Keys to Writing a Good Sermon
There is an art to preaching. The preacher has the task of taking an ancient text and creating a message that is relevant to a modern audience. This is not an easy thing to do. It is not good enough to stand in front of the people of God, read a passage, and then proclaim something like, “It means what it says and it says what it means.” This will not work. The preacher often stands in between two groups of people or two things. He stands in between an ancient and modern culture. He stands in between the people in the pew and theologians. He must understand both sides in order to create a message that has both depth and relevance.
Just as artists use different techniques and develop various styles, all preaching will not look the same. Room has to be left for the preacher to find and use his own voice and for God to work through him. The following is a list of keys to writing a good sermon. A preacher should think of these as the launching pad for developing the message he wants to preach. This is not all there is to writing a sermon and each person will need to fill in the gaps.
Know the Text – I think this point or something similar to it is included in almost every post I have done on preaching. If a person fails to know and engage the text, then everything else will not matter. You need to read the text, understand the text, and sit with the text. I often try to put myself in the text to try and really understand what is going on. Prayer is also an important part of knowing the text. God needs to play a central part in your study of His word.
Tell the Story – When you sit down to write your sermon don’t forget to tell the story. Do not assume that the people you are speaking to know the Bible story. I often begin each sermon by reading the text and then telling the story of the passage I just read. This can be done in various ways. The easiest is to simply give a paraphrase with a few insights into the text. I have also given a modern retelling of the story by imagining the text set in modern times. It is important that people understand the story before you move on to theological and practical applications. People need to know that the points you are making come directly from the text you are preaching from.
Do Not Neglect Theology – Every sermon should have some depth. People need more than a pep talk or a motivational speech. They need a healthy dose of theology. The preacher must also be careful not to be too theological. It is not good to use a lot of theological terms that no one understands. It is also not good for a preacher to get up and let everyone know all the theology he has recently read. The preacher stands in between the people in the pew and the theologians. He understands theology and he understands how it will be useful to the people of God. He helps the people to understand the deeper things of God without going over their heads.
Make it Relevant – Each sermon needs to have the goal of being relevant. The preacher not only needs to understand the Bible and the culture in which it was written, he also needs to understand modern day culture. He needs to understand the problems and temptations people are facing. He needs to have a grasp on modern forms of idolatry. Neglecting practicality is a detriment to the church. The church needs to know how to live like Jesus. They need to hear how the word of God applies to their own lives. It is up to preachers to help people make this connection.
Keep it Brief – Some people may object to this point and want to quickly move on to the next one, but allow me to explain. I am not advocating that a preacher water down his sermon or cut out vital information. Preachers should find creative ways to hone their sermon. They should cut out any unnecessary fat. People’s attention spans are getting shorter and this is something we cannot change. I do not think we should allow culture to dictate what the church does, but we need to be wise. If a preacher can cut things out of his sermon to make it better, then he should.
End it Well – The ending of your sermon is more important than you might think. I typically spend twice the amount of time on my last paragraph in a sermon than I do on other paragraphs. The last paragraph may be the last word of God some of your members hear all week. It is important that they leave with something that will sustain them until they return next Sunday. The last sentence in the last paragraph is the most important sentence. Craft this sentence well and end your sermon in a climatic way.
Let it Stew – Let the sermon or the idea of the sermon stew in your mind. You should think, contemplate, and pray about it. One of my mentors calls this “crock pot preaching.” You put the sermon in the crock pot and you let it set a while. I have put this at the end of the process, but really it can go anywhere. I usually let my sermons stew after I have spent some time getting to know the text. Once I know the text and I have allowed it to set and simmer in my mind, I am then ready to write my sermon.