Sermon builder: Preparing a sermon.

The following is the complete Sermon Builder found here on the Shepherd’s Conference website:

Welcome to the Sermon Builder – a step-by-step guide for expository sermon preparation. While the Sermon Builder will not write someone’s sermon for them, it is intended to lead pastors and Bible teachers through the basic steps of exegesis and exposition. It is our desire that even the experienced expositor, as he works his way through the Sermon Builder, will be refreshed and reminded of helpful principles and truths.

The Sermon Builder has divided the sermon building process into four main stages: 1) Preparation, 2) Precision, 3) Production, and 4) Presentation. Later stages can be accessed immediately by clicking on the corresponding link at the top of the page. Each stage is divided into specific steps. By clicking “next” or “back” users can navigate from one step to the next.

With each step, users can also click on the online links listed to the right of the text. These links are designed to give the user immediate access to helpful resources and sermon building tools.

Stage 1: Preparation

Powerful preaching always begins with proper preparation. The man of God cannot expect to rightly interpret the text or passionately expound the truth without first preparing his own heart and mind for the task. This preparation involves at least six areas of consideration:

  1. The Preacher – Am I ready to preach?
  2. The Purpose – Why am I preaching?
  3. The Paradigm – What type of sermon will I be preaching?
  4. The People – To whom am I preaching?
  5. The Potential – What are the potential results of my message?
  6. The Passage – What text am I going to preach?

Through prayerfully considering each of these areas, the preacher will be well-prepared to begin the sermon building process.

Stage 1, Step 1: Consider the Preacher (Am I ready to preach?)

The preacher must begin by looking to his own life, bathing the entire sermon building process in prayer, confessing all known sin, and reminding himself that he is but a servant to His Master.

It is crucial, from the outset, that the preacher examine his own heart before preaching to others. With this in mind, Steve Lawson states,

Before the preacher can prepare the sermon, God must, first, prepare the preacher. The one who would gain an accurate understanding of the biblical text must be one who is growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, the expositor should never approach a passage clinically, simply to carve out a sermon. Instead, he must study to engage his own heart to love and worship God. No expositor can take others spiritually where he has not already gone.

Jerry Vines and Jim Shaddix simply say this: “Preparation is an important element in good expository preaching. The preacher must not only spend time preparing the message, but he also must prepare himself.” With this in mind, the preacher’s personal preparation consists of at least three crucial elements: prayer, purity, and perspective.

Prayer (Psalm 19:14; 119:10, 18, 33-40). From beginning to end, the preacher must bathe the entire sermon building process in prayer—prayer for himself (that he would rightly interpret and apply the truth) and prayer for his hearers (that they would rightly understand and respond to the truth). In its essence, prayer is dependence. The preacher who does not pray, indicates that he depends more on his own persuasive abilities than on the power of God’s Spirit. James Rosscup says this:

Prayer is not an elective but the principal element in the kaleidoscope of spiritual characteristics that mark a preacher. These traits unite into a powerful spiritual force; they build a spokesman for God. Jesus, the finest model, and other effective spokesmen for God have been mighty in prayer coupled with the virtues of godliness and dependence on God. . . . Preachers who follow the biblical model take prayer very seriously. In sermon preparation, they steep themselves in prayer.

Purity (1 Thess. 2:1-12; 1 Tim. 3:2-3; James 1:21). In addition to prayerfulness, the man of God must be a man characterized by a righteous life. Any lower standard undermines the very message the preacher proclaims. Certainly, no one is perfect. Yet, the life pattern of the preacher must be one that reflects and reinforces the truth he expounds. In light of this, Stephen Olford simply states: “The Scriptures and practical experience have taught us that God is more concerned with what we are than with what we do.” John MacArthur agrees, noting:

Righteousness and godliness are together the two indispensable qualities of a man of God, and yet they are his lifelong pursuit. They are central to his usefulness; they are at the core of his power. He possesses them and yet pursues them (cf. Phil. 3:7-16). An unsanctified preacher is useless to God, and a danger to himself and people.

Along these lines, Richard Baxter wrote:

Many a tailor goes in rags, that maketh costly clothes for others; and many a cook scarcely licks his fingers, when he hath dressed for others the most costly dishes. . . . It is a fearful thing to be an unsanctified professor, but much more to be an unsanctified preacher.

