From Need to Biblical Sermon
A Sequential Arrangement of the Steps in Sermon Building
Step 1: Get to know the people, in and out of the church. Get acquainted with their strengths, weaknesses, and circumstances. Try to learn their felt needs and their real needs.
A. Spend time with people.
B. Serve people.
C. Study the church directory reflectively.
D. Keep a reflective journal.
E. Conduct surveys, formal and informal.
F. Discuss needs with elders and other leaders.
G. Reflect on timeless needs of people in all ages and everywhere.
H. Reflect on the community: economic situation, culture, social situation, etc.
I. Survey the members with a questionnaire; make it open ended, not closed and slanted questions.
J. Have members conduct a census/survey-advertising campaign in the community asking citizens what are some of the problems and needs of the community.
k. Study human nature through reading: 1) Read psychology; it deals with the common nature and experiences of humanity. 2) Read literature (e.g., novels, short stories, plays, and poems); it reveals the “cry of the human soul.”
Step 2: Perform a task-analysis to determine purpose of sermons.
A. List what the church needs to know:
1. Basic doctrines
2. People-problem topics–crisis situations
3. Timeless themes
4. Neglected themes
5. Key biblical passages
6. Books of the Bible
7. Needs of People: universal needs of man; world situations; national situations; regional needs; community needs; congregational needs; individual needs–Ask “what do I need to do for these people when I preach?”
B. Conduct a survey of what has been preached.
C. Note what you have preached.
D. Sample knowledge level of church.
E. Armed with a knowledge of what they need to know and what they already know, determine what knowledge they need to acquire, existing concepts they need to change, feelings they need to be made to feel, and existing feelings they need to change. (Note the task analysis format provided.)
Step 3: Select an appropriate text—one that was designed to meet the need you are confronting.
A. A thorough knowledge of the Bible is essential. Only those who know the basic teachings of the biblical canon, themes of books, themes of sections of books, and themes of small units of Scripture within various sections can efficiently and effectively locate texts relating to the needs of their hearers and the purposes of their sermons. We should seek to apply Scripture to the needs they were intended to meet. Only those who are dedicated students of the Bible know the situations (i.e., occasion) for which particular portions of Scripture were written. But, without such knowledge, we will likely both misinterpret and misapply the text. We can gain such knowledge and experience through methodical study.
B. When necessary, you may use verbal concordances (listing passages according to words), conceptual concordance (listing passages according to topic or concept), other subject indexes, books on various subjects and texts to pinpoint texts that deal with particular needs and will accomplish your purpose.
C. You might need to perform a preliminary study of the text before you can decide that it is the appropriate one. This is better than deciding prematurely and wasting valuable time and energy working with a text that proves not to provide the information you need or not to have been written to deal with the situation to which your sermon must apply.
1. The suggested preliminary study would involve listing the various ideas given in the text and, based on this, determining the central idea (i.e., what the text is about). Summarize the central idea of the text in one sentence.
2. You should also probe the entire book in which the text is found to discover the situation to which the text was applied by the writer. Then you will know whether or not it truly applies to the situation you wish to address with your sermon.
Step 4: Formulate the exegetical idea of your text (i.e., ETS–essence of the text in a sentence) or central idea of your text.
A. The exegetical idea (also called “thesis,” “big idea,” and “primary truth intent) is the central idea (i.e., largest idea or main point) of the text
B. The exegetical idea is generally stated in terms of what it meant “to them,” “at that time,” in “their context,” and in “that place.” Thus it should be stated in past tense.
C. The exegetical idea reflects the “primary truth-intent” of the passage. This should be clearly stated in the “textual segment” of your introduction.
D. A point that supports the central idea, primary truth intent, is called “secondary truth intent.” A secondary truth-intent is just as true as the primary truth-intent; it is secondary because it supports the larger point in the larger text. It is also the main point of the smaller portion of text, just as the primary truth-intent is the main point of the larger text.
