This is a guide to help preachers in the creative preparation of sermons. It is not a stereotype. Nor is it a crutch. Rather it is designed as a map to indicate the best homiletic highways, and to invite preachers out into the open road of their own freedom and power.
A road-map for sermons
A sermon is the art of homiletics in a highly concentrated and ready-reference form. It endeavors to put at the disposal of young preachers the best principles of sermon preparation, and to refresh the memory of older preachers about forgotten or unexplored realms of preparation. And it aims to do all of this in such a brief compass that it can be spread out on a study desk like a road-map.
The usefulness of the chart will depend upon the degree of seriousness with which its user fills in and observes the specific schedule of days and hours in the two sections: "Preparing the next sermon: Step by step," and "Long-range preparation: Step by step." These schedules are keyed to numbered sections which explain each step in sharp outline. We are confident that any man who takes the trouble to follow the guide week after week will find himself preparing and preaching better sermons.
Before filling in the "Step by step" schedules, read the chart through to the end. At the beginning adopt a schedule provisionally; later on you can revise it in the light of experience, until you have found your own individual pace.
A. Preparing the next sermon
Step by step
I. Select the idea. (See #1)
II. Begin "brooding." (See #2)
III. Write proposition. (See #3) Continue brooding.
IV. Phrase the title. (See #4) Continue brooding.
V. Decide on sermon plan. (See #5) Continue brooding.
VI. Outline the sermon. (See #6) Continue brooding.
VII. Plan the conclusion. (See #7) Revise outline.
VIII. Plan the introduction. (See #8) Revise outline.
IX. Choose illustrations. (See #9)
X. Write the sermon in full. (See #10)
XI. Rewrite for style. (See #11)
XII. Make a preaching outline for the pulpit. (See #12) Rewrite for style. (See #11)
XIII. Read manuscript aloud 3 times. (See# 13)
XIV. Reconstruct sermon using preaching outline alone. (See #12)
XV. Outline sermon from memory.
B. Long range preparation
Step by step
I. A weekly schedule of study (See #14)
1. Bible study
2. Reading of books
3. Research and writing on special projects
4. Current periodicals
II. Files of materials to be built up (card index, or letter folders, or journals, or loose leaf note books)
1. Specific human needs and problems demanding Christian answers (See #1 7)
2. Sermon ideas (See #15)
3. Texts and expository passages
4. Illustrations (See #16)
5. Quotations (See #16)
III. A minimum bibliography on preaching
* Bradford, Charles E. Preaching to the Times. Ministerial Association Resource Center, General Conference.
* Stickland, Mike. Heralds of Cod's Word. Ministerial Association Resource Center, General Conference.
* Bresse Floyd W. Successful Lay Preaching. Ministerial Association Reource Center, General Conference.
* Hunt, Marvin. So You've Been Asked to Speak. Ministerial Association Resource Center, General Conference.
1. Selecting the idea
* Leaf through the file of sermon ideas you have been gathering. Select the one that seems most "alive." (See #15)
* Or seize upon a recent "inspiration" that seems to cry to be preached upon.
* Make this choice early in the week, not later than Tuesday noon, preferably by Monday evening.
* Forsaking all other ideas, keep yourself only unto this one the rest of the week. Do not divide your concentration by flirting with other ideas.
* Write out the idea at the top of a blank sheet of paper—your work sheet.
* Brooding—creative waiting or "yeasting." It is known and used by all artists, musicians and creative writers to tap hidden powers of the mind.
* It is using a number of short periods of concentration over a long span of time to stir the unconscious mind into creative labor.
* Get time on your side. Start early in the week, not later than Tuesday noon. Brood each day. Onehalf hour each day is better than four hours at the end of the week.
* Brood with a pencil and paper. "Tack down" all thoughts using key words and phrases. Save these sheets of "free association" until the sermon is prepared.
* Let the sermon be the product of your own maturing thought. Avoid running to books now. This is not the time for reading, but for creation.
* When it will, let free association suggest the organization of the sermon. Never try to force the form early in the week.
* You can have several sermons in the brooding process at the same time, thus preparing for the future.
3. The proposition
* The proposition is the whole sermon boiled down to one sentence.
* The purpose of the proposition is to give unity to the sermon by excluding the irrelevant and drawing in the relevant.