Perspective (Ps.8:3-4; Isa. 6:5; Rom. 12:3). At the very beginning of the sermon process, the preacher must humbly remind himself that he is nothing apart from God’s grace. He is merely an instrument in the hands of the Master, a messenger in service of the King. If the preacher has success (as God measures it), it is not because of his own eloquence or charisma—rather true success comes from unswerving faithfulness no matter the consequences. The godly man does not serve men, but God. The godly preacher, therefore, must seek not the approval of men, but rather the smile of his Lord.

Moreover, the Word he proclaims must never be taken for granted, the salvation he received must never be forgotten. It should first be a fuel to his own passion for God, and only second a necessary part of his vocation. The sermon building process should be not mere work, but also worship. Steven Lawson says this:

The preacher must always approach God’s Word with reverence, humility, and the fear of God. Each time he opens the Scripture, he must be acutely aware that he is opening the Word of the living God. He must never allow himself to come to the Bible callously or out of empty routine. Rather, his heart should always be gripped with the profound truth that God is speaking in the text. Thus, he must always study a text in the manner that Moses approached God saying, “Show me Your glory.” So, before there can be a clear understanding of God’s Word, there must first be a consummate love for God and His glory.

By having a proper perspective, the preacher realizes that he is nothing, but that the God he serves is everything. The sermon building process, therefore, is not meticulous drudgery, but rather the ultimate privilege to which any sinful human being could be called.

Stage 1, Step 2: Consider the Purpose – Why am I preaching? Why should I preach expositionally?

The call to preach is not merely a human invention. Rather, it is God’s idea—in fact, it is His command for those who are His messengers. Yet, the call to preach is not a call to expound our own ideas or opinions. The pulpit is not our soapbox. Thus the preacher must be committed to preach the Word—to accurately and adequately express the truths of God as given in Scripture.

Here are five reasons (adapted from Carey Hardy) to preach God’s Word with faithfulness and precision:

1. Biblically – expository preaching is the model presented and prescribed in Scripture:

  • Matt. 28:19-20 – Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
  • 1 Tim. 4:13 – Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching.
  • 2 Tim. 2:2 – And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.
  • 2 Tim. 4:1-2 – Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.
  • Titus 2:1 – But as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine.

* An expository model of preaching is also implied in Ezra 7:10; Nehemiah 8:8; Luke 4:16-22; Acts 6:4; 7:2-53; 8:27-35; and Rom. 10:17.

MacArthur summarizes the example we find in Scripture:

[The Word of God] is what Jesus preached (Luke 5:1). It was the message the apostles taught (Acts 4:31 and 6:2). It was the word the Samaritans received (Acts 8:14) as given by the apostles (Acts 8:25). It was the message the Gentiles received as preached by Peter (Acts 11:1). It was the word Paul preached on his first missionary journey (Acts 13:5, 7, 44, 48, 49; 15:35-36). It was the message preached on Paul’s second missionary journey (Acts 16:32; 17:13; 18:11). It was the message Paul preached on his third missionary journey (Acts 19:10). It was the focus of Luke in the Book of Acts in that it spread rapidly and widely (Acts 6:7; 12:24; 19:20). Paul was careful to tell the Corinthians that he spoke the Word as it was given from God, that it had not been adulterated and that it was a manifestation of truth (2 Cor. 2:17; 4:2). Paul acknowledged that it was the source of his preaching (Col. 1:25; 1 Thes. 2:13).

2. Theologically – a correct understanding of Scripture will lead us to preach expositionally.

  • God’s Word is inspired (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:20-21). It is God-breathed; it is His very Word.
  • God’s Word is inerrant (Ps. 19:7-9). As originally revealed, the Bible is without error in any area, unable to fail in any of its parts, perfect in every aspect.
  • God’s Word is authoritative (Ps. 119). Because it is the perfect Word of God, it carries with it His authority.
  • God’s Word is sufficient (2 Pet. 1:3-4; 2 Tim. 3:17; Heb. 4:12). God revealed everything that people need to live life to the fullest. Even when certain issues are not specifically discussed in Scripture, God’s Word provides the principles needed to rightly address the issue at hand.
  • God’s Word is relevant (Ps. 119:105; Is. 40:8; 2 Tim. 3:17). Because His Word is the final authority on everything people need, it is exceedingly relevant to all people of all time. Scripture addresses the real needs of every person of every time period—beginning with the reality of sin and the need for a Savior.

