely to hear this message of truth anywhere else. It is an opportunity of unparalleled significance for the preacher. At no other time during a given week does a pastor have the man-hours of influence with the congregation as in a single sermon. That potential calls for careful and prayerful planning. You may want to respond to this problem as one preacher did. “Communication is a partnership,” he said. “Both preacher and people have a responsibility in this matter. I can try to have something worthwhile to say, but I cannot force them to listen. Are they not Christian? Are they not responsible for their own spiritual growth? If I set the table, should they not at least feed themselves?” This viewpoint may sound reasonable on its face, but it is really not helpful in accomplishing the preacher's aims. It is never wise to project a fifty-fifty partnership and then blame the other partner for failure in the effort. This is an especially doubtful strategy for a pastor or any other communicator. We all know that the burden of interest lies with the speaker in any communication situation. We must accept the greater responsibility and go as far as needed toward the audience in closing the communication gap. It could well be that our frustration as preachers lies mostly with our own uncertainty as to how to bridge that gap.

Inductive and Deductive Material Today's audience is said to be more visual in its learning style than previous generations. But there has been no generation since man was created for which imagination was not a key element in learning. Even though the prevalence of print media changed the way literate societies think, people still live their lives in the images of their particular world. Ralph Lewis has advocated “inductive” preaching as an answer to the dull, academic, and tedious traditional sermon.1 While making some good points about the need for inductive elements in preaching, Lewis paints a negative caricature of traditional preaching. He criticizes sermon points as propositions not interesting to the audience. He calls for inductive material that will appeal to the imagination. Two general characteristics distinguish between deductive and inductive elements in preaching. In the first place this difference involves the direction of movement in the presentation of the material. Deductive thinking begins with general truths and moves to specific expressions of those truths. Inductive thinking begins with specific experiences or examples and moves to general conclusions. Beyond the direction of movement in a sermon, the kind of material employed will indicate whether it is more inductive or deductive. All sermon material can be classified as generals or particulars.2 A general statement of truth like “Believers are to love their neighbors” is obviously different from a particular example of such a truth in action like the story of the good Samaritan. Deductive material makes theological assertions while inductive material involves particular experiences. As to the kind of material to use, Lewis calls for more concrete and specific development. Any sermon, whatever its direction of thought, will be dull and uninteresting if it does not use a good bit of down-to-earth life experience particulars. Lewis says inductive preaching like that of Jesus involves a lot of personal references, human need, parables, stories, narrative logic, common experiences, visual appeal, questions, dialogue, and so forth.3 There is no doubt that good preaching will use these “inductive” elements. But good preaching will also involve clearly stated biblical truths.



The imagination is only awakened by the particulars. There is a circuit breaker in the mind of every hearer that trips when he is presented with too much abstraction. The preacher can see it in the faces of his audience when their interest flags. The eyes seem to glaze over, and the face takes on a lifeless look. Sometimes they begin to fiddle with purses, look through a hymnal, or make to-do lists on the back of offering envelopes. When the preacher notices these signals, he can immediately respond with something to regain attention, something concrete and vivid, something personal and relevant. He can appeal to imagination.

Skills in this Section The skills in this section are for better designing the sermon to communicate the truths of the text and connect with the audience.

Skill 10 is Touching Human Experience. This skill is tracing from biblical truths discovered in the text to the relevance of those ideas for the experience of your hearers. Here we learn to think of our sermon design in terms of the reality of human nature. Skill 11 is Aiming for a Faith Response. This skill is planning every aspect of sermon design toward the overarching aim of a faith response in the hearer. We do this as we claim the credibility of God by presenting the message of the text from a God-centered perspective. Skill 12 is Planning the Oral Presentation. This skill is determining the selection and arrangement of sermon materials for the most effective communication of the message. We plan the presentation to reflect the message of the text, the nature of the audience, and the dynamics of oral communication.

Study Questions 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7.

What is meant by sermon design? What is the ultimate test of design for a consumer product? What four factors are taken into consideration in the design of any product? What is the basic fabric of the expository sermon? What is the basic meaning of “communication”? What is the overarching purpose of preaching? What is the functional aim of a sermon?

If I were asked what is the first thing in effective preaching, I should say sympathy; and what is the second thing, I should say sympathy; and what is the third thing, I should say sympathy.1



Sermon Design Skill 10: Touching Human Experience Skill 11: Aiming for a Faith Response Skill 12: Planning the Oral Presentation

Skill 10

Touching Human Experience Mrs. Lentsch was my fourth-grade teacher at Cheek Elementary. She was a rather thin, freckled lady with reddish hair. From my viewpoint as a nine-year-old, she was not a regular person. She was instead a member of that special and unique tribe called “teacher.” She could see behind her without turning around. I was never quite comfortable around her. She wrote notes on my report cards about “not living up to his potential” and things like that. She was completely absorbed with math and grammar and history and chalk and work sheets with smelly purple ink. To me she was always a mystery. I could not imagine her as a wife or mother or laughing out loud or having her hair messed up or going barefoot. My one-dimensional view of Mrs. Lentsch may have been partly her creation. She never spoke of herself and her family, never giving any indication she ever had a thought about anything outside the school. She couldn't have had a regular life; she just appeared in her classroom each morning in time for us to file in.

The Preacher's World Sometimes preachers seem to be a lot like Mrs. Lentsch. They are not regular people. They live in a mysterious world of study and prayer and old books and stained-glass windows. They don't have bad thoughts or lose their tempers or say anything colorful if they mash their fingers. Maybe they don't even mash their fingers. Of course people in the congregation know better. They see the pastor's family. They have occasions for social visits and idle conversation. They know better. But deep in their inner perceptions, there is yet that image of the pastor as an entirely different category of person. This is at least partly the pastor's fault. He can seem removed from the real life of his people because of his preoccupation with institutional and theological concerns. Pastors, as the primary preacher/teacher in the church, are interested, as no one else, in the ancient world of the Bible. They study about the Israelites, the Canaanites, the Jebusites, and other ancient peoples. They are also on close terms with Abraham and Moses and Daniel, as well as Peter and Paul. They use Bible terminology and seem to think everyone understands it. So pastors may well seem like nonregular persons because they are the only ones so interested in these theological concerns. The regular members of the church get the idea they should be more interested in these important subjects. The pastor seems to think so. But they have other issues on their minds. They are thinking about their own personal concerns—family finances, work, mortgage payments, health, children, marriage, leisure, and so forth. They are especially occupied with these personal concerns when problems arise. Occasionally the preacher will touch on a real-life concern of his hearers. When that happens, it is like a cool drink on a hot day. The hearer sits up, attentive to every word, alert and eager for help for his needs from the Word of God. All too often, however, it is a false hope. The apparently real and practical help soon dissolves into vague admonitions and spiritual generalities. The hearer relaxes his attention and sighs like a fisherman who thought he had a bite but found a slack line. So preachers seem to have one set of interests while the people in the pews are thinking about another set. When the time comes for a sermon, the pastor's ministerial interests inevitably push their way into his preaching, regardless of the text. And those in the congregation are meditating on their own personal concerns, regardless of the sermon subject. They are sitting in the same room with their interests in two different worlds. This section of our study is about planning sermon design. We begin with our understanding of the audience. The exercise we introduce here is Touching Human Experience. The skill we hope to strengthen is this: tracing from theological concepts in the text to the corresponding points of contact in human experience. Preaching is more effective if the personal lives of hearers are a key factor in the design of the sermon.

Experience Oriented Interpretation The human element is a vital factor for the entire work of sermon preparation. Without serious and insightful consideration of human experience, sermon preparation is little more than a sterile academic exercise. It is not only in the development of the sermon ideas that the human element should be taken into account. The human element must be brought to bear throughout the interpretive process as well. As we come to the biblical world and approach the sacred text, we do not come alone. We come as messengers, as priests, as representatives of our people. We come with their personal concerns on our hearts. We bring their needs with us—their hopes, their problems, their weaknesses. We do not come for ourselves but for them. Frank Pollard described going into the worship center on Saturdays as he was finishing his sermon. He would stand at the pulpit and thank God for the people and the privilege of preaching to them. He continued, “Then I go and sit in the pews. … I sat for a long time one Saturday morning in the place a fifteen-year-old occupies on Sunday mornings at the eleven o'clock service. It changed me. It changed the way I thought about young people. … It made me want to preach sermons to which the young man would listen and be benefited.”2 As you think of your audience, focus your attention on individuals. Look beyond the group to the one—that unique, priceless person with a story to tell, a story not yet finished. Remember that the group has no life except here in the worship where they are gathered. At the close of the meeting, they scatter as families and individuals. They do not experience this group life except in the meetings. And the real challenge of the Christian life is beyond the meetings, not in the gathered church but in the scattered church.

Think about how this text speaks directly to their experience. It is wisdom for that young father, encouragement for an elderly widow, direction for a confused youth, and hope for a struggling victim. It is a word of God to the Philippians, which became a word of God to all mankind and finally a word of God to us, to this particular group in this place at this time. We ask, “Why does anyone need to hear this message? What difference will it make?” As we search out the human element in sermon preparation, we experience at least three significant benefits: (1) We come to a deeper understanding of the truth of the text. (2) We come to a more sympathetic and understanding attitude toward the hearer. (3) We develop a more interesting and compelling presentation of the message. So when we, as preachers, reverently search the Scripture for its truth, we cannot but search with the experience of our hearers in mind. We focus on every detail of it, but in the back of our minds, we cannot forget those who need this remedy. We do not hear the text in a vacuum, not academically, not as a matter for scholarly fascination. In here somewhere is just the word someone needs. We must bring it to them.

Understanding the Human Element The human element, as a factor in preaching, is the life experience of those to whom we preach. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33 NIV). Man has the moral and spiritual freedom to live on the positive—or negative—side of any biblical principle. In most cases what one does in response to biblical truth will determine the results in his experience. On any given Sunday more than half the people in your audience are experiencing some stress from personal needs. They want to hear an answer from God on how to deal with those troubles. William D. Thompson began with humankind in his hermeneutical method. In describing the human element he writes: “What is the human need that forms the first element of the model we are constructing? In the Scripture, it is portrayed in a staggering variety of ways: as sin, as transgression of the law, as conscious choice to defy the living God; … as question, revealing our lack of information about the will and purposes of God; as ambivalence in moral dilemmas; as sickness of the soul; as participation in tragedy; as fallen from grace.”3

The human element refers to human experience as a factor in interpretation and sermon planning. The premise is that every biblical concept has a corresponding need in the life of man that calls for its application.

The human element is explicit in many texts and implicit in all. The gracious nature and activity of God is a constant in Scripture, as is the fallen nature of man: made in the image of God, corrupted by sin, and susceptible to the influence of the world.



The preacher can trace every biblical concept to its corresponding point of contact in the life of man not only for interpretation but for more effective communication of the biblical truths.

Bryan Chapell also interprets the human element in a rather negative way. He advocates looking for the “fallen-condition focus” in every text as a key to interpretation. His conviction is that every passage contains some aspect of man's fallenness and some aspect of God's remedy.4 Daniel Doriani borrows Chapell's “FCF” terminology and adds the “re-demptive-historical focus.” By this he means those aspects in a text of God's gracious, sovereign plan to redeem his people. He sees the FCF as more experiential and the RHF as a more theological perspective.5 His point is to combine the two to ensure that all our expositions look to Jesus.6 Human experience should be a key factor in understanding the text and designing the sermon. Human nature can be defined biblically in terms of three essential qualities: (1) made in the image of God; (2) corrupted by sin; and (3) susceptible to the influence of the world. The preacher is wise to take all three into account in planning his exposition.

The Image of God A biblical understanding of the essential nature of man is that we are made in the image of God. “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen. 1:27). Bible scholars and theologians have differed as to what the image of God means for human nature. For preaching, our interest in the meaning of the image of God comes from our desire to know our hearers at the level of their essential nature. Whatever God's image in man means as to qualities in human nature, we know that God is infinite and man is finite. The ways we reflect the nature of God can be but a limited shadow of the same quality in God's person. But we can never understand our own nature without an understanding of the nature of God. In the biblical view God created man to reflect his own image. So whoever God is in an infinite way, we are in a finite way. The image of God in man is damaged and corrupted by the fall into sin. However, it is still intact. All humankind reflects God to some degree. Redeemed mankind can reflect the nature of God to a striking degree. Consider some aspects of our human nature that reflect the nature of God. God, as the supreme being, made man with essential value. As a result we have an inherent desire

for self-worth. Everybody wants to be somebody; nobody wants to be nobody. God, as sovereign authority, made man with personal autonomy. As a result we have an inherent desire to control our own lives. When this personal autonomy is threatened, our natural response is anger. God, as divine love, made man a social creature. As a result we have an inherent desire for companionship and experience loneliness when that companionship is threatened. God, as divine purpose, made man with a sense of purpose. As a result we have an inherent desire for achievement and experience discouragement and frustration when our achievement is threatened. These essentially human desires—for self-worth, control, companionship, achievement—reflect God's own nature. The desires are positive expressions of his intention for us. They can drive us to strive for what is good. They can motivate us to change our foolish behavior. They can even move us to seek God. It is not the desires themselves that lead us to seek the world's satisfaction. It is the wrong expression of these desires. Think about other qualities of the infinite God that are reflected infinite man. These qualities and desires are natural to your hearers. As you preach expository sermons, your texts will address these various desires. When they do, you can appeal to your hearers by interpreting to them their own nature as made in God's image. You can emphasize the promise of God for every desire and spell out the principles of Scripture for pursuing that desire.

