The Form of a Sermon


Wikipedia Image of Paul Preaching in Athens

The readings from my preaching class have given me a fresh look into the art of preaching and rekindled my desire to develop sermons and proclaim God’s word. Although I have been preaching for several years, I have had very little training in sermon development. My models were the preachers that I witnessed growing up. They were excellent preachers and I am blessed to have listened to them. But it has also been extremely helpful to consider the big picture of what a preacher is trying to accomplish and gather some ideas about sermon development.

One thing that I have hardly considered is the form or the structure of my sermons. I have normally devoted my time and energy to what I was going to say and very little time to how I was going to say it. I came by it honest. There has always been an emphasis on teaching and instruction in the preaching I have heard. As I began to preach, there was probably little difference between my teaching and my preaching. I filled my head with as much information as I could and when I preached, I gushed out with all the facts. Being Bible-based meant gathering all the Bible had to say on a subject and quoting lots of actual Scripture. The use of stories was allowed in very small doses, but in general it was depicted as mutually exclusive with Scripture. A preacher either used the Bible or told a lot of stories. So, my sermons normally took on the standard three-point outline, and it was filled with propositions or statements to be believed and enacted.

Don’t get me wrong. This post is not an effort to say that everything I grew up with or preached earlier was wrong, and now I have found the light. My understanding has been tweaked, not completely changed. I appreciate the value of placing an emphasis upon the Bible and the importance of teaching in preaching.

After reading an author like Fred Craddock, I have realized that I need to pay more attention to the shape of my sermons and how I relay the information that I do. For starters, the concept of form should be derived from the text. The Bible uses many different genres and forms to relay its information including narrative, poetry, proverbs, parables, symbols, images, and propositions. If a preacher uses a 3 point, propositional-based sermon for every single text, regardless of what form the text takes, that may send the wrong signal about the makeup of the Bible. Propositions are important and necessary, but they are not the only form that exists.

It is also the case that one must not necessarily choose between the Bible and telling stories. While stories in preaching can be abused, overused and misused, they can find an appropriate place in the sermon. After all, a large portion of the Scriptures consists of many different stories that combine to make up the Grand Narrative of the Bible. Previously, I might have been tempted to dismisssed other preaching styles as not taking the text seriously, but I have come to realize that is not the case.

There is no holy grail of sermon forms, a single form that encompasses everything that a sermon should be, but it should at least be a consideration arising from the nature of the text. This is the goal, anyway, although distilling everything down into actual practice is easier said than done.

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