The only proper response to the belief in these truths about Scripture is to preach the Scripture expositionally—and to preach nothing else! If the preacher truly believes these truths, he will want to preach in such a way that the meaning of the Bible passage is presented entirely and exactly as God intended it. This is expository preaching.

3. Ecclesiastically – as a leader in the church, the preacher has a responsibility to preach expositionally.

  • We find in Scripture that the church exists to worship and glorify God (1 Cor. 10:31; Heb. 13:15); to provide a context of loving fellowship with one another for the purpose of mutual edification (Eph. 3:16-19; 4:12-16); to be a training center whereby people can grow through the application of teaching and the utilization of their spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12-14; Rom. 12; Eph. 4); and to be a light in this dark world, for the evangelization of God’s elect (Mat. 5:13-16; 28:19-20; Titus 2:11-15).
  • But another purpose of the church is this: the church exists to be a repository of divine truth (1 Tim. 3:15). If a preacher understands this purpose of the church, he is obligated to be an expositor.

4. Historically – expository preaching has been the primary model of preaching throughout church history, beginning with the OT prophets and the NT apostles.

  • James Stitzinger, in chapter three of Rediscovering Expository Preaching, provides an exhaustive account of the history of expository preaching. He gives examples of expository preaching in the biblical period; the era of the early Christian church (AD 100-476); the medieval period (476-1500); the Reformation period (1500-1648), including the examples of Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli; and the modern period (1649-present), with a discussion of William Perkins, Richard Baxter, John Owen, Bunyan, Charnock, Whitefield, Matthew Henry, John Broadus, Alexander Maclaren, Spurgeon, Ironside, Barnhouse, Criswell, G. Campbell Morgan, Lloyd-Jones, Stott, Boice, MacArthur, and many others. Clearly, the biblical expositor is in good company.
  • Stitzinger’s conclusion, after examining the history of the church, is expected:

A study of the history of expository preaching makes it clear that such preaching is deeply rooted in the soil of Scripture. Thus, it is the only kind of preaching that perpetuates biblical preaching in the church. Throughout history, a few well-known men in each generation representative of a larger body of faithful expositors have committed themselves to this ministry of exposition.

Their voices from the past should both encourage the contemporary expositor and challenge him to align his preaching with the biblical standard. Scripture demands nothing less than God-enabled exposition as demonstrated by those worthy saints who have dedicated their lives to this noble task.

5. Practically – expository preaching also has numerous practical benefits.

  • We are responsible for teaching the who counsel of God. This demands an organized, strategic, expository approach. A “hit and miss” approach to preaching will yield a “hit and miss” understanding of Scripture.
  • It promotes the highest level of biblical literacy among our people.
  • It provides accountability for the preacher. It holds him accountable to preaching what God says, and not his own opinions. It also makes him work. It’s hard work to dig deeply into the truths of Scripture.
  • Systematic exposition protects the preacher. Many pastors have a tendency to get in a rut and develop a one-subject mentality. Also, exposition guards against using the Bible as a club (finding a Scripture to rebuke someone publicly).
  • Prevents inaccurate proof-texting. There’s nothing wrong with using a single verse of Scripture to make a valid spiritual point. The problem is misusing the verse. You must know what a verse means in its context before using it. Expository preaching ensures this.
  • An expositor is rarely wasting time wondering what he is going to preach next…or where he’ll get his ideas for what to say.
  • Systematic exposition gives people an appetite for the Word.

Rediscovering Expository Preaching lists numerous benefits to expository preaching in the following way:

Expository preaching best emulates biblical preaching both in content and style. This is the chief benefit. Besides this, other advantages listed in random order include the following:

Expositional preaching:

  • best achieves the biblical intent of preaching: delivering God’s message.
  • promotes scripturally authoritative preaching.
  • magnifies God’s Word.
  • provides a storehouse of preaching material.
  • develops the pastor as a man of God’s Word.
  • ensures the highest level of Bible knowledge for the flock.
  • leads to thinking and living biblically.
  • encourages both depth and comprehensiveness.
  • forces the treatment of hard-to-interpret texts.
  • allows for handling broad theological themes.
  • keeps preachers away from ruts and hobby horses.
  • prevents the insertion of human ideas.
  • guards against misinterpretation of the biblical text.
  • imitates the preaching of Christ and the apostles.
  • brings out the best in the expositor.

