Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Here's what I think. Sermons should be different than lectures. Lectures give a lot of information, they sort of float along with the text, strewing out good stuff along the way, and they are related more to the text than to the audience. A sermon should be proclamatory. It should have one main point, gotten from the text, and clung to throughout the message. For example I spoke Sunday on (I'm only using this example because I actually did what I'm talking about, not because I do this very well or all the time) on 1 John 5:1-5, but I focused on verse 3. The point of the message was "how can John say that God's commandments are not burdensome"? It took the context and wove my whole message around answering this question. I don't think sermons need to be stated as questions, but they should begin as a question and then move along to an indicative and more provocative title. So my title was "God's Commandments are not Burdensome."
It takes a very good speaker to hold a congregations attention for an hour. This is particularly true if the preacher says what he says, applies it, says something different, applies it and on and on and on. Of course your congregation is trained for this kind of listening, but most people are ready to go home when they hear the word applied. I would guess that most Christians are geared to listen well for 40 minutes or so. Going short does not bother folks, going the right length is good, but going too long is something the people will always remember. It is not a good thing to go too long. But again, your people are used to listening for longer periods of time. If you follow what I say below, however, you might want to preach for a little shorter time, just to give your people some time to breath.
1. Pick out the main point of your text; the proposition statement (they call it this in the homiletics books). Do this by asking questions of the text. What is the author's main point in this section? What does God want his people to learn from this story, or pericope? Text structure helps with this. If the text is a legitimate chaism the main point will be the center, as you already know. Be careful that where you locate the center is the author's center.
2. Notice how the author uses the context to reinforce his main point. Craft your sermon with the main point being the main point and the authors context as the supporting role of the main point.
3. Be careful that what you want to say is what the Biblical author wanted to say. This is a particular warning for your application. I knew of a preacher one time who preached on the dangers of alcohol every Sunday, no matter what his text was. This doesn't fee the sheep and it does damage to God's reputation. This isn't something you want to do.
4. Do make application. Do tie the truth of the Scripture to the people's lives, not only in theoretical ways, but also in earthy, practical ways. Answer the question: So what? Why have you gathered us here today? Are you just sharing what you think about the city government, or is there something you think God wants me to do this week?
5. Pick a passage that you are passionate about and let it rip. Be passionate about your text. You are preaching the Word of God. Let the people come away from your sermon with their hair on fire. You want them intellectually challenged, but God gave us emotions to go with our brains and I believe this is one of the weakest areas of the Reformed church. There is little or no passion for God, for his Word, for living his Word and for proclaiming his Word. This comes from stone cold pulpits. So, go into your study, spend time with God, looking him in the eye. Let him overwhelm you with the immensity of your task and the importance of the task. Let him fill you with his Spirit so that if you don't get out and say what he wants to you say, you will be afraid your head will explode. Then take that into the pulpit and thunder the word. When you catch fire, so will your congregation. When you exemplify what it means to live in the presence of the glorious and awesome God, soon your people will catch it and they will clamor for more and more and more of Jesus.
6. In preparation read passages like Psalm 63 and 119 and let the emotion and devotion and love the psalmist has for our great God wash over you until you can agree with him. Then study your own text.
Other than that, have a good time.
I hope this helps.