What’s in a sermon part 2
So yesterday, when all our troubles seemed so far away, I addressed a bit about the purpose of the sermon. Today, we’re going to get into the content of the sermon. This will take a post or two to cover the approach that I use.
I should also make the observation that there are several good books on preaching out there. Preaching God’s Word by Terry Carter is a favorite, as is Saving Eutychus. There are other works out there, though I would argue (and probably will some other time) that one is better served to learn to preach by listening to good preaching and studying historically good preaching. If everything you know about preaching is drawn from books written in the last 100 years, realize that your learning encompasses 5% of church history. And substantially less of church geography, because it was likely developed in England, New England, or the American South. Lots of years of Christianity before Billy Sunday; lots of Christians from places not called London, Louisville, or Boston. (Not that these points of learning aren’t useful. Just that they are not all-encompassing!)
So, get you one or two books that help guide the preaching preparation process, then do a lot of reading of sermons. Start with the era of the Early Church Fathers and see how they did it. John Chrysostom is a favorite of mine, but there are good ones across that landscape. Read homilies from the Catholic and Orthodox traditions: you may be like me and find the result of Pope Urban II’s sermon at Claremont in 1095 sad, but a preacher would be foolish to suggest it was not an effective message.
(He just got his prep work wrong and launched the First Crusade.)
This leads to another caveat on preaching: one must learn the discipline of Biblical interpretation (or hermeneutics) before you prepare sermons. The first step in sermon preparation is to strive to understand the text well, to internalize what the Lord is saying through His word in that passage. This is not work that a preacher can assign to someone else or simply download from the Internet. You have do the work yourself. You can (and should!) consult others about what you are finding. You should learn from others.
And if you’re like me and sometimes stumble in presentation, then absolutely get some help with that. Learn how to present; read some books looking for good illustrations. Listen to other sermons from good preachers that hold your attention and have done the exegetical work well.
Because what goes into a sermon?
First, good exegetical work. The time put into understanding the Word of God. We’ll cover that next.
Second, relational work: the time time and energy put into understanding your hearers. That will come after we cover the exegetical side.
Third, presentation work: this is the part that makes you go viral on Twitter and it’s the least of the sermon work. It still needs done—and we’ll cover that last.