Stage 1, Step 3: Consider the Paradigm – What type of sermon will I be preaching?

It is important, from the outset, for the preacher to understand the essence of what expository preaching is (and isn’t). The expositor should realize that while exposition is not limited to verse-by-verse preaching, there are numerous advantages to making verse-by-verse preaching the normal pattern.

At its essence, expository preaching encompasses the following five elements (adapted from Richard Mayhue):

  1. The message finds its sole source in Scripture.
  2. The message is extracted from Scripture through careful exegesis.
  3. The message preparation correctly interprets Scripture in its normal sense and its context.
  4. The message clearly explains the original God-intended meaning of Scripture.
  5. The message applies the Scriptural meaning for today.

Stated somewhat differently, Faris Whitesell clarifies what expository preaching is by identifying what it is not:

  1. It is not a commentary running from word to word and verse to verse without unity, outline, and pervasive drive.
  2. It is not rambling comments and offhand remarks about a passage without a background of thorough exegesis and logical order.
  3. It is not a mass of disconnected suggestions and inferences based on the surface meaning of a passage but not sustained by a depth-and-breadth study of the text.
  4. It is not pure exegesis, no matter how scholarly, if it lacks a theme, thesis, outline, and development.
  5. It is not a mere structural outline of a passage with a few supporting comments but without other rhetorical and sermonic elements.
  6. It is not a topical homily using scattered parts of the passage but omitting discussion of other equally important parts.
  7. It is not a chopped-up collection of grammatical findings and quotations from commentaries without a fusing of these elements into a smooth, flowing, interesting, and compelling message.
  8. It is not a Sunday-school-lesson type of discussion that has no outline of the contents, informality, and fervency but lacks sermonic structure and rhetorical ingredients.
  9. It is not a Bible reading that links a number of scattered passages treating a common theme but fails to handle any of them in a thorough, grammatical, and contextual manner.
  10. It is not the ordinary devotional or prayer-meeting talk that combines running commentary, rambling remarks, disconnected suggestions, and personal reactions into a semi-inspirational discussion but lacks the benefit of the basic exegetical-contextual study and persuasive elements.

With these basic tenets as the foundation, there are many different styles of expository preaching. Irvin Busenitz writes this:

Just as verse-by-verse preaching is not necessarily expository, preaching that is not verse-by-verse is not necessarily non-expository. Granted, some topical approaches are not expository, but such need not and certainly should not be the case. No book deals with topics that directly impact daily life more than the Bible. Thus, to be effective, all topical preaching and teaching, whether the topic be thematic, theological, historical, or biographical, must be consumed with expounding the Word.

The Sermon Builder is primarily designed for verse-by-verse exposition. After all, this is the most common form of exposition. Nevertheless, preachers who desire to occasionally preach topically should not be afraid to do so—as long as they accurately proclaim the Word of truth, being careful not to take verses out of context. With this in mind, the preacher should follow a general plan for his weekly exposition. This is fairly easy in verse-by-verse preaching since the preacher simply begins in the text where he left off. For topical preaching, a good plan requires prayerful strategy and forethought. By following a plan, the preacher can begin to prepare for a given message weeks, and even months, beforehand.

By considering what model the preacher will be using for a given sermon (whether verse-by-verse or topical), the preacher can set aside the time needed (topical usually requires more time because more passages are involved) and determine the proper steps to follow.

There are significant benefits to preaching through a Bible book from start to finish (in a verse-by-verse style). The following, adapted from Carey Hardy, lists those advantages:

  • It keeps verses/paragraphs/chapters in their proper context.

This ensures greater accuracy in handling Scripture. It’s also better for the congregation, since they will be learning the themes of the Bible in an organized manner, as opposed to a topical approach that presents truth in a potentially muddled, mixed way. Progress in learning is easier to track.

  • You cover all issues eventually.

In fact, in preaching through books of the Bible you will end up addressing a greater number of issues than easily comes to mind otherwise. Series preaching greatly aids your subject scope.

  • It allows you to address needs without singling out any individuals.

Since you are dealing with issues as they appear in the text, sensitive matters will be addressed without the appearance of pointing fingers at persons or church problems.