E. If a point of secondary truth-intent is to be used as the point of your sermon, narrow the text so that this point will be the primary intent of the narrowed text.
Step 5: Formulate the proposition–The proposition is also called by the following: “preaching idea,” “homiletical idea,” “thesis,” “ESS–essence of the sermon in a sentence,” and “central idea of the sermon.”
A. The proposition transforms the exegetical idea into contemporary terms–says the same as the exegetical idea in present or future terms. It states what is or should be for “us” “at this time” or what shall be for “us” “at a future time.” It applies the principle established by the text to the culture, situation, and needs of your hearers.
B. The proposition is the one dominant theme of the sermon; it is a one-sentence summary of the entire sermon to which everything used to develop the sermon (i.e., explanations, proofs, illustrations, and applications) should relate.
Step 6: Seek to determine the form/strategy of development that best suits the use of your text–usually the strategy by which the text itself was developed.
A. There is a basic pattern for sermon development, but this basic pattern allows freedom for the text (and the purpose) to determine the form or strategy for developing the sermon.
1. The basic pattern (i.e., sermonic design) involves a preaching idea (i.e., proposition) and a purpose or behavioral objective.
a. The proposition is a one-sentence statement of what the sermon is all about.
b. The purpose is what the preacher wants to achieve, i.e., what he wants the hearers to do in response to the sermon.
3. The basic pattern requires the elements of explanation, proof, illustration, and application.
4. The basic pattern requires that everything in the sermon relate to the proposition and purpose of the sermon.
a. All major points relate directly to the proposition. They either answer one or more questions about the proposition or relate in some other fashion (e.g., explain, prove, apply, or illustrate) by answering what it means, whether or not it is true, and what difference it makes or should make in our beliefs and lives.
b. Every sub point should relate indirectly to the proposition by relating directly to the major point it helps develop: explains, proves, applies, or illustrates.
c. Even every sub-subpoint relates indirectly to the proposition by directly supporting the sub point that supports the major point that supports the proposition.
B. The various texts that make up the Bible fit into two classes: proclamation and literature.
1. It can then be called proclamation-literature.
2. As a form of proclamation, a biblical text is kin to a sermon.
3. Consequently, although it is literature, it is inclined toward the use of various rhetorical strategies of development that adapt well in sermon development.
4. Due to the proclamation aspect of the biblical text, the form of development used by the writer in the text should be seriously considered as the form of development to use in the sermon based on the text.
5. Some have said that the situation of the audience and the purpose for which the sermon is preached should dictate the form of development. That is precisely what we do when we allow the text to dictate the form of development in the sermon.
a. Biblical texts did not originate in a vacuum.
b. Biblical texts were occasioned by human situations and were written for the purpose of giving help to the people in those situations.
c. The message of a text must be applied only to a situation like the one to which it was originally applied and serve its original purpose.
d. The preacher must not make the message of his text apply to a particular situation; he must simply determine, explain, and prove the message, and apply it to the kind of situation for which it was intended.
C. In developing the central idea a writer intended to develop, he might use one or more of the following rhetorical strategies: answer one or more questions (e.g., why? how? who? when? where? what? which?), historical-narrative, cause and effect, examples, comparison/contrast, process analysis, definition, problem and solution, promise and fulfillment, major premise-minor premise-conclusion, division and classification, analogy, etc.
1. Many biblical texts were written to answer a question. In developing these texts you should probe the sermon proposition with a question (i.e., interrogative) that will lead to the author’s supporting points and his application of the text to the need and purpose you are attempting to meet.
a. The probing question may be either of the following: Why? How? When? Where? What? Who? Approximately seventy to seventy-five percent of all sermons are developed by using the questions how, why, when, and where.
b. Most texts will likely lend themselves to be more harmonious with only one or the other of these interrogatives. However, some texts may work well when developed by either of two or three of the interrogatives.
c. The interrogative best suited to a text might determine whether or not the text will achieve the purpose of the planned sermon.
e. When a text is harmonious with development by one of several interrogatives, the purpose will determine which interrogative you use.
f. It is also true that the purpose of the sermon and the interrogative used will determine what part of or what points in a text you will use.