The Corrupted Nature Human nature not only reflects the image of God; it is also inherently affected by sin. In Adam and Eve all mankind was corrupted with a genetic predisposition toward self-centeredness and independence. Whereas God intended man to remain in fellowship with him and to function according to his purposes, humankind has “turned, every one, to his own way” (Isa. 53:6). In the fall mankind experienced a basic shift in the orientation of his thinking. He shifted from God-centeredness to selfcenteredness. The plan in the garden of Eden was for Adam and Eve to live in unbroken fellowship with God. All the finite qualities that reflected God's infinite character were to be exercised in harmony with God. But the corruption of sin caused the shift that refocused every human desire toward the satisfaction of self rather than pleasing God. This corruption does not mean that man is as bad as he can be but that every aspect of his nature is infected with sin. We may define sin as a Self-centered, Independent Nature. It is what Paul called “the flesh,” as he contrasted it with “the Spirit” as the alternative force within man. “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit” (Rom. 8:5). The human element in preaching will address this divided self, the “old man” versus “the new man” within the believer. As Paul did, we can urge our hearers to “put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and … put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:22–24). Pointing to the contrast between the carnal nature and the spiritual nature is a graphic way to show the relevance of biblical principles for life. Instead of associating the hearer with his sin and condemning both, the preacher can warn against the carnal nature and side with the believer against it. As Jesus did, we can accept the sinner, knowing he is guilty, but make no compromise with the sin itself. The stance of the preacher, as a shepherd of God's flock, must always be with the believer. The carnal nature is inherent in human nature, but it must be discussed as Paul did, as a force beyond myself. “For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good” (Rom. 7:19–21). This force is within but other than myself. It is like a disease I have that attacks my soul and takes me down to destruction. I must fight it, and I can. Paul offers the answer, “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16).

The Influence of the World The “world” is used in Scripture to mean the created order, the earth, all mankind, or the system of corrupt humanity set against the rule of God. We can tell which of these meanings is intended in a particular passage by the context. The use of the term I mean here is that system that opposes the kingdom of God. It is the darkness the believer is to confront with the light. It is the creation dominated by the forces of evil. The believer is made in the image of God and inherently corrupted by sin, but he is also susceptible to the influence of the world. The temptation is ever before us to seek the satisfaction of our desires from the world instead of from God. The world promises everything we want but never delivers. Every enticement is a trap to draw us away from the God-centered focus of the Christian life. James wrote that “each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed” (James 1:14). This outward enticement directly corresponds to the inner struggle of the divided self. If we had no appetite for the world's enticements, they would have no appeal for us. But the desires that are inherent to human nature, though not evil in themselves, can be corrupted by the promise of satisfaction apart from God. The human element in our preaching must address the empty promises and entrapment of the world's appeal. At every point we can draw the contrast with the promises of God and the fulfillment of all our desires by his grace. Whatever the text, notice the themes as they relate to the contrast between the adequacy of God's grace and the enticements of the world. Seeking satisfaction of our desires in the world automatically displaces our affection for God and trust in him. John wrote, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world —the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world” (1 John 2:15–16). The human element in expository preaching will address the challenge of the world's enticement. The preacher will be sympathetic but uncompromising in his warnings against the appeal of temptation. He will teach his congregation the biblical truth

concerning temptation and the false hope for fulfillment apart from the grace of God. He will arm them with wisdom as they deal with the world and all it offers.

Forms of the Human Element The human element is to be understood particularly with reference to the biblical ideas that address our needs. The biblical truth is to be embraced and applied by faith, with the assurance of a remedy in one's life by the grace of God. If the biblical truth is the solution, the human element is the problem. The preacher can approach his preaching from the human side and trace to answers in Scripture that can address these needs. Or he can find biblical principles in his text and trace them to the needs they address in human nature. The human element is to biblical truth what hunger is to food, what a headache is to aspirin, what fatigue is to rest. The human element can be seen in the hearer's assumptions, his symptoms, and the consequences in his life. The human element can take the form of assumptions in the mind of your hearer that run counter to the basic principles of Scripture. This thinking is rooted in the nature of fallen man. He naturally operates out of the default system of his thinking, which comes equipped with understandings in harmony with the self-centeredness of that nature. “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD” (Isa. 55:8 NIV). Your hearer may not even realize what the basic roots of his own thinking are. When a biblical idea is presented, he finds himself rejecting it as impractical, but he doesn't know why. When the preacher exposes the basic assumptions of fallen human nature, the hearer can look at them more objectively in comparison to the wisdom of Scripture. The human element can be seen as symptoms a person experiences that indicate a failure to live in harmony with the revelation of God. If we believe the truths of God's Word can make a difference in a person's experience, we must believe that difference will be observable. In fact we insist on it. An adult who puts his faith in Christ is a changed person, inside and out. Since that is so, we expect to see evidence in a person's life as to where he stands with those truths of biblical wisdom. God's wisdom makes a difference, and the difference shows. The negative symptoms can be experienced by unbelievers or by believers, anyone who is ignorant of or rejects biblical principles. Like a fever or a rash or headache in a patient, these symptoms of disease can be identified. As the pastor describes them to his hearers, he makes contact with their needs in a direct way. He has moved the sermon to the here and now, to the you and me. Those who identify with the symptoms will pay attention to the remedy. But both must be presented in real-world terms. The human element can also take the form of consequences in a person's experience. This differs from symptoms in that symptoms are particular aspects of one's suffering that indicate his disharmony with the truth of God. Consequences, on the other hand, are the results of wrong behavior and attitudes that naturally follow such an approach to life. Consequences include the effect on relationships, performance, responsibilities, and circumstances. The reasoning here is simple: wisdom (or lack of it) is reflected in one's assumptions about life; the application of that wisdom can be seen in the difference it makes in one's experience (peace or pain); then the changes will produce external results in our circumstances. Touch me at the point of my pain by describing my discouragement and weariness with life, and I am ready to hear about the grace of God. But don't get philosophical with me. Keep the remedy on the practical, believable level with the symptoms. Tell me what's causing my emotional and spiritual burnout and what I can do about it. What I need is a prescription I can manage, not a religious slogan I don't really understand. What I need is a vision of faith, seeing the reality of God at the point of my need.

From Theology to Experience Expository preaching usually begins with a biblical text and lets the text shape the sermon. The preacher intends to have the theological message of the text become the message of the sermon. Expository preaching by definition seeks to expose the intended meaning of the text for the contemporary audience. This is usually done by preaching through a Bible book in a series. As a result, expository preaching has been criticized as academic and out of touch with the needs of real people. An emphasis on human experience may seem to compromise expository preaching and undercut its adherence to the biblical text. But that is not necessarily the case. Granted, felt-need preaching has often seemed more concerned with feelings and needs than with answers from Scripture. Sometimes this kind of preaching mistakes a sympathetic analysis of the trouble as a solution. While sympathy is appreciated, biblical wisdom is what we want. The skill we are emphasizing in this chapter is tracing from theological concepts in the text to the corresponding points of contact in human experience. Notice the emphasis on “tracing.” We begin with theological concepts in a text. We study the words of the text writer to discover the theological ideas he is presenting that will become the truths the sermon presents. We find the one central idea of the text and word it as subject/modifier. We then find what the writer said about that central idea and identify these ideas as predicates. Tracing from theology to experience must be done throughout the interpretive process. We are thinking about the relevance of the biblical ideas from the beginning. We believe that Bible truth is always relevant to real life. But we also know that these truths can be preached in a sterile and academic way that masks their natural relevance. What God has revealed addresses human experience, but a preacher can miss that connection and thus miss his audience. Here are five suggestions as to how you can trace from theology to experience:

Clearly identify the theological ideas the text writer is addressing. Unless you are clear in your own mind and in your words, you cannot communicate the message of the text. Nor can you show its relevance to your audience. Think through the wider biblical teaching on the text idea. No text says all there is to say about its subject. Cross-references will fill in the broader scope of biblical theology. They will also help relate the idea to practical application. Ask why anyone needs to hear this message and write down as many answers as you can. The test of relevance is whether the

truths of your sermon “scratch where they itch.” If your only concern is the church life of your hearers, you will not make contact with their personal concerns. Think about the assumptions, symptoms, and consequences you might see in the lives of those who do not know or do not practice the truth of your message. Write a description of the person who most desperately needs this message. Use some imagination to describe an individual who will find the answer to the pressing questions of his life. Think of how he struggles. Imagine his mistaken thinking. Describe how his thinking and behavior affect every aspect of his life and of those around him. Plan specific instructions for the person who needs to apply your message to his life. Imagine a person leaving the service and asking, with pad and pen in hand, “Pastor, thank you for the sermon. But I am leaving now. Going home. Tomorrow going to work. Tell me specifically what to do to translate the Bible principles into practice. I am ready to write down what to do.”

Real-World Preaching Preaching to people where they live begins in the thinking of the preacher. We can shift our thoughts out of church-world thinking into real-world thinking. By virtue of our calling and our leadership position, we pastors are probably the only ones thinking all week about the church and its welfare. If we are to bridge the gap successfully between the biblical revelation and the contemporary audience, we must refocus our thinking toward the congregation and the world they live in. A beginning point for examining your thinking might be to look at your own concept of what is meant by “church.” Does that word mean only the gathered congregation, in the church building? Does it mean the organization with its committees, its officers and teachers, its budget and needs? Or does church mean the people, with their diversity, their own personal concerns, and their ministries? And what is the pastor's role in the church? Are we there to exploit their energies and resources for the benefit of the institution? Or are we to edify the people for the life and ministry they have in Christ? Is our goal to squeeze something out of them or build something into them? Another way to enhance your real-world preaching is to keep in touch with that real world. Not only can we pastors profit by keeping in touch with our own flocks, we are helped by a study of the nature of man. Jesus did not need anyone to interpret man to him because he already knew what was in the heart of man. The preacher also must become an interpreter of human nature, an expert on the real person in this contemporary age—reading best-sellers, keeping up with the news, understanding trends, just paying attention. Preaching to real people also calls for an attitude of compassion and understanding in the preacher. People will listen to your preaching when they know you respect them and really care about their needs. Sometimes preachers seem to be mostly critical and negative. Sometimes they seem to be impatient and disapproving. If we seem only to want to use the people for keeping the church running, we will not preach much to real people because they will tune us out. Compassion in preaching is not an end in itself. However a person might appreciate anyone who shares his pain, he still needs biblical insight for dealing with life in wisdom and faith. All of this may well come down to the need for the preacher to be a real person himself. Preaching is strengthened by honesty, openness, understanding, and even vulnerability. Though we pastors are shepherds, we are also sheep. The people want us to be shepherds; they expect us to have a role in the church no one else has. But they also need for us to be fellow pilgrims engaged in the journey just as they are. That dual role is a challenging one to play, but it is the only realistic and honest one.

Speaking to Needs We believe that a saving relationship with Jesus Christ is the remedy for our deepest needs. The preacher, as interpreter of Bible truth, must also interpret the experience of his hearers to them in light of biblical truth. Seeing the truth in theology may not be possible without seeing the truth in our own experience. When we speak of needs, the preacher may respond out of his normal tendency to address the weaknesses and failures in the lives of his parishioners. One of the most common phrases in preaching is “We need to …” The preacher sees needs as what needs to be done to be a better Christian. We need to live holier lives. We need to be more faithful in prayer. We need to be bolder witnesses. We need to study our Bibles. These common statements of need by preachers are not at all what we mean by addressing needs. It is actually the absence of what is needed that we want to notice, the point in human life where the hearer suffers because he does not have what God offers him. When need is addressed, do not do so in terms of obligation or religious duty. The problems people face do not have “religious” solutions. Salvation is not a “religious” solution. It is a grace remedy. It is a faith remedy. Religious duties will not be an adequate answer to man's need because they are an attempt to gain God's acceptance rather than receive his grace. The Christian life is not just a better quality of life than that of an unbeliever. It is not merely morally superior. It is a different kind of life, with an entirely new orientation, from self to Christ. All we receive from God comes through faith in him, not through religious obligations. Some of the needs people experience arise from circumstances entirely outside their control. A lab report comes back: it's cancer. A loved one dies. The plant is closing, and pink slips have been issued. A child is born with Down syndrome. How are we to make sense of what has happened? Where is God in these new circumstances? “I am really hurting, Preacher. I am heartbroken and angry and frustrated. Do you have anything to say to me from God?” The most trying needs of all are those that can't be fixed, those with no cause-effect pattern to them. And it is this kind of need that most tries one's faith. What are the resources of grace for this kind of suffering? On any given Sunday somebody in the congregation is experiencing this kind of trouble. The challenge to the preacher is to help his hearers interpret what is happening to them in the framework of faith, the basic worldview of Scripture. Only with such a faith interpretation can they deal with the trouble by the grace of God.

Completing the Exercise

Using the form at the end of this chapter, you can complete the Human Element exercise by following the directions step-by-step. Remember, the aim now is to strengthen your skill in tracing from theological concepts in the text to corresponding experience in contemporary hearers. Step 1. Identify the human element mentioned explicitly in the text. Remember, you are looking for the suffering, the trouble, the conflict that was being experienced by those associated with the original occasion of the text. Step 2. Identify the human element suggested implicitly in the text. This means it is not stated openly but only there by implication. Again you are dealing at this point with the human struggles of those originally involved, not today's readers. Step 3. Summarize the writer's message by using your text idea (subject/ modifier ) and the predicates treated in the text. Your purpose here is to state clearly the universal truths contained in the text as a beginning point for discovering corresponding points of contact in human experience. Step 4. Describe the experience of a person who needs to hear the message of the text by logically tracing from the solution to the problem. Describe his needs in terms of (1) his symptoms, (2) his assumptions, (3) the consequences of his approach, and (4) how he probably feels about his trouble. Use your imagination, but do not stray from the principles of the text. Step 5. Write, in concrete and descriptive terms, a profile of the person needing the message of the text. Think of one person. In fact you may think of someone you have actually known. Be imaginative. Describe this person so realistically that those who need your message will see themselves in your description.

Study Questions 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8.

What is meant by the “preacher's world”? What is the purpose of the Human Element exercise? What is experience-oriented interpretation? Define the human element. What three factors are essential to an understanding of human nature? What three forms does the human element take? What are three significant benefits from searching out the human element in sermon preparation? How can a preacher examine his own thinking so that he can pursue real-world preaching?





