STRUCTURING A SERMON
Preparing a sermon is one of the most challenging yet rewarding tasks. I love preaching and am personally zealous for high impact preaching. The details in my preaching matter – this includes the choice of every word, how ideas flow together, and how I structure my sermon.
Preachers know there is always more to say than can be said so having a clear structure allows for clear and more focused preaching. There are several methods to structure a sermon; the narrative method (story-form), the one-point-method (developed by Andy Stanley), the loose structure (more common in charismatic church culture), and the classical structure (taught and adapted from Terran Williams).
Every structure can be harnessed for God’s glory and the edification of the church, but the structure I use most is the classical structure. Below is an explanation of the classical sermon structure using the "wrist-hand’ analogy":
1. Arm: Read the Text Upfront (Preferably By Someone Other Than The Preacher)
Scripture should be read conversationally (a style that is natural, instead of overly exaggerated).
Silences, phrasing and eye contact should be included in the public reading of Scripture.
2. Wrist: Introduction
Connect with your audience personally (Tell them a story, tell them about who you are, etc.)
Make them want to hear what you want to say (How will I make people want to listen to me?)
Say to them what specifically you are going to tell them or in other words tell them where you are taking them (introduce your big idea or thesis - this is your palm.)
3. Palm: The Big Idea
If someone summarized your sermon 3 days later, what would they say you spoke about? (This is your big idea...)
Note: there’s a difference between a topic and a big idea. For example, “Prayer” is a topic, but “Prayer is the Source of our Spiritual Power” is a big idea (Charles Spurgeon said, “In order to get attention, the first golden rule is, always say something worth hearing.”)
4. Fingers: Each Main Point
Stick to 3 main points (and make sure they connect clearly to your big idea).
Give verbs to the language of each point. Give the points life. Use same length, tense, and feel.
Here’s an example from Matthew 5:
Point 1: Saltiness is best.
Point 2: Be the light of the world.
Point 3: Making a difference is a great privilege.
And here’s using the same length, tense and feel…
Point 1: Salt the earth.
Point 2: Light the world.
Point 3: Make a difference.
Translate the exegetical points into homiletic points.
Here’s an example of 1 Corinthians 12:
Point 1: The source of the Corinthians’ gifts.
Point 2: The function of the Corinthians’ gifts.
Point 3: The purpose of the Corinthians’ gifts.
And here’s how to state it homiletically…
Point 1: God gave you gifts.
Point 2: God gave you gifts to use.
Point 3: God gave you gifts for the benefit of the body.
After point 2 restate the big idea.
Make sure the first and last points are the best ones!
Put the “double-impact” point upfront (& let the last point be the Jesus rich one).
If one point is longer than the rest, then say so.
5. Finger Creases: Content Within Each Point
First crease: connect the point to the scripture/text (people shouldn't wonder whether what you said is really in the Bible).
Second crease: amplify and apply this point to our lives by answering 3 key questions:
What does that mean? -> You must explain/amplify. You are the teacher.
Is that true? -> You must defend/prove. You are an apologist.
So, what? -> You must apply. You are an equipper/exhorter.
6. Skin Between Fingers: Transitions Between Points
Transitions between points should be as smooth as possible (“slow down for the sharp turn”).
Be very clear that one point is ending, and the next is starting. Slow down at the end of the point, take a breath and say something to the effect of, ‘So that brings us to the next thought.’ (Another way is to restate the big idea and perhaps repeat the points already stated).
At the end of your point repeat your point and then move on to the next point.
7. Palm Conclusion: How Will I Bring This All Together & Get That Final Inspiration?
Repeat your tension and build-up in your introduction (circle back).
Repeat your points.
Repeat your big idea.
Land with something inspiring: this could be a personal story, analogy, an inspiring true story of someone that somehow relates to this theme, or a moment to cast vision for the church by saying, ‘Can you imagine what kind of church we would be if we…’).