You are called to a daunting mission. Who has called you? What is the intimidating task at hand? God has called you to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ. Paul, the great apostle, missionary and preacher asked the Corinthians a revealing question in
The call to preach includes the call to prepare biblical messages. This article is designed to guide you through this challenging quest; but first, I have a confession to make. Although I had preached weekly for 12 years (during which time I graduated from Bible College and Seminary), I didn’t understand sermon preparation as I should. I have no one to blame but myself. Nonetheless, the Lord led me to study homiletics at the doctoral level with a focus upon preparing laymen to preach. It was during this period of time, culminating with the writing of my dissertation titled “Developments and Evaluation of a Sermon Preparation and Delivery Class for Laymen,” that I finally could say, “Eureka.” My sincere prayer is that whether you’re a novice or experienced preacher that the following information will enable you to say, “I have found it.”
The F.I.R.E. of Sermon Preparation
The acronym F.I.R.E. stands for familiarity, interpretation, relationship and employment. These four steps are essential to the sermon preparation process. There is another “fire” that first must be discussed without which no sermon sizzles. This fire is what kindles the F.I.R.E. of sermon preparation. It consists of the powerful influence of the Holy Spirit guiding God’s servant through the preparation operation.
Interestingly, there has been much interaction about the ministry of the Holy Spirit in sermon proclamation. Sadly the same cannot be said of the preparation stage. It is the author’s contention that the Holy Spirit who guided the biblical writers to pen God’s Word without error is as essential to sermon preparation as to sermon delivery.
Before Jesus proclaimed God’s Word in
This power was not limited to our Lord. During a time of persecution, the early church gathered for prayer.
After you have chosen your sermon passage, you must become familiar with the text. Those with language skills should start by translating the passage. The English reading student should read and re-read the text often using various translations of the Bible. I would recommend reading the text aloud to experience the passage aurally.
Next, make a list of things to investigate that you don’t understand about the text. This could include details such as unfamiliar names (i.e., Lo-Ruhamah and Lo-Ammi from the Book of Hosea, places such asTyre and Sidon from
Then ask questions of the text applying the following:
I had six faithful friends
They taught me all I knew,
Their names are How and What and Why,
When and Where and Who.
For instance, let’s use these interrogatives to ask the following questions of
The second step of Bible study involves interpretation. Your goal in interpretation is to answer the questions that were developed from the familiarity phase of Bible study. For instance, you could look up unfamiliar names, places, cultural happenings and the meaning of words using a good Bible dictionary and encyclopedia.
Unger’s Bible Dictionary gives helpful information on Lo-Ruhamah and Lo-Ammi. According to Unger, the name Lo-Ruhamah means “not pitied.” He continues, “The name divinely given to the second child (a daughter) of the prophet Hosea (
The interpreter must uncover the cultural clues given in a text. Jesus is described in
Part of the interpretive phase of Bible study involves determining the meaning of words and seeing how those words are used particularly by the same author. Looking up the meaning of the word rebuked in
We already looked at the familiarity and interpretive stages of Bible study. Now the exegete must figure out how the passage we are studying relates to its surrounding context, the book in which it is found and the entire Bible. We will focus on
Now we know why He put them in the boat, but why did He permit them to struggle in the storm? Could it be that they needed to learn God’s kingdom wouldn’t be spread by their own prowess but His? Mark recorded that as the disciples were struggling at rowing that Jesus “would have passed them by.” What does this mean?
Grassmick in the Bible Knowledge Commentary made a profound assessment of these words: “He intended ‘to pass beside’ them in the sense of an Old Testament theophany (
The above information shows the importance of relating a passage to its immediate context, the context of the book, and the context of the Bible. We are now ready for the last part of F.I.R.E.
Webster defines employment as “use or purpose.” Once the first three phases of Bible study are accomplished, the preacher must strive to understand the use or purpose of the passage. In other words, the exegete needs to comprehend how the passage being studied was to be employed by its original hearers. After this information is grasped, the preacher then can employ/apply the text accurately to the audience.