Deal much with the promises; … there is a rich perfume in every promise of God; take it, it is an alabaster box, break it by meditation, and the sweet scent of faith shall be shed abroad in your house.1



Sermon Design Skill 10: Touching Human Experience Skill 11: Aiming for a Faith Response Skill 12: Planning the Oral Presentation

Skill 11

Aiming for a Faith Response The frustration and discouragement were clear on his face and in his voice. We sat in the restaurant with our coffee between us discussing his ministry. “They're really not interested in the work of the church,” he said. “I have challenged them, encouraged them, tried to motivate them, and really preached hard at them. But they just don't care. They are not listening anymore. They haven't listened to me for some time now. I could see it coming. Now there is a real wall between us. I guess I don't care either. The Lord is obviously through with me there.” We talked quite a bit that day about preaching. My friend assured me he had done everything he could to “light a fire” under his apathetic congregation. His unspoken aim in the preaching was to get them moving in some fashion. And now it was obvious he had failed. “I've been told I'm a pretty good preacher,” he said. “If that's the case, why has five years of my preaching and leadership only alienated the congregation from me?” Within months he resigned.

Preaching and Purpose Why do we preach? That may be such an obvious question that it seldom is asked. We assume that preaching is a purposeful task, something God wants done by his servants. But if preaching is purposeful, we must clearly identify that purpose. If our preaching is to be as effective as it can be, we will have to relate each sermon and the whole preaching ministry to that purpose. Books on preaching sometimes suggest sermon objectives such as teaching, inspiration, devotion, evangelism, consecration, and such. These objectives indicate what the preacher wants to see take place in the hearer as a result of the sermon. Long-term aims for preaching are also of special concern to the pastor who hopes to see the people grow. We realize that no one sermon will get the job done and result in the growth we want to see. The failure of preaching results is often a serious source of frustration for the pastor. Those who study the problem tell us that most pastoral burnout is due largely to unfulfilled expectations. And there is little doubt that preachers have high expectation for their sermons. Preaching is close to the heart of their calling and their relationship with God. But zeal in the study is often squelched in the sanctuary. I confess that for many years my aim in preaching was to “tell it like it is.” I hoped to straighten out the people in the pews. If they would just do what I told them (from God, of course), we would all be happy and fruitful Christians; and the church would be a roaring success. While my goal was to straighten out God's people, their hope was to hear some word to meet their need, and God's purpose for my preaching was simply that the people trust him. I have since come to the conclusion that the fundamental objective of preaching is faith. That is the one response over all others we want to see in our hearers. Most of us, however, take such an idea for granted. While we may agree that faith is the desired response, we really do not plan our sermons for faith. We aim at other responses more likely to produce immediate and outward results. Or we aim at no particular response at all. Much preaching has as its aim to unload a sermon without making a fool of the preacher. In this chapter we are dealing with the practical biblical aim of preaching, to enhance faith in God at the particular point of the sermon subject. The exercise for this chapter is Aiming for a Faith Response. The skill for sermon preparation we hope to strengthen is this: conforming every aspect of sermon design to the aim of a faith response in the hearer. As we plan our sermons with this purpose in mind, our preaching will take on a different tone, will involve different content, and will receive a different response. Let's consider first whether it makes sense to plan all our preaching for one aim, namely faith.

God's Plan for Preaching Preaching is a part of the plan of God for giving his revelation to man. Look again at Romans 10:14, “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” In this series of questions, Paul makes clear that God's intention for preaching is that the people hear, believe, and call on the Lord.

The overarching aim of preaching is to call for faith in the hearer. Preaching for faith means planning every element of sermon design to achieve that aim.

Since biblical faith is objective, the focus of preaching must be the object of faith, the person of God. The preacher enhances faith by pointing his hearers to God, his character, his capabilities, his intentions, and his record.



Not only does the preacher plan his sermons for faith; he also examines his own philosophy of ministry and his understanding of the Christian life for the centrality of faith. Preaching for faith requires a foundation of faith in the preacher.

This same purpose is made clear as the writer of Hebrews describes the sweep of God's revelation: “In the past God spoke to our

forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb. 1:1–2 NIV). The writer later admonishes his readers not to fail in their proper response to the message as the Israelites did in the wilderness. “For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith” (4:2 NIV). The preaching goal was faith. It seems reasonable to press for change in the hearer, whether that change is born of faith or not. But, as is often the case, what seems reasonable is not biblical. If the preacher hopes for obedience, he must preach for faith. The concepts of faith and obedience are so inseparable in Scripture as to be two sides of one idea. There can be no authentic obedience without faith, just as there can be no authentic faith that does not result in obedience. To circumvent this biblical pattern and preach obedience without faith is to work against God's purposes. True conversion comes only through faith. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household” (Acts 16:31 NIV). The only acceptable relationship with God is by trust in him. “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). Faith is the basis for every aspect of the life of a believer. “The righteous will live by his faith” (Hab. 2:4 NIV). The measure of a Christian is not the measure of his virtue, his ministry, his moral life, his stewardship, or any of the other criteria we might cite. Though all these elements of character are important, the true measure of the Christian is his faith. Paul writes, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you” (Rom. 12:3 NIV). Every other desirable quality or work must flow from faith. How does one get such faith? It is a gift from God. And God's method of giving it is clear. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17 NASB). This is because the message God has for man concerns himself as he is revealed in Christ. That divine truth has an impact at the deepest level of man's spirit. “It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16 NASB). As one is confronted with the revelation of God's truth, the Spirit ignites faith in his heart so that he can respond to that truth. The Spirit is saying, “What you are hearing is true. You can believe it. You can trust that God exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” As preachers, we are to work in harmony with that ministry of the Spirit as he confirms God's message to the hearer. What a tremendous encouragement and relief this truth is to the preacher. I do not have to create changes and growth in the lives of my people. I am simply a messenger from God to present his truth to them—the truth about who he is and what he is doing in the world, the truth about his great love in Jesus Christ, the truth about a life of victory and grace. That is the truth that ignites faith, the truth that sets men free. It is vital, therefore, that we look carefully at our preaching aims. Every desired result in the lives of the people must spring from faith. Any other motivation—guilt, fear, pity, religious duty, dedication—is dead and carnal without faith. Paul even writes that “whatever is not from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). Even though human motives are always mixed, our response to God must be based finally on our trust in him as he makes himself known in Christ. Let me encourage you to look closely at every sermon you preach to see whether it is designed to evoke faith in the hearer. Look at your own intention in delivering the message for that same goal. I am confident that there is nothing God expects from his people that is not based on their faith in his adequacy. How do you preach for faith? A beginning point is calling attention to the One we trust.

Trust-God or Do-Better Preaching? What proportion of preaching do you think is do-better preaching and what proportion is trust-God preaching? I have repeatedly asked that question of preachers. By these terms I mean, of course, preaching that aims to get the congregation to “do better” in their moral behavior as opposed to preaching that aims to have the audience “trust God” more fully. Most preachers admit that 90 to 95 percent of preaching is aimed at getting the hearers to do better, while only 5 to 10 percent is aimed at enhancing their faith in God. This suggests that most preachers think the primary aim of preaching is moral reform. It is my conviction that appealing to the people week after week to “do better” really accomplishes little. They are accustomed to hearing this kind of preaching. It is not usually taken seriously. We all know that we need to do better. And heaven knows we would like to do better. That is not the problem. The problem is how we are to do it. This is where the challenge of preaching for faith has its great advantage. By preaching in the trust-God mode, the preacher will actually create an opportunity for the hearers to grow in their Christian lives. In fact, the only way they will really do better is to learn to trust God in their own personal concerns. So every sermon should address real-life experience in terms of the adequacy of God for every need. So much preaching is moralistic. Though evangelical preachers would reject works-righteousness theology, they often sound as though the key to a right relationship with God is moral reform. I have wondered whether the preacher who constantly focuses on the moral requirements of biblical law is not a legalist at heart. A young husband was about to purchase a medical insurance policy, but his wife said she did not feel right about it. She just did not trust the company. She insisted that he not buy that policy. How would you handle such a situation? On the one hand the concerned husband could criticize her for her doubts. He could accuse her of being obstinate and urge her to be more trusting. He could tell her that she really should appreciate all the time he put in studying this policy. This approach basically sees her opposition as an attitude problem. On the other hand, he could address her doubts by focusing on the credibility of the insurance company. He could, for instance, tell her something about the character of the company and its founders. He could show her a financial statement and tell her how much money the company has in reserves. He could go over the policy with her and explain what the company has promised to do in case of a medical need in the family. He could call a friend who already has a policy with the company and let him tell how pleased he is with their service. Which approach do you think is more likely to build confidence for the wife? That is easy enough to see. Turning his wife's

attention away from her own uncertainty to the object of her faith, the young husband was able to solve the problem. If he had badgered her about her attitude and insisted she do better, he would only have succeeded in creating conflict while leaving the real issue unresolved.

Claiming the Credibility of God It is the same with preaching. You will only build the faith that changes lives by pointing beyond the believer to the One to be believed. Faith is not created by calling for faith. It is not created by criticizing the faithless. It is not created by aiming for obedience. It is not created by aiming for guilt. It is only evoked by appealing to the credibility of the object of faith. The object of faith is God himself. He is the source of any and all resources for the living of the Christian life. “For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace” (Rom. 4:16 NASB). This principle prevails throughout the Bible. If anything is to be by grace, it must be by faith. If it is not by faith, it cannot be by grace. That leaves us with the clear choice of preaching for faith or pursuing a policy that actually leads our people out of the grace of God. If preaching is to aim for trust-God rather than do-better results, it must be planned for focusing attention on God and his credibility. This leads us to an examination of the credibility of God. We can claim his credibility in the same ways we cited in the insurance story. Claiming the credibility of God means preaching on the character of God. This kind of preaching is in the indicative mood, emphasizing the reality that is. God is faithful. He is love. He is our Shepherd, our Rock and Fortress. God never changes. He is the loving Father, the Gardener, and the King of heaven. All our faith is focused in who God is in his person. To preach the character of God is to claim his credibility. Claiming the credibility of God also involves preaching about his capabilities. What is God able to do? If he cannot act in the lives of believers, our faith will be misplaced. If, however, he is able to do all that is needed, he is worthy of our trust. God is omnipotent, all powerful. He is omniscient, all knowing. He is omnibenevolent, all good and gracious toward man. He is able to hear us when we call, in any language. He is able to see us in any need. He is able to speak to us for any instruction. God is able. Claiming the credibility of God calls for preaching about his intentions. Faith is awakened when we realize what God has promised us in Scripture. There are thousands of promises, for every need man can possibly experience. God intends us only good. Jeremiah wrote in 29:11, “‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope’” (NASB). This timeless statement is the believer's assurance of God's intention, even for today. Claiming the credibility of God involves preaching about his record. Any person worthy of trust establishes credibility with a positive track record. The Bible records the mighty deeds of God in behalf of his people. It was common in their sermons and psalms for the Hebrews to recount the wonderful works of God for Israel. They never tired of telling those stories over and over again. It was those very stories that gave the Jews courage in the midst of their troubles. So it is with preachers who would have our congregations grow in faith. We must preach God's record. Let me urge you to commit yourself to trust-God preaching instead of do-better preaching. To do this will require aiming for faith in every aspect of sermon design.

Sermon Design and Faith “They seem to listen, but do they really hear?” That question, spoken or not, plagues the mind of the preacher. Since “faith comes from hearing and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17 NASB), we preachers need to know how to “get a hearing.” We need to know how to plan sermon design in keeping with our aim to preach for faith. The word hearing does not mean a casual attention to what is said. The NIV translation for that verse is, “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” It means the receiving of the message rather than the sense of hearing. It is the “hearing of faith” mentioned in Galatians 3:2 and 5. When you think of the barriers that must be crossed before a new idea is received, it is a wonder we ever get a hearing. “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD” (Isa. 55:8 NIV). People do not naturally think in God's ideas. But we preachers aim to have them accept those ideas after a half-hour presentation. We hope for the level of hearing that receives the message, accepts it, assimilates it into present thinking and is moved to act on it. At this point the dynamics of revelation mingle with the workings of human communication. The sermon is more than just a religious speech. It is a powerful means of igniting the faith that transforms. The preacher can keep this faith aim in mind from the beginning of his text interpretation. He can plan the sermon idea and division statements for faith. Development, as well, can be planned for faith. Consider how the four persuasive elements work to remove barriers to faith. The Work of Development APPEAL

AIM

RESPONSE FAITH

Explanation

intellect

clarity

understand conceptualize

Illustration

imagination vividness

Argumentation reason

imagine

plausibility accept

visualize rationalize

Application volition practicality intend actualize Faith waits for new ideas to take root. To be really heard, a new idea first must be conceptualized. It must be presented clearly

enough that it can be understood. This is the role of explanation in sermon development. After stating a biblical principle as the division statement, we explain it so that the hearer could well respond, “I understand what you are talking about.” This does not mean that he accepts the idea yet. It merely means he basically understands it. This is necessary to the revelation that results in faith. New knowledge is required, new insights and principles based on the reality of God and his purpose. This new knowledge must be stated and explained in terms the hearer understands. This is the way revelation works. This is the way human nature works. This is the way faith is ignited. This is why our sermon concepts must be clearly and precisely worded. This is why our sermon development requires what we call explanation. In this element is carried the basic conceptualization that allows the message to be heard. Faith waits to see the unseen. A person is likely to ignore any idea that does not make an impression on his imagination. This is a second barrier to effective communication and faith. Memory experts have proved that the best way to memorize is to visualize an idea. The things we soon forget were probably never seen in the imagination. We are so accustomed to trusting our senses to tell us what is around us, we naturally feel that whatever we cannot see must not be real. Since the reality of the spiritual world is not accessible to the senses, our minds will accept its reality only if it can be imagined vividly enough. As the Bible writers have done, we must translate spiritual reality into earthly images that can be grasped by the mind of man. In a real sense, then, seeing is believing. Our faith calls for the truth to be visualized. So our preaching must not be abstract and general but concrete and specific, with word pictures that the mind can see. Faith waits for rational validation. The mind of man is already made up. This is a third barrier to revelation and faith. He has accumulated, over a lifetime, a store of knowledge, ideas, opinions, and conclusions that he accepts as valid. When you present new information in your preaching, he may not readily accept it. It must be made to fit in with what he already knows is true. Otherwise it doesn't make sense to him. The preacher does well, then, to know how his audience thinks. What are the generally accepted ideas? How do these ideas conflict with biblical truth? How can a case be made for the validity of the sermon truths in terms of the hearer's way of thinking? What points of common agreement can help bridge the gap? Faith waits on this rationalizing process. Even though there may continue to be some loose ends, the mind must be able to make a rational case for any belief it accepts. In sermon development we call this “argumentation.” The path to spiritual transformation is the “renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2). Enough input, piece by piece, must be tied to what the hearer already accepts in order to create a new rationale for the biblical view. Faith waits on specific directions. The mind of man does not welcome ideas with no practical meaning for life. This erects yet another barrier to our preaching for faith. When faced with the irrelevancies of abstract religious ideas, he may ask, “But what does that have to do with anything?” His own preoccupation with his personal concerns causes him to evaluate every new idea as to whether it can make a difference in his own life. Biblical faith cannot be indifferent and philosophical. It is a matter of life and relationship. Bible truth is not to be debated and discussed for amusement and intellectual stimulation. It calls for response from the hearer, for him to actualize it in his own experience. This requires of sermons what we have called “application.” James makes it emphatic. “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. … Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do” (James 2:17–18 NIV). The Bible makes clear that belief and behavior must match. Faith that never acts is not biblical faith. This requires, of course, that preaching present clear and specific actions. In summary, then, we can say that sermon development contributes to the building of faith by helping to overcome the natural barriers to new thinking in the mind of man. If the truths of the Word of God are to have their powerful effect in a person's life, they must be conceptualized, visualized, rationalized, and actualized.