  • Studying the next section of the text saves time versus researching a completely new topic each week.

Each new sermon will not require completely new research into the background, context, etc., of a text…or new research from scratch into another topic.

  • It prevents “burnout.”

You won’t have to go through the agonizing and time-consuming task of deciding what topic to address each Sunday—you’ll obviously be preaching on the next section of the text.

Stage 1, Step 4: Consider the People – Who is my audience?

Summary: While the message should never be determined by the audience, but rather by the Scriptures, the preacher is wise to prayerfully consider his audience before preaching. In so doing, he will remind himself that the souls of real individuals are at stake, and that the sermon building process is important—because it eternally impacts the lives of people.

The good shepherd not only knows the truth of God’s Word, but also the needs of the sheep. Therefore, as he diligently studies, the preacher must prayerfully remember the audience to whom he will be preaching. Sermon construction must not be a merely academic or esoteric exercise. Rather, it consists of exposing people to God’s Word. With this in mind, Walter Liefield writes, “It is the personal concern that distinguishes the good pastor from the mere minister.” David Larson notes: “The preacher must be concerned to bridge the worlds of the truth of God’s Word and the realities of people’s lives.”

And John Calvin agrees:

What advantage would there be if we were to stay here half a day and I were to expound half a book without considering you or your profit and edification?… We must take into consideration those persons to whom the teaching is addressed. … For this reason let us note well that they who have this charge to teach, when they speak to a people, are to decide which teaching will be good and profitable so that they will be able to disseminate it faithfully and with discretion to the usefulness of everyone individually.

Steven Lawson adds:

In order to choose the right text to preach, the expositor must know the spiritual needs, condition, and maturity of those to whom he preaches. Before he exegetes the text, he must first exegete his listeners. He must understand the context of their lives if he is to be on target with his words.

Practically, this includes praying for the intended audience from the outset—that their minds would be able to understand and their hearts ready to receive. It also entails thinking through the most effective way to present the message to a given audience. In other words, without compromising the message or watering-down the truth, the preacher seeks to effectively and interestingly communicate God’s truth to the hearers.

In summary, John MacArthur says this:

I think people will be bored if you are boring. It is not related to how much time you spend in a book. As long as you are saying things that capture their interest and challenge their lives, they will not care what book you are in and for how long.

Stage 1, Step 5: Consider the Potential – What are the intended results of my message?

The preacher is wise to consider the power of the message he preaches—namely the Holy Spirit’s ability to change lives through the Word of God. The expositor’s goal should never be to proclaim himself or seek his own glory. Such menial and prideful ends guarantee nothing—except that God is not pleased. However, when the preacher faithfully and humbly delivers God’s message, the potential is infinite and eternal.

The expositor’s goal should always be to exalt the Lord (1 Cor. 10:31), by clearly explaining the text (Ezra 7:10) and exhorting the people to obey (Titus 2:15). Certainly, this is hard work—as Calvin said, “It is presumptuous and almost blasphemous to turn the meaning of Scripture around without due care, as though it were some game that we were playing.” Yet, the hard work is not without results. After all, it is the power of the Spirit through the Word that changes people’s lives.

With this in mind, Mark Steege says this:

Through our preaching the Lord seeks to change men’s lives. We are to be evangelists, to awaken men to their high calling in Christ. We are to be heralds, proclaiming the messages of God to men. We are to be ambassadors, calling men to be reconciled to God. We are to be shepherds, nourishing and caring for men day by day. We are to be stewards of the mysteries of God, giving men the proper Word for their every need. We are to be witnesses, telling men of all that God has done for them. We are to be overseers, urging men to live their lives for God. We are to be ministers, preparing men to minister with us to others. As we reflect on each of these phases of our work, what emphasis each gives to the importance of preaching! What a task the Lord has given us!

Practically speaking, the preacher seeks to emphasize the truth of Scripture while deemphasizing his own opinions because he realizes that only God’s Word can truly change the hearts of his audience. Moreover, the preacher aims to be a pure vessel the Lord can use, so as to maximize the effectiveness of the message.

When preachers grow discouraged by the response or daunted by the task, they would do well to remember the potential impact God’s Word can have on people’s lives when faithfully proclaimed.