Let’s look at
Once the disciples were in the boat, a tumultuous storm was upon them (
The climax comes as in
Developing Exegetical, Theological and Homiletical Points
The preacher is face with an enormous challenge: the calling to proclaim the timeless truths of the Word of God, which are anchored in the nature of an unchanging God to people who are vastly influenced by a rapidly shifting culture. How does the preacher apply these timeless truths to people in this generation and maintain accuracy and relevancy without compromising the authority of God’s Word? The answer is found in the three-fold method of sermon preparation which includes developing exegetical, theological, and homiletical points.
The word exegesis according to Webster means “an explanation or critical interpretation of a text.” The Greek word for exegesis is exegeomai. It comes from two words which literally means “to lead out.” Zodhiates defines this word as “to bring or lead out, declare thoroughly and particularly.” This word is used six times in the Greek New Testament. It is found in
I will use
Next, the theological points must be derived. The theological points are gleaned from the timeless truths in the passage. Richard’s comment is helpful, “Each human author of Scripture had a particular audience for whom he wrote; but the scope of intention, supplemented by unconscious application, has meaning much beyond the original referent.”
Developing theological points is a necessary step in sermon preparation, which keeps the exegete from eisogesis and thrusting his “own principles” on the text. Sunukjian’s summation of the once popular so-called key-word approach is helpful. He wrote, “This interrogative key-word approach was a means of creating the speaker’s outline rather than a means of finding the central truth in the author’s outline. Unfortunately all too often, the speaker’s resulting outline was artificial and arbitrary, masking the biblical author’s real flow of thought and missing the true theology of the passage.”
The first theological point in
We are now ready for the homiletical points. They are derived from the theological points. These homiletical points should reflect the timeless truths of the Word of God and be geared toward your specific audience. Try to keep the points brief and memorable. The first homiletical point for
Developing the Introduction, Illustrations, Transitions and Conclusion
The importance of a good introduction cannot be overemphasized because of the necessity to gain the attention of your audience. Spurgeon wrote, “Their attention must be gained, or nothing can be done with them.” How does the preacher gain the attention of the audience? Be creative!
Introductions should not be predictable. You might want to start the sermon with a personal story. People love stories. Another way to gain attention is by telling a joke. Always make sure the joke is appropriate and leads the people to the body of the sermon. Statistics are helpful. However, be careful that the statistics are relevant to the sermon and brief in content. Also, a major motif is alluring. This device is generally a story that you break into throughout the sermon. You introduce the story at the beginning of the sermon and give its second part during the body of the message and conclude the sermon with the culmination of the story.
Illustrations are a necessary component of preaching. What is an illustration and what should it accomplish? John Reed writes, “The American Heritage Dictionary gives three levels of definition for the word. These are the three: 1. Illustration is the act of clarifying or explaining. 2. Illustrations are the material used to clarify or explain. 3. Illustrations can be visual matter used to clarify or decorate a text.”
Gentleman, a friendly reminder is not just to illustrate your sermons with manly examples from football, fishing and barbecuing. It is important to note that “when a pastor steps into the pulpit on Sunday morning, the odds make it likely that nearly three out of every four adults waiting to hear the sermon are women.” Therefore illustrations from the realms of sewing, cooking, and family would be welcome.
Having good transitions in a sermon is like having a good transmission in a car that enables you to shift gears smoothly. The preacher doesn’t want to have a herky-jerky message when he preaches. Cahill says transitions should do three things: First, transitions can provide closure for the proceeding point. Second, transitions show the logical connection between the main points. Third, transitions anticipate the content of the next section. A disciplined preacher will plan his transitions carefully.
A good conclusion to a sermon is as necessary to the message as a smooth landing to an airplane after it has reached its destination. There are multiple ways that a preacher can conclude his sermon. The important thing to remember is that a good conclusion will leave your audience with a sense of completion (no loose ends) and to know exactly what God now requires them to employ.
You may want to conclude the sermon with a restatement of your main points. This can help the listeners to recall what God requires of them. You may also use an appropriate poem or stanza from a hymn that sums up the message. Perhaps you may desire to leave them with a challenge. For instance, I challenge you to pray for 10 minutes each day or to read their Bible for 20 minutes a day. A good illustration that sums up the entire message would be helpful. The important thing is that you finish your sermon with an appropriate challenge or exhortation or encouragement.
May God help us to heed Paul’s exhortation to Timothy when he wrote in