The Language of Faith The language we use in our sermons reveals our view of the audience and our expectations for them. Beyond that, our language reveals our own interpretations of the Christian life. Often one sermon will tell more about our faith and attitude than we realize. The basic perspective of language can be indicative, imperative, or subjunctive. These three terms are used to designate mood in grammar. Most preaching is in the imperative mood. It is essentially designed to tell the audience what to do, to give commands and instructions. This is what we have called do-better preaching. This kind of preaching sees the congregation as falling short of the mark and the preacher's job as straightening them out. Common terms that mark imperative preaching are must, ought, and should. The most common expression of all in this approach may be “we need to …” The constant use of this phrase indicates the preacher is dissatisfied with the present performance of the congregation. The suggestion is, of course, that it is God who is really displeased. Week after week the people are barraged with “we need to …” statements, signaling their ongoing failure to live up to expectations. Thus the Christian life is presented as moral striving with little hope of meeting the standards. Some preaching is also in the subjunctive mood. In grammar the subjunctive mood is used for statements that are “contrary to fact.” This does not refer to lying. It refers rather to some condition that is not now a reality but is suggested or desired. Some examples: “If you and I would earnestly pray, we would see miracles.” “If we were a more caring congregation, we would reach out to this neighborhood.” “O that the power of God might fall!” Preaching in the subjunctive focuses on what might be rather than what is. The present realities of life are not addressed in practical terms. In one sense there is a skeptical idealism at work here that never quite comes to terms with the way things really are. A more thorough analysis of this kind of preaching is not possible in the space here. Suffice it to say, it concentrates on what is not now a reality. There is a place for imperative and subjunctive emphases in preaching. The commands and instructions throughout the Bible are to be obeyed. There is also hope for the time when God will set everything right according to his will. These perspectives should be taken seriously. But to interpret the Christian life only as commands or as deferred hopes is a failure to take the whole Bible into

account. The essential message of the Bible is that God is, that God can, that God will, and that God has already. These are indicative statements. You see in these statements of faith the four aspects of claiming the credibility of God: his character, his capabilities, his intentions, and his record. Any imperative or subjunctive emphasis must be used in the context of a basically indicative approach to preaching. Everything is based on the credibility of God. I am always a bit mystified that so much evangelical preaching is preoccupied with man. It seems to me that the Bible is about God. It is first theological, not anthropological. Rather than reflecting this emphasis on the nature of God, some preaching reflects a fascination with the sin of man. This may be coming from the discouragement of the preacher rather than the study of Scripture. Preachers are not immune to the tendency to take out their frustrations on the people rather than ministering to them. Without indicative preaching about God—his character, capabilities, intentions, and record—there is no reference point for the attitudes and behavior of man. Neither is there any hope for improvement. The goal of the Christian is not moral rectitude. The goal is to glorify God! Anyone can try to be morally decent. Only a Christian can produce the fruit that glorifies the Father (John 15:8).

A Case for “Can” If the essential message of Scripture is about God, the basic thrust of preaching should be indicative. In preaching the reality of the living God, we preach for faith. In claiming the credibility of God, we emphasize that he is, he can, he will, and he has already. These terms express the truth of his character, his capabilities, his intentions, and his record. What then shall we say to our hearers as we challenge them? How can the preacher overcome the habit of constantly saying we need to, we ought, we must, and we should? The best term to use for maintaining the indicative perspective while challenging your audience is can. To say, “You can,” is to call for a faith response to the credibility of God. Because of all we have said about God, you can. This does not diminish the truth that you are a new creature in Christ and that you will live eternally in Christ. But for right now, in the stress and struggle of life, the good news is, “You can.” Instead of telling the people what they ought to do, we go beyond ought to can. Whereas ought, must and should give obligation, can gives promise. “You ought to love your neighbor” becomes a new and exciting idea when it is “You can love your neighbor.” This change of emphasis seems subtle, but it has an amazing effect. It places the emphasis on faith, believing you can do something because of what God will do. This is much more dynamic and exciting than hearing that you have an obligation you cannot fulfill. Every ought in your sermon application can be translated into a can. But as you do this, you will find yourself immediately pressed by the question, How? Ought doesn't seem to raise that question like can does. And in answer to that question, you will be forced to offer steps of faith that allow your hearer to tap into the resources of God for his obedience. “You can love your neighbor.” “I can? Really? How can I do that? I mean, where do I start? Are there some secrets here I haven't seen? Why do you say with such confidence that I can do this?” Even in addressing the issue of sin, we use the language of faith. “You need to deal with your pride” becomes, “You can deal with your pride.” This change in emphasis drives the preacher to prepare an answer to the how he knows is coming. He will want to search the Scripture for answers to that question so he can tell his hearers how to overcome their pride. To say, “You need to,” lays a burden on the hearer. He does not want to receive it. He already has enough to think about. He is already burdened enough with the responsibilities of life. He would really like to get some relief. He would like to cast some of these burdens on the Lord. To say “You can” creates an entirely different response. If you are addressing an issue he is concerned about as a Christian, he is suddenly alert to what you have to say next. Instead of a burden, you have given him a promise. Instead of an obligation, you have presented a possibility. This possibility awakens faith for the specific issue you are raising. There are several different words for the idea of sin in the Bible. One means missing the mark. Another means breaking the law. Another means leaving the path. With the language of faith, we not only emphasize that our hearer can experience the forgiveness of God in Christ; we go further. We tell him he can hit the mark, keep the law, and walk the path in the grace of God. Saying can instead of need to also gives a different interpretation of the person himself. Instead of an implied condemnation, you are offering a vote of confidence. “You need to” always suggests that you are not now doing what you should do. “You can” suggests that you are fully capable of doing what you really want to do. You are a new creation in Christ! You live by the grace of God! That timid and fearful Christian just may be willing to give it a try. As he takes some little steps of faith, he will find his trust growing. He will find his faith stronger for the next command that becomes a possibility.

Completing the Exercise The exercise, Preaching for Faith, is designed to strengthen your skill at planning every aspect of sermon design in harmony with the overall aim of a faith response. Here are some steps for completing the exercise and for designing the sermon for a faith response. Step 1. Identify in the text the ideas about God that would claim his credibility. These may be directly presented or only implied, but each should have some clear basis in the text. Step 2. Trace from instructions, arguments, applications, or figures in the text to their foundation in the person of God. Always give the indicative basis for the imperative. Step 3. Test your sermon idea for its faith appeal. Is it expressed in indicative language? Does it give assurance? Is it essentially theological? Step 4. Check each division statement for its faith appeal and reword as needed.

Step 5. Examine development for balance in dealing with the barriers to faith in four areas: understanding, insight, reason, and intention.

Step 6. Analyze the introductory and concluding segments for their faith appeal.

Study Questions 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7.

Why is faith the overarching aim of all preaching? Why is “straightening them out” not a good aim for preaching? Explain claiming the credibility of God. What are the four areas emphasized in focusing on God as the object of faith? Explain conceptualization, visualization, rationalization, and actualization. Explain indicative, imperative, and subjunctive. In what ways does can affect the hearer differently from ought, must, or need to?





The point is that the forms necessary in organizing a manuscript, the visible design, may betray the preacher, may make him think his design is clear when to the listener it is thoroughly jumbled. The only design useful to the listener is a design he can grasp through his ears, an audible movement of thought.1



Sermon Design Skill 10: Touching Human Experience Skill 11: Aiming for a Faith Response Skill 12: Planning the Oral Presentation

Skill 12

Planning the Oral Presentation I was fascinated to examine a friend's framed sermon outline handwritten by Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Every detail was jotted down by one of the most famous preachers in Christian history. This was his plan for the sermon. It was the design he set in his mind to take to the pulpit. What a treasure! It is possible also to read a transcript of that sermon. Every time he preached, scribes in the auditorium recorded his sermon word for word. Spurgeon's sermons were printed every week in English language newspapers around the world. Then they were published in volumes still read by eager preachers today. We have the outline. We have the transcript. But we do not have the sermon. We do not even have audio or video recordings of those nineteenth-century sermons. Even with that recording, we would not have the sermon. A sermon only exists when it is preached. By definition, a sermon is an oral presentation. That means it is spoken. Though we refer to outlines and transcripts or manuscripts as “sermons,” technically they are not sermons. An outline is the plan for a sermon. A manuscript is the script for a sermon. A transcript is the report of a sermon. But only an oral presentation in the moment is a sermon. Even though we can read Spurgeon's sermons today, someone in his audience would say, “Oh, but you should have been there to hear him!” In this chapter we are addressing the task of planning the oral presentation of your sermon. This is not a discussion about outlining or sermon structure, though design includes those features. Planning your presentation involves the whole arrangement of the sermon material. The exercise is Planning the Oral Presentation. The skill we hope to strengthen is this: determining the selection and arrangement of sermon materials for the most effective oral presentation.

Understanding Oral Communication Oral communication is presenting a spoken message for aural reception. Oral simply means “by mouth.” Aural has to do with hearing. Oral communication, then, is speaking by mouth to be received by ear. Sermons are oral communication. A sermon is an oral presentation of theological truths to a particular audience at a particular time. The sermon does not come into existence until it is preached. It is only finished when the final word is said. Sermon preparation, however, normally involves writing. We record our ideas in writing, even though they will be presented in speech. We go over our written thoughts visually even though they will be received aurally. This normal process can be a hazard to effective oral design. We may have a sermon design that looks good to the eye but will not work for the ear. We must plan the sermon for hearing if the design is to be effective. Written communication can be designed differently from oral communication in several ways. Take this book as an example. I have used bold print, italics, large chapter titles, boxes of auxiliary material, footnotes, summaries, study questions, exercise forms, sample sermons, and so on. How could I do all that in a lecture? When you preach, your audience has no perception of titles, paragraphs, italics or bold print, reference material, punctuation marks, boxes, or any such features of visual design. All they have to go on is the sounds you make and the body movements you associate with them. Your sermon comes at them as a string of word groups that start at a particular time and stop at a particular time. Everything you communicate must be done with those words and any physical movements, gestures, or facial expressions you use to enhance them. A sermon is not like a painting. A painting stands before you as a completed presentation. In a single instant you see the whole— the color, the style, the relationship of the parts. As visual design, it is complete and static. A sermon, on the other hand, is like music heard note by note, chord by chord. It is experienced a tone at a time and only makes sense as the hearer assembles the whole in his mind.2 The preacher, like a musician, an actor, or a storyteller, parcels his material out a phrase at a time. His hearer cannot go back and replay something he missed. He cannot look up a word he doesn't understand. He cannot skip ahead to see where the presentation is going. He does not see the total picture in the preacher's mind. He must allow it to develop in his own thoughts as he receives it moment by moment. The challenge of sermon design must be addressed from the point of view of the audience, not the preacher. Since the hearers receive the sermon as a flow of ideas in time, they must assemble it in their own minds. Like a puzzle received a piece at a time, they put it together, watching it take shape until the last piece is received. They are dependent on their memories for the record of all they have already heard at any point in the sermon. If we design our sermons with this in mind, we will carefully plan the order in which we give the pieces to the audience. If they have to wonder where each piece “fits in,” they will not be able to assemble the message properly. So design for oral communication is basically selecting your material and arranging the sequence in which it is to be presented. You will begin at a particular moment and finish at a particular moment. You may want to think of your sermon as a series of brief segments that must be lined up in just the right order for the hearer to put the idea together in their minds. The order in which you present these segments will make all the difference in the effectiveness of the communication. Whatever your outline looks like, you are still not able to give your audience more than one phrase at a time.