Stage 1, Step 6: Consider the Passage – What text am I going to preach?

Before beginning to build the sermon, the preacher must determine what text he will exposit. When preaching verse-by-verse, the expositor simply moves to the next section of the book through which he is preaching. When preaching topically, the expositor must decide what text or texts provide the best basis for examining the topic at hand.

When it comes to determining what to preach on next, verse-by-verse exposition has a distinct advantage – the preacher simply begins where he left off. But how does an expositor know what book to choose? Here are several practical suggestions (adapted from Carey Hardy):

1. Choose a book wisely. Preachers should not start with the most difficult books to preach (such as Ezekiel or Revelation). It is usually better to start with a practical book (such as James) or a short book (like Philippians). Expositors should choose a book that they are personally interested in and excited about; one that they believe will address the needs of their flock. In all of this, they should continually pray for God’s guidance.

2. Study the background of the book. The expositor should begin by reading a brief, general commentary that will provide him with the necessary background information of the book. Works like The New Unger’s Bible Handbook, The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Walvoord and Zuck, eds.), The Bible Expositor (Carl Henry), Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Gleason Archer), New Testament Introduction (Donald Guthrie), The MacArthur Study Bible, and MacArthur’s Quick Reference to the Bible, etc., will help the preacher quickly become familiar with the author of the book, the addressees, the book’s theme or purpose, the date of its writing, and other important background material.

3. Read through the book repeatedly. The preacher cannot adequately begin his exposition of a Bible book until he has first read the book (even several times) and made general observations of it. The preacher needs to be familiar with the general flow of the book and the various themes it addresses. Skipping this step can lead to self-contradictions later in the exposition. The expositor should make sure that his interpretation of recurring themes is consistent.

Reading through a book and becoming familiar with it allows the preacher to abide by the most important hermeneutical principle: context. In reading the book, the preacher makes sure that he will relate each passage to the overall context of the book.

4. Decide on the teaching units. Expositors should plan out their preaching according to the teaching units given in the chosen book. In most cases, this unit is a paragraph (or even an entire chapter). Though there may be some debate over the paragraph breaks in a few cases, the preacher can find the most generally accepted divisions in the United Bible Society’s Greek New Testament. English translations such as the NASB may note these paragraph breaks by bold verse numbers.

Of course, the preacher does not yet develop his preaching outline at this point in the process. This won’t (can’t) be done until he has studied the passage in more detail. Expositors must be careful not to construct outlines and then force them on the passage. The actual outline needs to be the result of a thorough exegetical study of the passage. Nonetheless, from the outset, the preacher should have a good idea of what the teaching units are. Carey Hardy says this:

Your decisions on these may even be influenced by your further study. You may also find through further study that it is not necessary to make the entire paragraph (or chapter) the teaching unit. In other words, there may be some paragraphs that are so long, or cover so many themes, that smaller complete teaching units actually exist in the paragraph, which can therefore have their own complete outlines.

Steven Lawson suggests six different ways to identify a new teaching unit:

  1. One Unifying Theme (i.e. love in 1 Cor. 13 or wisdom in 1 Cor. 2).
  2. Rehtorical Question, Rom. 6:1
  3. Vocative Form of Address (Col. 3:18-4:1)
  4. Sudden Changes, i.e., change in mood, tense, location, topic, speaker
  5. Noticeable Connectives, i.e., a conjunction, preposition, or a relative pronoun
  6. Repeating and Developing, what was at the end of the preceding paragraph

5. Choose commentaries and other resources. After reading through the book and making the above-mentioned observations and decisions, the expositor should then consider what others have said about the same passage. This helps keep the exegetical process as objective as possible. Commentaries provide a rich resource of information that God has taught other Bible students who have labored in the text before you. Use them!

With this in mind, Carey Hardy suggests:

It’s not uncommon for an expositor to consult 5 to 10 commentaries. Specifically, consult a balance of respected exegetical, expositional, and perhaps even devotional commentaries. The exegetical works are critical commentaries that help you dig into the technical aspects of the language (lexical and syntactical issues). Expositional commentaries, in addition to giving some exegetical information, help you observe the text from a homiletical viewpoint. Devotional commentaries may offer some thought provoking applications of the truth found in the passage. Most true expositors prefer that the majority of the commentaries they use be exegetical in nature to insure they are handling the text correctly (2 Tim. 2:15). They may also turn to one or two expositional commentaries that help stimulate observations about the homiletical “flow” of the passage. A good resource for your initial choice of commentaries to use is Commentaries for Biblical Expositors, by Dr. Jim Rosscup (professor at The Master’s Seminary). This book lists commentaries in each of the three major categories mentioned above. You will find a summary list in the beginning of the book, with more detailed comments about the commentaries at the end.