2. Even when one of the other strategies is used, the content of the test and sermon might answer a question.
a. Narrative–“What is the point [are the points] this story illustrates?”
b. Cause-Effect–“What are the causes or the effects of this?”
c. Examples–“What are some examples of this?”
d. Comparison/Contrast–“How is this like or unlike something else?”
e. Process Analysis–“How must/can we do this?”
f. Definition–“What general class does this fit into and how is it distinguished from other things in the same class?”
g. Problem and Solution–“What is the problem, and what is its soution?”
h. Promise and Fulfillment–“What is the promise, what is its fulfillment?”
i. Major Premise-Minor Premise-Conclusion–“What is the general claim? What is the specific claim [one or more]? And what must we conclude from these claims?
j. Division and Classification–“How can this claim (or story) be broken down and how can the parts be classified?”
k. Analogy–“In what ways is this like some familiar thing (e.g., person, concept, event, or action)”
Step 7: Select the unifying concept (i.e., key word) that best suits the need you are attempting to meet or the purpose of the sermon. The repeated use of this concept or word will give coherence to or hold the sermon together in an obvious way.
A. Unifying words should be natural matches for the probing question (e.g., Why? provokes a response in reasons, causes, etc.; How? provokes a response of ways, methods, etc.).
B. Key words might also produce unifying phrases: e.g., Why? might produce “because of the following arguments,” because of the following benefits,” etc.
Strep 8: Perform a thorough exegesis of your text. (Note: See the notes on How to Study the Bible for Sermon Preparation following this outline.)
Step 9: Formulate your outline. First seek to determine the method of development used to support the main point. Look next for key elements of truth that make up the parts of the strategy for development. Then check your exegetical idea and confirm your tentative exegetical idea and tentative sermon proposition. Modify the exegetical idea and sermon proposition as dictated by your thorough exegesis.
A. First, formulate your main (i.e., major) points.
1. Your main points will answer the probing question about the proposition.
2. Your main points must all relate to the proposition.
3. Your main points must be parallel.
B. Second, formulate your points that directly support (i.e., explain, prove, illustrate, and apply) your major points.
Step 10: Select your illustrations.
A. So far as source, there are two main types of illustrations:
B. Illustrations help in many ways:
1. Arouse and keep the interest of the audience.
2. Make specific and concrete abstract ideas.
3. Clarify abstract ideas by using the known to teach the unknown.
4. Apply principles to specific and concrete situations.
5. Stimulate memory of the listeners.
6. Biblical illustrations serve as proof that a point is biblical.
7. Contemporary illustrations serve to prove that biblical principles are true to real life or relevant.
C. There are various forms of illustrations?
1. Storytelling – the most interesting and effective for feelings
2. Examples – good for clarity and proof
Step 11: Plan your introduction and conclusion.
A. Introductions usually contain three main segments:
1. Interest getting segment–e.g., a striking statement, a question, a human interest story relating to the need the sermon is designed to meet.
2. Textual segment–i.e., a brief statement of the context of your passage, the exegetical idea or central idea of the text, the supporting points, etc.
3. The relational segment:
b. Purpose or objective
c. Probing question
d. Unifying word
e. Transitional statement
B. Conclusions usually consist of the following segments:
1. Reproductive segment, a brief restatement of the main point and how it is supported.
2. Application segment, how the lesson applies to you and your hearers.
3. Invitational segment, a convincing invitation to the hearers to act on the message from God presented in the sermon.
Conclusion: If these steps are followed, your sermon preparation will be much easier and less time consuming, and the sermon will be more effective. This process will assist you in making your sermon biblical, clear, relevant, interesting, convincing, practical, and effective.
© Prof. William T (Bill) Lambert, EdD
Professor Emeritus – NT Literature & Interpretation
Harding University, August 2002