The Motivated Sequence Outline Every preacher needs an understanding of the preaching situation from the viewpoint of the audience. It is not the sermon material alone that occupies the mind of the preacher. We are also aware of the attitudes, personal concerns, spiritual alertness, and other

qualities of our hearers. So we arrange the presentation in such an order and use such material as will meet them where they are. The preacher who is determined to engage the audience fully will carefully plan the sermon design. Rhetorical Outline Motivated Sequence Introduction

Attention Need

Body

Satisfaction

Conclusion

Visualization Action

Part of the problem may be in our attitude as preachers. Unless we are willing to accept the whole burden of communication, we are not likely to present a sermon prepared from the congregation's viewpoint. It is always a challenge to move beyond our normal subjectivity and get into the mental framework of another person or group. It takes intention, imagination, and hard work. Let me suggest that you consider Alan Monroe's motivated sequence outline. Dr. Monroe was a speech teacher who understood how to gain the hearer's attention and keep his interest throughout a speech. He defined the motivated sequence as “the sequence of ideas which, by following the normal process of human thinking, motivates the audience to respond to the speaker's purpose.”3 I am suggesting this format as a way to enhance the more common sermon structure, as an overlay for your usual outline. Use the motivated sequence outline to check the communication value of your plan for presenting the sermon. The motivated sequence outline involves a series of five steps designed to bring the hearer along on the basis of his interests. The first step in the motivated sequence is attention. The preacher must not assume as he steps to the pulpit that his audience is alert and eager to hear what he has to say. As we have noted, they are probably preoccupied with their own personal concerns, tired, bored, and suspicious that the preacher is about to make it worse. Those of us who have preached know this well. We have seen their faces. We have seen that vacant stare, that absent expression. We have known that they were definitely not with us. And we have felt the frustration and discouragement. From the first words of the presentation, the preacher aims to arrest the attention of the audience to his sermon idea. This can be done by the use of a natural analogy as an illustration. There are other ways to get attention as well. Remember that the key here is the order of your material. In your sermon design your first segment should be something to get the attention of the audience to the subject. If you are thinking of introduction, body, and conclusion, the attention step is the first thing in your introduction. The second step in the motivated sequence is need. Getting attention is just a start. Now you move on to awaken the interest of the audience in your subject. They are interested in whatever touches their own personal concerns. So the preacher must show how his subject is relevant to the life of the hearer. This step is called the need step because the best way to arouse interest is to discuss some need in the hearer that you might help to meet. There is nothing any of us is more interested in than our own personal concerns. The third step in the motivated sequence outline is satisfaction. This phase of the presentation moves into the body of the sermon material. It has been called satisfaction because the sermon idea satisfies the need as the believer puts that truth to work in his life. Notice that we do not begin with the answer, the satisfaction of the need. We begin with getting attention. We do not even present the answer as the second part of the presentation. We demonstrate the need in human life that calls for the answer. Only then do we come to the satisfaction step and present the substance of the sermon idea in its exposition of the text. In this sequence the hearer is with you step-by-step because you have begun where he is in his normal thinking. The next step in the motivated sequence is visualization. The purpose of this section is to appeal to the imagination with a picture of the hearer ap-plying the truth of the sermon. This step answers the question, “How would this work in real life?” It is a graphic description of the listener actually living out the main principle of the sermon. The preacher is saying, “Imagine with me what it will be like when you put this faith principle to work in your own life.” The preacher can also use a natural analogy that appeals to the imagination of the hearer without putting him in the picture. Either way, the point is to illustrate and apply the key idea graphically. The final step in the motivated sequence outline is action. The purpose in this step is to describe specific and concrete steps of action the hearer might take as he puts the faith principle of the sermon to work. It is here that the preacher aims to give the audience real handles on the concept of the sermon. You could use a practical summary of applications you have made with your divisions. Or you can suggest two or three specific ways to respond in faith to the message. Most sermons fail at this point, leaving the audience with much about what they should do and little about how. Planning for communication is a complex and challenging task. The key may well be to think from the pew side. We preachers are so occupied with our sermon material and how to get it said that we are often oblivious to the preaching experience from the vantage point of the audience. As we have said before, a good exercise would be to imagine yourself in the pew and see what that viewpoint might suggest about your preaching.

Selecting the Best Material The two basic tasks you face for planning your sermon presentation are the selection and arrangement of your material. If you edit your available material well but do not plan the sequence of segments, you may still have a muddled presentation. On the other hand, good arrangement of material may have little effect if you do not carefully select what you want to say and what you must leave out. If you have done all the work called for in this expository preaching method, you will have much more material than you can use in your sermon. Some of your notes will be informative for you but not helpful for the audience. Word studies and historical/cultural background material may help, but much of it may be too complicated. You do not want the sermon to turn into a lecture on the history and language of your text.



As you have explored natural analogies, you have come up with much more illustrative material than you need. Instead of trying to use it all, you must carefully choose only the analogies and examples that will work for the sermon. You may also have in your notes material for argumentation and application that is more than you need. How do you decide which material to use in the sermon and which to leave in your study notes? Here are five guidelines for making those editorial choices. Select from your notes the material that best presents the message of the text. As you work on your sermon, you will think of various ways to talk about your subject. It is not uncommon for preachers to take their subject well beyond the text, even to the point of straying from it. One principle for selection is to stay close to the text. Choose the material that best exposes the text meaning. Select the material that best appeals to the particular audience. In choosing what is to go in the sermon, you will keep your audience in mind. Their mix of backgrounds, ages, interests, experience, and needs call for careful selection of what goes into your sermon. Pastors come to know their people well and can adapt to their needs week by week. Itinerate preachers may want to ask about the audience so they can prepare appropriately. Select material for your sermon that suits the occasion. Sometimes a sermon is being planned for a special situation and calls for particular choices of material. Different services during a normal week may call for a different mix of material for a pastor's sermon. Some sermons may contain more exegetical material. Others may be overbalanced toward illustration and application, depending on the occasion. Select sermon material appropriate for the time available. A common mistake in planning sermon design is including too much material. I have talked with many student preachers who try to squeeze an hour's worth of preaching into thirty minutes. There will be occasions when the preacher will have to adjust to a shorter time than he had planned. If we plan well and preach a sermon without notes or manuscript, we can adjust to the shorter time and still present the sermon well. Select the material for your sermon that will best serve the purpose of the sermon. We have just emphasized that the overarching purpose of every sermon should be to call for faith on the part of the hearer. In the Immediate Observations exercise of chapter 2, you were asked to write out a purpose statement for the sermon. That statement describes what you hope to see accomplished in the thinking, attitudes, and behavior of the hearer. Once this sermon purpose is clear, it can help guide in the selection of sermon material.

Effective Use of Media The growing use of visual media for sermon presentation has changed the sermon significantly for many preachers. Using visual media is not new. Preachers have used “chalk talks” in which they would draw a chalk picture to illustrate the sermon while they preached it. Others have used “object lessons” in which they would bring something to the pulpit to use as analogy for the truth of the sermon. Dramatic skits and live scenes have been used as well to give a visual representation of the sermon thought. Then the use of overhead projectors to show diagrams, outlines, and quotations on the screen added a new dimension to the sermon in the last half of the twentieth century. The majority of preachers did not use these visual aids for their sermons. But today the use of visual media is growing rapidly. The difference in this generation is the technology. Now the preacher can show video clips of motion pictures, use programs like PowerPoint©, and other computer-driven audiovisual media. Here are some guidelines for effective use of audiovisual media with sermons. Use visual media sparingly. One of the common mistakes of preachers in the use of visual media is trying to put too much on the screen. Some preachers use too many slides without a break or allowing one slide to remain in place until the audience looks back to the preacher. Others try to put too much on each slide. It is best to keep the visual presentation simple with fewer slides and less on each one. Plan a careful balance between visual media and oral presentation. Keep in mind that the power of oral communication is a key element in preaching. Make sure your use of visuals does not call attention away from you as the speaker. Your facial expression, tone of voice and vocal variables, your gestures and movement communicate along with what you are saying. They communicate your attitude toward the ideas and their significance. Plan your visual media presentation carefully and rehearse it. Remember Murphy's Law, “If anything can go wrong, it will.” This is especially true of electronic equipment. Make sure you are not surprised by slides being out of order, video clips having poor sound, or some other “technical difficulty” that causes the sermon to stall. It is best to use others to prepare the media presentations. You will find in many churches that some staff persons or lay members will be better at this than you are. Let them help. Avoid the use of media for their own effect. The purpose of audiovisual media with a sermon is to enhance the sermon itself. Some media techies will be so enthralled with the possibilities, however, that the medium becomes a show in itself and overwhelms the sermon. In some churches the media equipment allows you to do almost anything you can imagine. But do not let media capabilities trump the purpose of your sermon, to communicate the biblical truth effectively and call for a faith response. Do not allow the equipment to clutter up the worship center. Some worship centers seem more like arenas for rock concerts. The sound systems, lights, and projection equipment are too obvious and distracting. Many churches have installed such equipment so that the auditorium is worshipful and pleasing to the eye. The basic aim is to avoid having the equipment call attention to itself while making it serviceable for worship.

Warning about Visual Media Homileticians and preachers alike see multimedia presentations as the future of preaching. Some claim that the attention span of today's audience is much shorter than that of previous generations. Television has conditioned viewers to fast-moving images and continuous action. Video games, Internet communication, and digital phones with continually upgraded features have made preaching seem slow and antiquated. So the call is for preaching to come of age and make good use of the media available.



Preaching in its essence, however, has always been oral communication, one person declaring to others a word from God. The church will profit from the use of high-tech media for education. Some preachers will make use of audiovisual media in their sermons as well. Twenty-first-century preachers would do well, however, to consider the power of simple oral communication before forsaking it for audiovisual aids. Do not think that weak preaching will be remedied by the use of audiovisual media. Consider three key factors in oral communication that media may even hinder. Personality in Delivery. Though some of the perceived weaknesses of preaching today may be elsewhere, serious attention should be given to the issue of sermon delivery. It is an exhilarating experience for the preacher when his audience is fully connected with him and his message. They look at him intently. They hang on his every word. They are one with him in the communication process—fully engaged, attentive, and alert. Effective delivery style for this generation can be called conversational. This does not mean chatty or of little importance. It rather has to do with the communication emphasis of conversation. Conversational style is dialogical. It is a two-way flow of communication as the preacher pays as close attention to his audience as he hopes they will to him. The use of visual media in the sermon tends to minimize the personality of the preacher as a factor for persuasion in the sermon. The nonverbal signals that communicate attitudes and convictions are obscured. The incarnational element is largely lost. Instead of a life-to-life communication, the sermon tends to become a presentation of information and the preacher a servant of the media. Addressing Audience Experience. Every preaching text has theological truths that are applicable to the life experience of the audience. Making those applications believable and faith building is the challenge the preacher faces. The listlessness and apathy in many congregations may well be due to the irrelevancy of the sermon material. Every person comes to church with a lot on his mind. As we might expect, each one is fully preoccupied with his own personal concerns: family, work, future, health, marriage, children, bills, recreation, and so on. These are the matters he has on his mind as he faces the preacher on Sunday. The man in the pew has a different set of concerns from the pastor. This puts the pastor and his preaching outside his circle of personal concerns. As he listens to the sermon, he hears the same appeal for church faithfulness, witnessing, tithing, and the like. It is easy to see why his mind wanders. He has enough to think about without taking on the preacher's concerns as well. Using audiovisual media in the sermon will not compensate for ideas that do not connect for the hearer. Low-tech preaching can have a high impact when the message addresses the needs of the audience Appealing to Imagination. The use of visual media in sermons is often aimed at appealing to the imagination of the hearer. But a stronger appeal to imagination comes with a vividly described scene than with a photograph or painting presented in all its particulars and leaving nothing to the imagination. Oral speech has a tremendous potential for creating a motion picture in the minds of the audience. But the preacher will have to work on the use of particular language over general if he is to turn on that mental video and awaken the imagination of his hearers. The key to imaginative impact is to frame the old story in new terms. The preacher can try to see, hear, touch, and smell the biblical stories and the contemporary illustrations. He can avoid overuse of generalities in favor of a good portion of particulars. He can use language that is concrete, specific, figurative, descriptive, and sensate. Instead of enhancing the appeal to imagination, audiovisual media may distract from it because the projection screen doesn't have the power of the mental screen. Homiletical traditions will continue to be challenged as new media emerge and new ideas about communication are promoted. Before the preacher gives up on the sermon as simple oral communication, however, let him consider how to enhance his delivery, honor the incarnational nature of preaching, address the audience in their own experience, use an extemporaneous method of presentation, and appeal to the imagination. Whatever he decides to do, his aim should always be the most effective communication of the revelation of God to his generation.

Planning Oral Design Let me suggest some of the principles you can follow as guidelines for planning the design of your sermons. If you will keep these suggestions in mind, your design will come closer to the goal of making real communication contact. Design a dynamic format rather than a static one. Dynamic means forceful, alive, moving. Static means set, complete, still. Plan your sermon design to be moving and alive as you interact with your audience. Do not plan everything you will say down to the last word and then present what was already complete in the study. Remember that a sermon is an oral presentation that does not come into existence until it is preached. Keep your outline clear and simple. Writing your sermon idea and division statements for the ear will make a difference in the way you word them. Make sure your main ideas are clear in concept and wording. What you write may look good on paper. But read these statements aloud. How do they sound? Are they immediately understandable? Is there a rhythm and symmetry to their wording? Do they roll off the tongue without a stutter? Oral design should be oriented to time rather than space. The amount of weight you give to a particular section will depend on the time you spend with it. To state your bridging sentences, and read your text and your division statements will take only two or three minutes. The rest of a half-hour sermon is support material or development. Written notes may be misleading when you jot down only a word or two to indicate a long illustration, argument, or application. Take care to orient your design to time rather than space, planning carefully but remaining flexible. Emphasize main ideas by placement and reiteration. Remember that the audience can tell a statement is a main idea only by how you say it. They don't see the bold print or underlining. Place your division statements in prominent positions, first and last in a section. What you say first and last is remembered. As you repeat your division statements in the same words, the hearer will grasp their significance. Also announce and number them, using your key word. Use carefully worded transitions as you move through the presentation. If you begin with a natural analogy, make the point clear as it relates to your sermon idea. This will smooth the way to your next segment. Plan a transition from the need element into the

introduction of the text. Use the bridging sentences and let the transition sentence with the key word usher your audience into the divisions. Wrap up each division with a restatement of previous points and an introduction of the next one. Think of transitions like a handoff in football. If they are not done well, you will probably drop the ball. Plan carefully for a combination of inductive and deductive movement. Remember that inductive thinking begins with particulars. Start the sermon inductively by talking about something familiar to the audience that parallels your subject and gets their attention. From there you will move toward the main idea of the sermon. The movement is the key—from particular to general. Use deductive movement when you give the division statement and then move to particulars of development.