Commentaries serve as checkpoints for your own interpretation. If your interpretation is markedly different from great men of God who have gone before you, then it is wise to revisit your conclusions. Though your understanding will certainly differ at times from a particular commentary you are using, be careful about a personal interpretation that is diametrically opposed to the majority of respected scholars. This should be a catalyst to further study on your part. Just remember: There is nothing new under the sun. This saying has application to Bible study. It’s wise to consider helpful insights on your passage from a variety of sources. In fact, don’t fall into the rut of only reading works by your favorite author. No one individual has all the insight into Scripture, and even the best of Bible teachers may be wrong in their interpretation. So don’t fear reading those authors who take opposing views to your own interpretation. This may stimulate your thought processes and thus provide helpful insight that you may not have previously considered. This is prudent even if the end result is that your own convictions have been confirmed.

Once the passage has been chosen, the expositor is ready to begin the process of in-depth Bible study and interpretation (exegesis). Having readied his heart and mind for the task, he moves from stage of preparation to the stage of precision.

Stage 2: Precision

After preparing himself for the process, the preacher is ready to begin investigating and interpreting the text. With this in mind, William Barrick identifies a seven-step process for a proper exegetical procedure:

  1. Translate the text
  2. Observe the passage carefully
  3. Identify grammar and syntax
  4. Examine the context
  5. Solve interpretive problems
  6. Consult trustworthy commentaries
  7. Evaluate your conclusions

Using these principles as a foundation, the Sermon Builder has reorganized them into the following three categories:

  1. Examination – What does the text say?
  2. Explanation – What does the text mean?
  3. Exhortation – Why does it matter for today?

In all of this, the preacher must realize the importance of the exegetical/interpretive process. Failure at this stage guarantees that the sermon itself will fail—because the Word of God will have been misrepresented. Thus, the precision stage will probably encompass more time than any other part of the sermon building process.

With this in mind, Andrew Bonar says this about Robert Murray McCheyne:

It was his wish to arrive nearer at the primitive mode of expounding Scripture in his sermons. Hence when one asked him if he was ever afraid of running short of sermons some day, he replied–”No; I am just an interpreter of Scripture in my sermons; and when the Bible runs dry, then I shall.” And in the same spirit he carefully avoided the too common mode of accommodating texts—fastening a doctrine on the words, not drawing it from the obvious connection of the passage. He endeavored at all times to preach the mind of the Spirit in a passage; for he feared that to do otherwise would be to grieve the Spirit who had written it. Interpretation was thus a solemn matter to him. And yet, adhering scrupulously to this sure principle, he felt himself in no way restrained from using, for everyday necessities, all parts of the Old Testament as much as the New. His manner was first to ascertain the primary sense and application, and so proceed to handle it for present use.

Step 7: Examination – What does the text say? (Part 1)

Context

Summary: With a passage chosen, the expositor must establish the context of the text. Doing so allows him to interpret the passage in such a way as to stay consistent with the flow of the immediate argument, the general propositions of the writer, and the overall teaching of Scripture. Said another way, a text without its context is a pretext.

There are two main types of context that the exegete must examine if he is to rightly understand the text.

1. Logical Context. This is the context of the passage within the text – its placement within the logical flow of a passage, a book, and even the entire Bible. There are several circles of logical/biblical context:

a. Immediate Context: An expositor must carefully examine the passages that immediately precede and follow the text under investigation. Doing so allows the preacher to understand how the text fits into the author’s flow of thought. Thus, he will want to answer questions such as, “How does this passage connect with what immediately precedes/follows?” or “How does this text further explain or detail the argument or purpose of the writer as developed in the surrounding verses and chapters?”

b. Intermediate Context: The expositor must also determine how the given passage fits within the entire book. What is the primary message of the book? What are its main themes? How do the verses under investigation further develop the writer’s purpose or themes? These questions help enable the expositor to discern the author’s intended meaning in a given section.

c. Remote Context: Finally, the preacher must determine how this section (and even this book as a whole) relates to other books by the same author, the entire Testament wherein it occurs, and even whole of progressive revelation. Certainly, the Bible cannot contradict itself. So, why did God reveal this section of Scripture when He did? How do other passages (from other books of the Bible) help us to understand the author’s intended meaning in this passage?