* It may be stated or implied in the finished sermon, as delivered. If stated, it may be used most advantageously in the introduction. Other good places for it are in the conclusion and at the transitions between the main points.
* It should be written out in full on the work sheet early in the week. Never omit it in sermon preparation.
* Labor to make your proposition say exactly what your sermon says. Make it accurate.
* It should be worthwhile and important, therefore, more specific than general, but not trivial.
* Make it clear and interesting,
4. Phrasing the title
* A good sermon will be better for a suitable name.
* Avoid making it too general, or technical, too revealing, or sensational.
* Make it accurate, clear, interesting, and suggestive.
* Use verbs and colorful picture-nouns for action and for concreteness.
* Prefer a phrase to a single word.
* State it in up-to-date terms (ill.—Night Flight).
* Arrive at it by trial and error. Write out several possibilities and choose the best.
5. The plan
* The plan is the type of outline found in the main body of the sermon.
* The purpose of the outline is to impart progress or movement of thought to the discourse.
* The reason for varying types of outline from sermon to sermon is to supply freshness and vitality to the pulpit message over a span of time.
* Seek variety in your sermon plans:
1. Proof. "It is true because . . ." Reasons for upholding a position.
2. Rebuttal. Reasons for rejecting a belief or position.
3. Implication. "If. . . then." An insight and its implications.
4. Jewel. The many "facets" or applications of a truth displayed one after another.
5. Ladder. Each new point becomes the platform for ascending to the text.—John Wesley's sermon "Money":
I. Earn all you can . . .
II. Save all you can . . .
III. Give all you can . . .
6. Antithesis. The Wrong and the Right Way.
7. The Chase. The quest of the right way through examining and rejecting a number of proposed ways.
8. Analogy. Framing the whole sermon on an illustration, ill—The church as a ship, with special attention to captain, crew, cargo, port, etc.
9. Dialectical, thesis, antithesis, synthesis.
10. Problem Solving. Move from a problem through its analysis to its solution.
(A number of other plans are possible. Work out some of them for yourself.)
* Arrange your points with a view to an ascending order of importance.
* Try to achieve an equal proportion of space or time devoted to each point.
* Test the points for unity by holding them up against the proposition. Do they all belong to this sermon?
* Phrase your main points in parallel structure.
* Work to make your statement of points concrete and memorable.
* Keep the number of points down to five as a rule.
* In developing sub-points, do not treat illustrations as points. Use a separate symbol for them.
* Do not force the outline too early in the week. Normally it will appear about Thursday or Friday.
* Outline fully before you write.
* In planning conclusion always think of the aim of your sermon. What do you hope to achieve?
* Conclude on the positive note.
* Bring the sermon to its climax. Round out and complete the sermon.
* Make it brief—not longer than one-tenth of the whole sermon.
* Seek variety by using different types of conclusions, or by combining them:
1. Recapitulation and summary
3. Challenge to action
* Seeking variety by using different elements: poetry, quotations, stories, questions. Avoid a stereotyped manner of concluding all sermons.
* Relate your whole sermon to human need. (See #1 7B)
* Get attention and create interest, but be sure to tie this interest into the sermon itself. Do not tell stories merely to entertain. Create interest, do not satisfy it.
* Work for brevity. Make it short.
* Begin at a level from which you can soar. If you begin at the climax, you will have no place to go but down.
* Present no more than a single thought.
* Work especially hard on that first sentence. Make it short and interesting.
* Include a statement of your proposition and of your plan occasionally.
* Work for variety in types of introduction:
1. Make a striking statement and amplify it.
2. Begin with a good quotation.
3. Question the validity of the subject. Challenge an ancient truth.
4. Tell a story.
5. Read a newsclipping or a letter
6. Relate an interview.
7. Make a direct statement of purpose.
8. State a problem.
* See that every sermon is supplied with illustrations.
* Illustrations are the windows of sermons, but do not flood your sermon with too much light.
* Make them "real." Avoid morbid, sentimental stories.
* Do not cull them from books of illustrations.
* Vary the types and sources of illustrations:
1. Vivid words—picture words
2. Metaphors and similes
3. Historical stories, including Bible stories
4. Current events
5. Parables and allegories
9. Humor and sarcasm
10. Writing the sermon
* Write only after careful outlining.
* Reserve a period sufficiently long to enable you to write the whole sermon at one sitting. Make this a habit.