CHECKSHEET: Oral Design I have planned a dynamic rather than a static format. I have kept my outline simple in wording and concept. I have oriented my design to time rather than space. I have emphasized main ideas by placement and reiteration. I have planned careful transitions at shift points. I have used appropriate inductive and deductive movement. I have used language for the ear, not the eye. I have carefully planned the introductory segments. I have carefully planned the concluding segments. I have planned the whole design from the audience's view. Use language best suited to the ear, not the eye. Choose words that may be easily understood in passing. You only get one opportunity to say something. Even though you repeat main ideas, keep them simple and direct. Avoid vocabulary beyond the audience's understanding. Use “people talk” but not poor grammar or pronunciation. Do not assume people know what historical references or even biblical references mean. Explain them. Do not use technical theological terms without defining them. Use language for the ear. Plan the introductory segments carefully. What we call the sermon introduction is as important as anything you do to communicate effectively. Unfortunately, most preachers just stand up and wander into their subject. There are five purposes of the introduction: (1) arrest the attention of the hearer; (2) awaken interest in your subject; (3) introduce your subject; (4) introduce the text; and (5) make a smooth transition into the body of the sermon. Each of these aims calls for careful planning. The introduction is so important because it is the beginning. If you do not get off to a good start with real communication contact, you may never achieve it. Plan the closing segments of the design carefully. What we usually call the conclusion is as important as the introduction. In the motivated sequence outline, the conclusion will include the visualization and action steps. This is development that returns to your sermon idea. For the visualization step use illustration and application to picture the experience of the sermon idea for the hearer. The action step calls for the specific changes that are needed to apply the sermon idea. This step leads into a time of prayer, reflection, or invitation to allow the hearer to respond to the message. Plan the whole design from the audience's point of view. Try to get beyond the narrow focus on your expository material and how to organize it. Think of the audience. Who will be there? How do they think? What do they understand? What do they need to know? If you do not communicate your material effectively, it is of no value to your hearer.

Completing the Exercise The exercise for this chapter is The Oral Presentation. The purpose is to arrange the order of your presentation for the most effective communication. Step 1. Survey the two-page exercise form. Notice that it provides a format for your sermon design in segments. It is a time arrangement to indicate the order of your presentation. Step 2. Insert your bridging sentences and division statements in the proper places in the design. Write them out word for word.

Step 3. Place words or phrases as needed to indicate your developmental material for each division. Plan for a balance of the four kinds of development. Step 4. Complete the development for the introduction (the attention and need steps) and for the conclusion (visualization and action steps). Step 5. Go over the sermon design check sheet to determine whether your design honors these principles.

Step 6. Estimate the time allotted to each section in the design and make adjustments as needed to keep the proportion you want.



Study Questions 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.

Explain: “Sermon design is not for the eye, but for the ear.” What skill is the sermon design exercise aimed to strengthen? How does design for oral communication differ from that for written? Describe the five steps in the motivated sequence outline. What guidelines are suggested for the effective use of visual media in preaching? What are the introduction and conclusion to accomplish?







Marshall thy notions into a handsome method. … One will carry twice more weight packed up in bundles, than when it lies flapping and hanging about his shoulders.



Conclusion

Planning for Better Preaching

The owner of a chain of restaurants was speaking on human nature and better administrative methods. To illustrate his point, he told how it is necessary to place pictures of the menu dishes on the wall in the kitchens of his restaurants. Only then will the cooks see constantly before them what they are to create. A key assignment of the head cook is to point at the pictures so the cook will make the dishes look like them. He went on to say, however, that there is an assistant manager who goes back to the kitchen and reminds the head cook to point the pictures out to the cooks. Beyond that, he said, he has a manager in each restaurant who is assigned to send the assistant manager back to the kitchen to remind the head cook to call the cooks' attention to the pictures. The point of that vivid and humorous story is simple. We all drift away from even the simplest instructions. We are like sheep that go astray, turning every one to his own way (Isa. 53:6). This drift factor in our nature does not take us to excellence. We always drift away from our best ideas and aims, not toward them. As we deal with the task of sermon preparation, we must confront the same tendency to drift. No matter how much we learn about effective sermon preparation, we drift away from those ideas. We forget. We fall into habits we do not even stop to examine. We get into a rut that does not use our best knowledge. To overcome this tendency to drift away from your best work, you will have to plan your preaching program. This planning includes not only sermon preparation methods but also study habits, ongoing improvement, time management, and other related areas. Before we consider the planning needed in those areas, let's consider why planning is necessary.

The Importance of Planning Little of any value comes to pass without someone planning it. I like the saying we use in discussing sermon purpose: “Aim at nothing and you're sure to hit it.” We can use that same idea for planning: “Plan for nothing and you're sure to accomplish it.” Planning is an essential part of the way life works in this world. God created the universe in such a way that planning fits. This includes, of course, planning for every aspect of your preaching. Here are some reasons for the importance of planning in your preaching program. The lordship of Christ calls for the discipline of planning. Being under the rule of our Lord calls for continual choices on our part. At every point we want to seek his will. Even so, you and I have great freedom under the lordship of Christ. We are the ones making the choices. His reign will be a reality in our experience to the extent we choose it. This truth applies to our preaching ministry as well. If we are to honor Christ in preaching, we will have to take an intentional approach to it. We never stumble into the will of God or drift into it. We move into it intentionally because we plan to do so. The priority of the preaching task calls for planning. Of all the tasks to be done in ministry, preaching is surely one of the most important. There is no other aspect of the pastoral work that has as much potential good as preaching. What else does the pastor do in any other half hour that can affect as many people in a positive way? Even though preachers usually rank preaching as one of their most important responsibilities, they usually admit that they do not give it priority in their use of time. That discrepancy can only be corrected by careful planning. Planning is vital to the well-being of the preacher. A positive and enthusiastic attitude toward your ministry can be spoiled quickly by another poor sermon. This discouragement and guilt then affect the preacher's attitude about the whole of his ministry. Preaching is too close to the heart of the preacher's calling and commitments to be done poorly without serious regrets. Planning carefully will change those regrets into rejoicing. The needs of the preacher's family call for careful planning in his preaching ministry. By this I do not mean our families need to hear good preaching from us. I rather mean they deserve our undivided attention at those hours when “family time” is the agenda. When the family is home in the evening, the preacher should not have to think about a sermon. Careful planning and preparation allow us the freedom to give them our full attention. The needs of the congregation call for careful planning. The pastor is not only a preacher. He is also counselor, chaplain, friend, referee, administrator, and teacher. Whatever we do, however, our preaching and teaching will provide the overall conceptual framework for ministry. It is there we interpret the Christian life and the mission of the church. It is there we address the people at the point of their personal needs. Without careful planning this preaching ministry will not touch those needs. The time pressures of the pastorate require the pastor to plan his preaching carefully. There is always more to do than can be done in any pastoral role. These secondary tasks will dominate the time needed for sermon preparation. The pastor can give adequate time to sermon preparation only if he plans on it. In fact, he must plan for more than he can get by with because of the interruptions and emergencies that will inevitably come. Without careful planning he will all too often find himself with the “Saturday night panics.” The call for excellence in ministry requires careful planning. No one answers God's call to ministry with the intention of doing a poor job. This is the most important work in the world. Lives hang in the balance. A great price has been paid to make the ministry of Christ a reality. We must give it our best. But to do so will call for planning. Again, we never drift into excellence.

Planning for Ongoing Training

This book is designed as a tool for ongoing training. It assumes we never finally arrive at excellence in our preaching. We are to be growing. We are to continue sharpening our skills as long as we continue to preach. No matter which end of your calling you are on, you can still do a better job of proclaiming the Word of God. The first barrier to overcome is the assumption that you are already really good at what you do. Most preachers I meet think they are pretty good preachers. Some of them think they are very good. And some are. I have never met a one, however, who had arrived. There is always room for improvement. Preaching is a complex subject. It involves hermeneutics (Bible interpretation), homiletics (sermon planning), and speech communication. The basic principles in these three disciplines offer much territory for growth for any preacher. In spite of the many opportunities for skills development, most preachers are reluctant to involve themselves with anything that suggests their preaching is not up to par. As we have noted, preaching is as close to the heart of our calling and commitments as possible. It is a divine-human endeavor. Our sermons come from God himself. We pray over them. We are inspired with a subject and its treatment. Surely this is from God. How could anyone presume to tinker with that and try to improve it? Besides this sense of God's involvement in our preaching, our own ego is on the line. Are we effective students? Can we communicate effectively? Do we have anything worthwhile to say? Too much emotional and spiritual energy goes into your preaching for you to be nonchalant about it. It is your life and your calling. To fail at preaching is to fail, period. To be told you should work to improve your preaching is tantamount to being told to find another profession. An important decision for ongoing training is to commit yourself to a growing competency in expository preaching. This suggestion obviously reflects my own bias about text-based preaching. The truths of the Bible are fresh and exciting ideas to believers today, many of whom have not been exposed to expository preaching. In a sense you will be on the cutting edge of something new. This is why many of the nationally known preachers of the day are careful expositors of Scripture. One of the most helpful things you can do is to plan systems for feedback and critique for your preaching. There are many ways this can be done. It is best to have several avenues for feedback. As simple a matter as listening to audiotapes of your sermons can help. Video is even better. Enlisting a group of church members to meet with you about your preaching can provide feedback. This can be done a number of ways, from preplanning to simple sermon evaluation. Pastors can also meet regularly with a group of fellow ministers to share ideas and offer suggestions for improvement. Growth in preaching skills is a lifelong pursuit. Some of the most effective steps you can take are on your own. One of these is the ongoing development of a preparation system that works for you.

A Preparation System Good sermon preparation is hard work. There are no easy ways or gimmicks that will eliminate that work. It is, however, possible to develop systems of preparation that will make most effective use of your time. Necessary to everything we are describing here will be a serious commitment to put in the effort for good preaching. What is needed is a system for preparing sermons that remains constant. Whether you think of yourself as an organized person, you will find such a system focusing and enhancing your work. You will use your time more effectively. You will have much better content in your preaching. Some preachers are lazy. Others do not know what to do. Some rationalize their poor preparation with pious talk about “inspiration” and “just letting the Spirit speak.” The fact is that God has decided to use preachers. Our laziness does not help the Holy Spirit; it hinders him. There is nothing particularly spiritual about poor sermon preparation. I challenge you to work at your sermon preparation in direct proportion to your estimate of the value of preaching. Determine to strengthen the skills you need most. You will find yourself much more inspired as you see progress, and as your hearers see it. Here are some suggestions. Commit yourself to the thorough spadework necessary to good preparation. If you thought preaching was not important, then I can understand why you wouldn't want to give it much effort. If, however, you believe God has called you to preach his Word, then give it the time and sweat that calling deserves. This will require a continual effort to strengthen the necessary skills. Skills development calls for practice, but it must be the practice of good methods. The chapters in this study are all linked together as one overlaps another. That is the way preaching skills are. For the sake of discussion, however, we have identified twelve skills. You can focus on any group of these skills or on any one. Read over the material again. Make notes. Mark the pages. Study the exercise sheet. Then work at it. Use text after text to practice the particular skill. Develop systematic procedures that employ your most effective methods. Over the course of time, you have noticed that certain things you do in sermon preparation work pretty well. Other approaches are not so effective. If we were to sit down and talk about it, you would be able to describe a plan for preparing sermons which includes your best methods. Chances are, however, that you do not follow that plan yourself. Most of us know a good deal more about effective preparation than we actually practice. If asked to explain to a young preacher how to prepare a sermon, you would doubtless be able to do so. But do you practice your own best plan? Or do you wing it week after week, relying on the habits you have fallen into over the years, even though many of those habits are not helpful. What I am suggesting is this: write up a set of instructions for yourself. Put the best you know about sermon preparation into a plan to follow every week. Instead of assuming that what you are doing is all you know, jot down suggestions for yourself that you will review every week for more effective work. Prepare planning tools, lists, and other helps that will systemize your preparation approach. Prepare work sheets that provide step-by-step guidance. One of the most useful planning tools you can prepare is a work sheet for any phase of your preparation. Like the exercise sheets in this study, this is simply a form to fill out as you do your preparation work. You can use work sheets for your Bible study, your outlining, and your sermon development. They will force your work into productive channels of activity. They will get you started and keep you going when you bog down.



As we have heard so often, “Creative genius is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration.” There are times when you aren't caught up in a vision of great truths from God. But you are slogging along so you will have something to preach Sunday. This is when work sheets will keep you on the track of productive effort. Even at times when you are inspired and can hardly wait to preach the truths of the text, the work sheets will keep you on track. They will fence you into solid study. They will direct you to careful exegesis. They will guide you to an outline and development that come from the teaching of the text. They will keep you from forgetting those study methods most effective for you. Take every phase of sermon preparation into account. Though you should start with the phase of your preparation you most need to systemize, ultimately aim to include every phase of the work in your system. This means you will want to develop a plan for preparing a preaching calendar. If you have a step-by-step procedure planned out, you will find calendar planning a manageable task. Another key phase is the study of the text. Instead of a haphazard rummaging through your text, plan a step-by-step procedure that will produce the most effective exegesis and exposition. I personally prefer an inductive approach to Bible study that allows you to discover the truths of the text for yourself. After you have carefully studied the text, you need a system for moving from the teachings of the text to the sermon outline. This phase is critical if you want your sermon to communicate the truths that are in the text. Next you need a plan for preparing your outline for clear and timeless truths. After that you will work on sermon development, and you need a system for assuring balanced and effective development. Continually revise your preparation system to serve you better. Your preparation system is your plan. You are developing it to serve you. But I have found that my system is never finally set. I am continually learning new ways to do a better job in my sermon preparation. Some parts of my system prove to be too cumbersome, so I discard them. Other parts need to be fine-tuned for sharper focus. The key is to use what works best for you. I have found two errors to be common as I urge preachers to develop a preparation system. One error is the idea that you cannot improve on what you are doing. This response usually indicates to me that the person is arrogant and unteachable. The second error is to let the system use you. This is “the tail wagging the dog.” You must stay in charge and use your system as a set of tools, not as a tyrant to obey. Be on the lookout for new ideas. Read books on preaching that will lead you into new insights. Keep revising your system of preparation for better results and more effective use of your time. Exchange ideas with friends. Share your approach with other preachers eager to get a handle on good preparation habits. And don't get into a rut. Develop a study routine that ensures adequate preparation. When your preparation system begins to take fuller shape, you will find that you are more eager to get at the work of weekly sermon preparation. Having a plan gives you security and a sense of progress. It allows you to get right to work so that you make better use of your time. Even though the system may seem mechanical at times, you know that it provides you the structure you need to do your best work. Setting aside regular study time is a must. Just as you would not flippantly break an important appointment, so must you guard your study time. You will be regularly tempted to bump your scheduled study time in favor of something you know is not as important. Your own human nature will often throw up interruptions because the hard work of sermon preparation requires buckling down and applying yourself. Some of us take more naturally to the study than others. Temperament may have a lot to do with this. But whatever the reason for neglecting and postponing the needed study, it is vital to counter with a plan for devoting the time and effort you know is necessary. So a part of your preparation system must be a weekly study schedule. Design checklists to monitor the quality of your preparation. My final suggestion for your system is that you summarize the various aspects of your methods into checklists. Like a pilot preparing for a takeoff, you need to have a check sheet to see that you are ready to preach. A pilot does not trust his memory or assume that all the plane's systems are working properly. He methodically goes over a preflight checklist item by item. He knows his life is at stake. Many a weakness in your sermon outline can be detected if you write out the standard you want to set for yourself. You may detect an imbalanced sermon development if you go over your checklist for development. You may find wording that can be sharpened. You may find that your conclusion is not as strong as you like. You may note weakness in your introduction. You may find that you have not used faith language. These checklists will give you the assurance that you have done what you intended. You will go to the pulpit with the confidence that your preparation is good. You don't have to worry about that. You are free to present the sermon without struggling and stumbling because of poor preparation. You may have never heard of a sermon preparation system. Maybe you are saying that you already have your own system; it's just not written down. Let me urge you to do it. Write it down. If necessary, tack it to the wall like the menu picture in the restaurant kitchen. Then look at it every week. Your preaching will be better for it.

Preparing a Year's Preaching Calendar The Saturday night panics is a disease peculiar to preachers. The symptoms include a knot in your stomach, a backache from bending over the desk, a tendency toward fervent prayer, and muttering to yourself about how you will never again wait this late to prepare your Sunday morning sermon. I hope you have never suffered from this distressing ailment, but chances are you have. You are busy. You have many people to see. You have so many details to cover in administrative duties. Though sermon preparation is of great importance, it doesn't seem to be urgent until Saturday. One wise man has called this “the tyranny of the urgent,” concentrating on the urgent matters instead of the important ones. The initial phase of any good sermon preparation system will be calendar planning. By this I mean you plan your preaching

program for a year at time or at least a quarter. In putting the broad strokes of your year's preaching together, you avoid the discomfort your weekly struggle causes. With a long-term preaching plan you choose your texts ahead so there is no frantic search for a text to go with your Saturday night sermon idea. You avoid preaching half-baked sermons because you are always thinking ahead. You avoid hit-and-miss planning, and you avoid being surprised by new events like Mother's Day. Here is a suggested plan for preparing a preaching calendar. Perhaps some of these steps will work well for you.1 Analyze the differences in style, audience, and purpose of various services. Morning and evening worship services usually appeal to different audiences. Midweek services may be distinctive from Sunday worship. Various services may be more traditional in style, more contemporary, or blended. They may each have a different kind of audience to address. Whatever the style and format of each preaching occasion, plan your preaching program to fit the situation. Take an extended period of hours to plan a year or a quarter's calendar. One hour in this kind of planning will save you multiple hours later on. Once you get into it, the long-term planning will begin to come together. Seeing the long look stimulates ideas for many of your sermons at once. That will result in less preparation time later on and less stress because your text and subject are already chosen. Using one calendar sheet for each month, make date, events, and services columns for each week. This form is easy to prepare on your computer using the “table” function. Plan for five columns and five rows. The first column to the left will be for the date for that week. The second column is for calendar notations. Then include columns for each of the different services in which you will preach. The five rows are for the weeks in the month, with the possibility of five Sundays in a given month. From the calendar for the coming year, indicate all holidays and emphases. You will mark twelve of the forms we have just designed with the months of the coming year. Now in the left column place the Sunday dates on each month's sheet. In the second column write in the holidays of that week, such as New Year's Day, Valentine's Day, Easter, Mother's Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, and so forth. Write them all down, even though some may not affect your preaching at all. From the denominational calendar, indicate special emphases by Sundays. In that same events column write in all the special Sundays and other emphases, even those only remotely related to your preaching. These might include missions offerings, Youth Week, Sunday School Preparation Week, Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, Witness Commitment Sunday, and others. From the official church calendar, indicate planned church activities. Some church emphases will be already down from the denominational calendar. Now add those specific events you know are coming up for the church. Here you will include revival dates, the Lord's Supper, high attendance days, the church picnic, guest speakers scheduled, music programs, and such. Plan various sermon series for the entire calendar period. Expository preaching usually involves preaching through whole Bible books or sections of books. Begin planning such a series by reading over the entire book several times. Then choose an overall theme.2 Choose sermon text units and prepare a page for preliminary notes on each text. Write the text and topic for each sermon, even if you know you may revise it later. Then as you near the preaching date, complete the preparation. Plan a theme series for one service. You may choose a theme for a topical series to use in the other service. Or you may choose a section to preach through, like the Ten Commandments or the Beatitudes. Contemporary themes often create interest: Seven Keys to Success, Learning to Love, Attitudes That Change Your World, The Secrets of Answered Prayer. Keep each series short enough to maintain interest and long enough to deal adequately with the subject. Choose all texts and write them into your calendar. Plan single sermons or brief series for holidays and special emphases. You will want to break up a longer series by holiday sermons and short series for special occasions. Taking a break from a long series on a major book can help to maintain interest. Go over your plan with other worship leaders for coordinated planning. Planning ahead with the music is seldom possible if musicians want to deal with the theme of the sermon. But if you plan long-term, they will be able to choose the songs and plan the worship to follow the text and theme of the day. Scripture readings, songs, testimonies, and other features can all be planned in harmony. Be ready to suspend your plan when necessary rather than serving it. Your preaching plan is to serve you. It should be suspended any time special events require a change of emphasis. When suspending the plan is necessary, just pick up with the plan and continue on the following week.

Work on Preparation Weeks Ahead As you preach through Bible books, you will be in the same general context for weeks at a time. This will allow you to link one text to the next and avoid having to start over in your study each week. Since context is the first principle for effective interpretation, you will be more likely to grasp the text writer's intention with the whole book in view. Let me suggest a plan for working four weeks ahead in your sermon preparation. Spreading your preparation over a month for each sermon has several advantages. You have time to let the sermon come to maturity in your thinking. You notice analogies for illustration in the news and common experiences. You are not at a loss when a week of special demands keeps you from your study schedule. Set up a file system for each time you must preach. Prepare hanging files for four weeks. In each one place a file folder for each service. Then begin your study each week on the sermons you will preach four weeks away. For these texts you may not spend a lot of time. But the initial spadework will make a big difference in the long run. For the sermons four weeks away begin with a structural diagram of the text. Then begin to note your observations from the diagram—text structure, significant words, figurative language, theological terms, and so forth. After this initial examination of the text, put your notes in the file marked with that text and move to the next closer week. For the sermons three weeks away, take up where you left off last week. You have already done the structural diagram and initial observations. Now go on from there with further observations for your notes. Then begin asking questions to guide your research. Look

up word studies, historical features, characters, geographical features, cultural issues, and other background information you need to know. Asking good questions leads to good research. For the sermons you will preach in two weeks, finalize your research. Identify the theological subject and modifier and begin to sketch the division of theological ideas, following the text writer's treatment of his text. Work on the wording of your division statements. Begin to select material for supporting sermon ideas. Get the details you need for contemporary illustrations. Think of specific applications. Check cross-references. Now you come to the sermons you will preach next week. As you begin your study on Monday, you are now dealing with the sermon for the coming Sunday. Finish polishing the division statements. Make sure sermon development is balanced. Finalize the sermon design so that you have the sermon plan clearly laid out for effective oral presentation. A final aspect of your preparation is to talk the sermon out aloud. Take a walk. Go to the empty worship center. Pace the floor in your study while you work through your sermon plan aloud. This oral preparation will help put the finish on the sermon plan and get you ready to preach.

Planning for Personal Growth “Preaching is the communication of truth by man to men. It has in it two essential elements, truth and personality.”3 That classic definition of preaching by Phillips Brooks focuses our attention on the person of the preacher himself as a major factor in preaching. Planning for better preaching must include personal growth. Christianity is such that the integrity of the preacher is necessary to effective preaching. What the preacher says must be what he lives. Does “truth and personality” mean that the person of the preacher is half the preaching mix? It is an unsettling realization that who we are personally may well be as important as what we say in a sermon. It is not that most preachers fear being found out to be rascals. The challenge lies in the difficulty of becoming all we ought to be. My own weaknesses are often blind spots to me. I am so used to being who I am, warts and all, that I am not at all sure how to be a better person. Character is the issue. Preaching is not merely a performance. I cannot just play the part of the preacher in sermon delivery. I have to live the role of a godly person. Image is not the issue so much as integrity. Character means essential quality, nature, or kind. It means an individual's pattern of behavior or personality, his moral constitution. Integrity means the quality of sound moral principle like uprightness, honesty, and sincerity. Growth in character must be a specific matter, a concrete and particular quality being cultivated. It cannot be a general, abstract growth without intention. Nineteenth-century preacher G. D. Boardman put it in these familiar words: “Sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.” One key to character is intentionality, “sowing.” It is making choices, hard choices, right choices. A second key is action. It is intentional action that develops positive character. A third key is habit. When chosen patterns of right behavior become habitual, genuine character is reflected. It is easy to give so much attention to management activities in the pastorate that you neglect the disciplines of Christian character. There are devotional disciplines necessary for maintaining intimacy with Christ. There are moral disciplines necessary for godliness. There are relational disciplines for living out the servant love of our Lord. There are intellectual disciplines for growth in knowledge. There are vocational disciplines for the various duties of the pastorate. There are physical disciplines for health and stamina. Every one of these areas affects the preaching ministry. In his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey says that a habit arises at the intersection of knowledge, skill, and desire.4Knowledge provides the what and why of a course of action. Skill gives the how-to. Desire contributes the want-to. As one has the knowledge, the skill, and the desire to pursue a behavior, he can see it become habitual, a matter of character. Growth in Christian character or in preaching skills comes one action at a time until habits are developed that become normal to us. As you plan for better preaching, you will never arrive. With the goal ever before you, you find that the dynamic is in the journey. There is always some way to do a better job of communicating the matchless truth of the gospel of Christ. May he walk with you step for step in that journey!





A Word about the Student Sermons



The sermon preparation exercises and manuscripts that follow in Appendices A, B, and C are prepared by seminary students in their second semester of Expository Preaching at Southeastern Seminary. They have used the 12 Essential Skills textbook and followed the preparation exercises described there. They had little or no assistance from their professor for these examples. I realize that publishing student sermons is risky. The sermons of the most experienced pastors are always open to some criticism. These students have done a good job, but it is possible to find weaknesses in their work, just as it would be if their professor had prepared these examples. These are not intended to be full-length sermons. They are rather sermon briefs that make the basic treatment of the text clear but do not give all the material that might be included in the final sermon. We realize that this is only one of many ways to prepare and present a sermon. We concentrated on this traditional expository method as a basic approach to text based preaching. I am grateful to Mike Fillis, Steven Carne, and Maël Disseau for the good work they did in the course and their valuable contribution to this second edition of 12 Essential Skills. Students like these make my job a delight.



Appendix A Sermon Sample Encountering God Face-to-Face Genesis 32:24–32 by Mike Fillis

























































































Appendix B Sermon Sample Made Righteous through Christ Romans 8:1–4 by Steven Carne

















































































Appendix C Sermon Sample Heavenly Worship Revelation 4:1–11 by Maël Disseau



















































































Appendix D Sample Key Words abuses accusations acts actions actualities admonitions advantages affairs affirmations agreements aims alternatives assertions angles answers applications approaches areas arguments articles attitudes attributes aspects aspirations assertions assumptions assurances attainments attitudes attributes barriers beginnings beliefs benefits burdens calls causes certainties challenges changes charges claims clues commands commitments comparisons compensations compromises compulsions conceptions concessions

degrees demands denials destinies details devices differences distinctions directions directives disciplines disclosures discoveries distinctions doctrines duties elements encouragements essentials estimates events evidences evils examples exchanges exclamations exhortations expectations experiences expressions facets factors facts failures faults favors fears features finalities forces functions fundamentals gains generalizations gifts goals graces groups guarantees habits handicaps

injunctions promises insights promptings inspirations pronouncements instances proofs instruction prophecies instruments propositions intimations provisions invitations qualifications issues qualities items questions joys realities judgments realizations justifications reasons keys refl ections kinds refusals laws remarks lessons remedies levels reminders liabilities requirements limits reservations lists resources losses responses loyalties restraints manifestations results marks revelations means rewards measures risks methods routes mistakes rules moments safeguards motives satisfactions movements secrets mysteries sins names sources necessities specifications needs statements notions steps objections stipulations objectives successes observations suggestions obstacles superlatives occasions suppositions offers surprises omissions symptoms opinions teachings opportunities tendencies paradoxes testimonies particulars tests parts thoughts peculiarities threats penalties topics

conclusions conditions consequences contrasts corrections credentials criteria criticisms customs dangers decisions declarations defenses deficiencies definitions

hindrances hopes hungers ideals ideas illustrations imperatives implications impressions improvements impulses incentives incidents indictments inferences

perils periods phases phrases pledges points possibilities practices premises prerogatives principles priorities probabilities problems processes

totalities truths undertakings urges uses values views violations virtues voices warnings ways weaknesses wishes words wrongs

Endnotes



Introduction, Strengthening Sermon Preparation Skills 1. John A. Broadus, A Treatise on the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons, revised 1898 by Edwin Charles Dargan (New York: George H. Doran, 1926), 9. 2. David Buttrick, A Captive Voice (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1994).

3. Broadus, 9–10.

Section 1: Text Analysis 1. Nathaniel Southgate Shaler, “Chapters from an Autobiography,” Atlantic Monthly, 103 (February 1990), 221–22.