* Do not become critical of your style at this stage. Create; you can criticize later.
* Never be satisfied with what you have written in the first draft; go over it for possible improvement.
11. Rewriting for style
* Take out word padding. Boil it down.
* See how many adjectives and adverbs you can eliminate without loss of force.
* Look at each verb. Is there another verb that is more exact, more active, or more concrete?
* Use specific nouns in place of general ones: "schools" instead of "education," "ballot" in place of "democracy," etc.
* Kill overused stock phrases.
* Strive for variety in the length and type of sentences:
1. Simple declarative
* Use some of the devices of style:
1. Periodic sentences
2. Balanced sentences
3. Rhetorical questions
12. Preaching outline
* Write out only key words and phrases.
* Pare it to the bone. Write down only what you need to aid your memory of the original outline,
* Test the adequacy of the outline by using it to "run over the sermon in your mind." Make necessary revisions.
* If you desire to preach without notes, commit this outline to memory. Test your memory by "running over the sermon in your mind" without notes.
13. Reading the manuscript
* Read the manuscript aloud several times, as near to the time of delivery as possible, preferably early Sabbath morning.
* Read the manuscript aloud first to recreate the sensual images which lie back of the words. Try to taste, smell, hear, see and touch what you are talking about.
* When your words are general, supply concrete imaginative symbols for them, ill.: For "democracy" see an election booth or the Capitol dome.
* Read the manuscript aloud a second time to convey the main units of your thought. Give special attention to peaks of emphasis and to transitions.
* Read the manuscript aloud a third time, visualizing the persons to whom you are to deliver it, trying also to preserve the values of your first and second readings.
* Lay the manuscript aside an hour before delivery and do not think of it again until you deliver the sermon. Do not carry the manuscript into the pulpit.
14. Reading and study
* Read the Bible each day at a regular time.
* Always keep some part of the Bible under systematic study—using commentaries and dictionaries.
* Keep a good book "going." When you finish one, start another.
* Read by fields, i.e., read several books in each field, and group by fields. Strive for some competence in each field: Theology, Social Ethics, Pastoral Psychology, Philosophy, Science, Literature, etc.
* Read two or more current magazines of real merit.
* Get your own private research project, and become an authority on the subject.
15. Gathering ideas
* Ideas "hit you" as you read, study, converse, do your calling. Do not strain for ideas. Receive them.
* Write each idea down at once. Do not depend upon remembering it. A few sentences should suffice to indicate the essence of the idea.
* File written ideas in a special folder, card-index, or notebook. These ideas will accumulate by the score.
* Look through these ideas occasionally, adding a few sentences as they occur. You may want to discard some. Keep the file "alive."
16. Gathering illustrations and quotations
* Let them rise of themselves out of your reading and observation. A good illustration or quotation should "ache to be remembered."
* Carry small notebook or card case for writing these down and noting their source. Do not depend on remembering them.
* Transfer these cards or notes to some permanent file.
* Look through these occasionally to keep them familiar. Discard those that are out of date.
* Work out your own system of indexing or use no system at all.
* Note date of use on each as it becomes a part of a sermon. Do not repeat for seven years!
* Do not subscribe to magazines of quotations or buy books of illustrations. They are crutches that will make you weak.
17. Areas of preaching
A. Christian truth about:
3. The Holy Spirit
5. Evil: a. Sin
7. The Church
8. The Kingdom of God
10. The Bible
B. Human problems:
1. Personality difficulties which produce futility, inadequacy, anxiety, loneliness, worry.
2. Life adjustments and decisions that must be made: vocation, Christian life, life partner.
3. Economic distress
4. Moral problems
5. Social injustice
6. Expanding individual interests
7. Church problems
8. Family conflicts
10. Child training
11. Thwarted ambitions
12. The meaning of religion
C. Human needs:
a. Physical needs: Food and drink
b. Social needs: Affiliation
c. Egoistic needs: Dominance
18. Sermon types
1. Textual. A short passage of scripture is used— one verse or part of a verse. All the divisions of a sermon are drawn from the text.
2. Expository. A paragraph, chapter, or book of the Bible is used as a text, and all the divisions of the sermon are drawn from it.
3. Topical. The topic is developed in its own way. A text may be used for background or emphasis, but not as the source of the sermon's structure.
Special contribution to Elder's Digest from Leo Ranzolin, Vice-president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.