2. The current debate began with Fred B. Craddock, As One without Authority: Essays on Inductive Preaching (Nashville: Abingdon, 1971). Years earlier, however, H. Grady Davis discussed inductive preaching in Design for Preaching (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1958), 174–77. See also Ralph L. Lewis and Greg Lewis, Inductive Preaching: Helping People Listen (Westchester, Ill.: Crossway, 1983), plus other books by these authors. 3. Ralph and Greg Lewis describe these two factors in Inductive Preaching, 152– 53.

4. The ideas here on inductive Bible study are adapted from Farrar Patterson, Inductive Bible Study for Sermon Preparation (Fort Worth: By the author, 1977), and from Oletta Wald, The Joy of Discovery, rev. ed. (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1975). Also see a similar approach taken by Josh McDowell, Guide to Understanding Your Bible (San Bernardino, Calif.: Here's Life, 1982), and Howard Hendricks and William Hendricks, Living by the Book (Chicago: Moody, 1991). See also Kay Arthur, How to Study Your Bible (Eugene, Oreg.: Harvest House, 1994). 5. Wald, The Joy of Discovery. Though this little book is not designed for pastors and sermon preparation, it is a good introduction to some methods for inductive Bible study. 6. For more details on identifying text units, see p. 38 in George H. Guthrie, “Cohesion Shifts and Stitches in Philippians,” in Discourse Analysis and Other Topics in Biblical Greek, ed. Stanley E. Porter and D. A. Carson (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1995), 36–53.

Skill 1: Diagramming the Text Structure 1. H. Grady Davis, Design for Preaching (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1958), 15.

2. Patterson, Inductive Bible Study for Sermon Preparation, 9–10. See Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Toward an Exegetical Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), 99, 165–81; and Donald L. Hamilton, Homiletical Handbook (Nashville: Broadman, 1992), 36– 37. 3. See Robert L. Thomas, “Bible Translations and Expository Preaching,” in Rediscovering Expository Preaching, ed. John MacArthur Jr. (Dallas: Word, 1992), who prefers a literal translation; and Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All It's Worth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), ch. 2, who argue for the dynamic equivalents. Also see Leland Ryken, The Word of God in English: Criteria for Excellence in Bible Translation (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2003). 4. McDowell, Guide to Understanding Your Bible, 53.

5. John A. Broadus and Jesse Burton Weatherspoon, On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1944). Broadus uses these four functional elements to describe the persuasive development a preacher will use to support his theological ideas. 6. The list here was adapted from George H. Guthrie and J. Scott Duvall, New Testament Greek Exegesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 43–44. The writers use the term “semantic functions,” but the term “rhetorical functions” seems more appropriate for our purposes. 7. See Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Preaching and Teaching from the Old Testament, for a discussion of narrative structure.

Skill 2: Noting the Text Details 1. Helen Gibson, Farah Nayerl, and Elaine Shannon, “Solving the Lockerbie Case,” Time (25 November 1991), 62.

2. See a list of figures of speech in Hendricks and Hendricks, Living by the Book, 266–67. A different list with some similarities can be found in Al Fasol, Essentials for Biblical Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989), 84–85.

Skill 3: Asking Research Questions 1. Sidney Greidanus, The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 17.

Section 2: Theological Interpretation 1. These sentences are the heart of a traditional method for planning sermon structure described by a number of writers. Lloyd Perry and Faris D. Whitesell used this method in Variety in Your Preaching (Westwood, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell, 1954). Charles Koller used it as his “Basic Pattern” in Expository Preaching without Notes (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1962). Lloyd M. Perry called it the “Foundational Pattern” in A Manual for Biblical Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1965). James Braga used it as his method in How to Prepare Bible Messages (Portland: Multnomah, 1969). Craig Skinner, in The Teaching Ministry of the Pulpit (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1973), 169, writes that in his examination of hundreds of preaching and speech books, he found nothing of the quality of this method. He writes, “This perspective is the finest developed for expository preaching and is in full accord with the best ideas in contemporary speech theory and educational psychology.” 2. John R. W. Stott, Between Two Worlds: The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), 137– ff.

3. For a simple list of interpretation principles, see William D. Thompson, Preaching Biblically (Nashville: Abingdon, 1981), 45– 77. 4. Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stewart, How to Read the Bible for All It's Worth: A Guide to Understanding the Bible (Grand Rapids: Academie, 1982), 27.

Skill 4: Naming the Text Idea 1. Arthur S. Hoyt, The Work of Preaching (New York: George H. Doran, 1905), 98.

2. Haddon W. Robinson, Biblical Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980), 39–40. Robinson follows Davis, Design for Preaching, ch. 3, “Anatomy of the Idea,” in the use of the question, “What is he talking about?” to arrive at the subject.

Skill 5: Bridging from Text to Sermon 1. J. H. Jowett, The Preacher: His Life and Work (New York: Harper, 1912), 133–34.

2. H. C. Brown, A Quest for Authority in Preaching (Nashville: Broadman, 1965).

Skill 6: Writing Sermon Divisions 1. Phillips Brooks, Lectures on Preaching (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1891), 177–78.

2. See Davis, Design for Preaching, on “predication.” He writes (p. 22) that it seems natural to use “subject for the thing talked about, predicate for the thing said about it, and predication for the process of saying or asserting something about the subject.” 3. Faris D. Whitesell, Power in Expository Preaching (Fleming H. Revell, 1963), 161.

4. Charles Koller, Expository Preaching without Notes (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1962).



5. Lloyd M. Perry, A Manual for Biblical Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1965).



6. Craig Skinner, The Teaching Ministry of the Pulpit (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1973).



7. Extensive lists of possible key words appear in Koller, Expository Preaching without Notes, 53–54; Perry and Whitesell, Variety in Your Preaching, 84–88; Perry, A Manual for Biblical Preaching, 67–69; Skinner, The Teaching Ministry of the Pulpit, 166–67; and Braga, How to Prepare Bible Messages, 128.

Section 3: Sermon Development 1. These elements or forms of development were presented by Broadus, A Treatise on the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons, chapters 5–8. More contemporary writers have continued to use these categories of development. Some have used other modes of rhetoric such as exposition and narration. 2. This section draws on Davis, Design for Preaching, chapter 14, “Forms of Development.”

3. Kenneth Burke, The Rhetoric of Religion (Berkley: University of California, 1970), v–vi.

Skill 7: Balancing Persuasive Elements 1. Austin Phelps, The Theory of Preaching (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1898), 426.

2. Keith R. Willhite, “Audience relevance and rhetorical argumentation in expository preaching: A historical-critical comparative analysis of selected sermons of John F. MacArthur Jr. and Charles R. Swindoll, 1970–1990,” A PhD dissertation at Purdue University, 1990. 3. Broadus and Weatherspoon, On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons, chs. 5–8.

4. See H. C. Brown Jr., et. al. Steps to the Sermon (Nashville: Broadman, 1963); Charles W. Koller, Expository Preaching without Notes (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1962); Faris D. Whitsell, Power in Expository Preaching (Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell, 1963); Craig Skinner, The Teaching Ministry of the Pulpit (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1973); Lloyd M. Perry, Biblical Preaching for Today's World (Chicago: Moody, 1973); James Braga, How to Prepare Bible Messages (Portland, Oreg.: Multnomah, 1981). 5. See Hendricks and Hendricks, Living by the Book, 304–ff for nine rather specific questions to ask for application.

Skill 8: Exploring Natural Analogies 1. Broadus, A Treatise on the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons, 179.

Skill 9: Drawing Pictures, Telling Stories 1. Quoted in Broadus, A Treatise on the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons, 1898 ed., 160.

2. Eugene Lowry, Doing Time in the Pulpit: The Relationship between Narrative and Preaching (Nashville: Abingdon, 1985), 23.

Section 4: Sermon Design 1. Ralph Lewis and Greg Lewis, Inductive Preaching: Helping People Listen, (Westchester, Ill.: Crossway, 1983), ch. 11.

2. H. Grady Davis, Design for Preaching (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1958), ch. 8.



3. Lewis and Lewis, Inductive Preaching, 152-53.



Skill 10: Touching Human Experience 1. Edgar DeWitt Jones, The Royalty of the Pulpit (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1951), 55.

2. Frank Pollard, “Preparing the Preacher” in Handbook of Contemporary Preaching, ed. Michael Duduit (Nashville: Broadman, 1992), 135. 3. Thompson, Preaching Biblically, 80. The hermeneutical model Thompson presents is most helpful for seeing the vital role of the need element in biblical interpretation and homiletics. 4. Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 40–44, 201–2, 231–36, 363–66. 5. Daniel M. Doriani, Getting the Message: A Plan for Interpreting and Applying the Bible (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1996), 70. 6. Ibid., 184.

Skill 11: Aiming for a Faith Response 1. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “A Lecture for Little-faith,” in Sermons of Rev. C. H. Spurgeon of London, vol. 5 (London: Funk & Wagnalls, n.d.), 137–8.

Skill 12: Planning the Oral Presentation 1. Davis, Design for Preaching, 165. I am indebted for the ideas in this chapter to this book as a whole and particularly to chapter 10. 2. Ibid., 163. 3. Alan H. Monroe, Principles and Types of Speech, 3rd ed. (Chicago: Scott, Foresman, 1949), 307–58, 309.

Conclusion: Planning for Better Preaching 1. For a comprehensive approach to planning your preaching, see Stephen Nelson Rummage, Planning Your Preaching: A Stepby-Step Guide for Developing a One-Year Preaching Calendar (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2003). Older out-of-print books will also be helpful, such as J. Winston Pierce, Planning Your Preaching (Nashville: Broadman, 1967). Also see Andrew Blackwood, Planning a Year's Pulpit Work (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1942). 2. See Harold Bryson, Expository Preaching: The Art of Preaching through a Bible Book (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1995). 3. Brooks, Lectures on Preaching, 5.

4. Stephen R. Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989), 47.

Bibliography Adams, Jay E. Preaching with Purpose: The Urgent Task of Homiletics. Grand Rapids: Ministry Resources Library, 1986. Alter, Robert. The Art of Biblical Narrative. New York: Basic Books, 1981. Arthur, Kay. How to Study Your Bible. Eugene, Oreg.: Harvest House, 1994. Braga, James. How to Prepare Biblical Messages. Portland: Multnomah, 1981. Broadus, John A., and Jesse Burton Weatherspoon. On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1944. Brown, H. C., Jr., Gordon Clinard, and Jesse J. Northcutt. Steps to the Sermon. Nashville: Broadman, 1963. Brueggeman, Walter J. Finally Comes the Poet: Daring Speech for Proclamation. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1989. Bryson, Harold T., Expository Preaching: The Art of Preaching through Books of the Bible. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1995. Bryson, Harold T., and James C. Taylor. Building Sermons to Meet People's Needs. Nashville: Broadman, 1980. Chapell, Bryan. Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994. Chartier, Myron R. Preaching as Communication. Nashville: Abingdon, 1981. Craddock, Fred B. As One without Authority. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1979. ________. Overhearing the Gospel. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1978. ________. Preaching. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1985. Davis, H. Grady. Design for Preaching. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1958. Doriani, Daniel M. Getting the Message: A Plan for Interpreting and Applying the Bible. Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1996. Eslinger, Richard L. A New Hearing: Live Options in Homiletic Method. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1987. Fee, Gordon D., and Douglas Stuart. How to Read the Bible for All It's Worth. Grand Rapids: Academie, 1982. Garrison, Webb B. The Preacher and His Audience. Westwood, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell, 1954. Greidanus, Sidney. The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text: Interpreting and Preaching Biblical Literature. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988. Guthrie, George H., and J. Scott Duvall. Biblical Greek Exegesis. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998. Hamilton, Donald L. Homiletical Handbook. Nashville: Broadman, 1992. Hendricks, Howard, and William D. Hendricks. Living by the Book. Chicago: Moody, 1991. Kaiser, Walter C., Jr. Toward an Exegetical Theology: Biblical Exegesis for Preaching and Teaching. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981. Koller, Charles W. Expository Preaching without Notes. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1962. Larsen, David. Telling the Old, Old Story: The Art of Narrative Preaching. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2000. Lewis, Ralph, and Greg Lewis. Inductive Preaching: Helping People Listen. Westchester, Ill.: Crossway, 1983. Liefield, Walter L. New Testament Exposition: From Text to Sermon. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984. Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn. Preaching and Preachers. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1972. Lowry, Eugene. Doing Time in the Pulpit: The Relationship between Narrative and Preaching. Nashville: Abingdon, 1985. MacArthur, John Jr. Rediscovering Expository Preaching. Dallas: Word, 1992. McDill, Wayne. The Moment of Truth: A Practical Guide to Sermon Delivery. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1999. McDowell, Josh. Guide to Understanding Your Bible. San Bernardino, Calif.: Here's Life, 1982. Olford, Stephen F., and David L. Olford. Annointed Expository Preaching. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1998. Osbourne, Grant R. The Hermeneutical Spiral. Downer's Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1991. Perry, Lloyd, and Faris D. Whitesell. Variety in Your Preaching. Westwood, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell, 1954. Perry, Lloyd M. A Manual for Biblical Preaching. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1965. ________. Biblical Preaching for Today's World. Chicago: Moody, 1973. ________. Preaching and Teaching with Imagination. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994. Piper, John. The Supremacy of God in Preaching. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004. Ramm, Bernard. Protestant Biblical Interpretation. 3d. rev. ed. Grand Rapids: Baker. 1980. Richard, Ramesh. Scripture Sculpture: A Do-It-Yourself Manual for Biblical Preaching. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995. Robinson, Haddon H. Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001. Vines, Jerry, and Jim Shaddix. Power in the Pulpit: How to Prepare and Deliver Expository Sermons. Chicago: Moody, 1999. Skinner, Craig. The Teaching Ministry of the Pulpit. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1973. Spurgeon, Charles H. Lectures to My Students. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980. Stott, John R. W. Between Two Worlds: The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982. Thompson, William D. Preaching Biblically: Exegesis and Interpretation. Nashville: Abingdon, 1981. Vanhoozer, Kevin. Is There a Meaning in This Text: The Bible, the Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998. Wald, Oletta. The Joy of Discovery, rev. ed. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1975. Whitesell, Faris D. Power in Expository Preaching. Westwood, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell, 1963. Wiersbe, Warren. Developing a Christian Imagination. Wheaton: Victor, 1995.