2. Historical Context. It is also important for the exegete to understand the historical, geographical, and cultural setting in which a book was written. When did James write his epistle to the Jews dispersed abroad? What were his readers facing at that time? By answering questions like these, the preacher will be better able to determine the author’s intended meaning. In this regard, Walter Kaiser states, “The historical sense is that sense which is demanded by a careful consideration of the time and circumstances in which the author wrote. It is the specific meaning which an author’s words require when the historical context and background are taken into account.”

Barrick gives the following example of questions to ask using Philippians 3:7-11:

  • How does this passage relate to the immediately preceding and following contexts?
  • How does this passage relate to its related major section within Philippians?
  • How does this passage relate to the entire Epistle to the Philippians?
  • How does this passage relate to the Pauline corpus?
  • How does this passage relate to the entire New Testament?
  • Does this passage have any citations from or allusions to the Old Testament?
  • When did Paul write this epistle? at what period of time within his life and ministry?
  • Does the geographical, historical, or cultural context of Philippi have any bearing upon this passage?
  • Does the previous mention of Jewish elements in Paul’s background flavor the vocabulary or concepts in this passage?

By setting the background, the expositor is now ready to investigate the specific elements of the passage. Skipping the context, however, can result in a dangerous misreading of the text. It is no wonder, then, that John MacArthur says, “Context is the most important hermeneutical principle. By reading and familiarizing ourselves with the entire book, the expositor can relate each passage to the overall context of the book.”

Step 8: Examination – What does the text say? (Part 2)

Translation, Observation, and Identification

Summary: Having investigated the historical setting and biblical context, the exegete delves into the details of the passage being studied. The purpose of these details is not simply to acquire data, but rather to ascertain the correct meaning of the whole by examining the parts. This examination includes translating the text, making observations about the text, and identifying key grammatical and syntactical elements within the text.

With the context in mind, the preacher is now ready to begin examining the specifics of the biblical text—an examination that includes translation, observation, and identification.

Translation. In aiming for the highest level of interpretive accuracy, it is important that the expositor interact with the passage in its original form—whether in Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek. While this process will be easier for those who have been trained in the original languages, numerous tools are available for those with only little or no specialized training (such as interlinear Bibles, parsing guides, certain study Bibles, and helpful commentaries).

In translating the text from the original, the expositor looks for key words (lexical information) and key phrases (syntactical and grammatical information). The translator should also compare his translation with a literal English translation (such as the ESV, NASB, or NKJV). In so doing, the exegete should “determine to discover the basis for any textual variant followed by the translation or suggested in the margins of the translation” (Barrick).

Observation. Having translated the text from the original language, the preacher should spend time simply making observations about the text. This begins by reading and rereading the passage until the exegete is saturated with its content; it allows the Bible student to answer the questions: who?, what?, where?, when?, why?, and how? Here are some suggested markers to look for in the text:

  • Connecting words – “and,” “but,” “therefore,” “for,” and others
  • Verbs – note the tense, voice, whether singular or plural, and make sure you know their meaning
  • Patterns in context – look for similar verb forms in the passage, such as the five participles strung out in Ephesians 5:19-21
  • Repeated words – note words that are repeated within a verse or within a context
  • Words a given writer tends to use – for example, Matthew is the only gospel writer who uses the phrase “Kingdom of Heaven”
  • Contrasts
  • Comparisons
  • Commands
  • Exhortations
  • Definitive articles or lack of them
  • Adjectives
  • Note: what the verse does not say may also be important

By observing what the text itself says, the preacher has an objective basis upon which to propositionally state the truths of God’s Word—rather than just subjectively asserting that “this is what such and such means to me.”

Identification. After making general observations regarding the structure and flow of the passage, the exegete must identify key words and phrases within the passage—explaining their lexical and syntactical relationships to one another. Since God chose to communicate using human language, the preacher can best understand the meaning of a passage by identifying the key words and phrases therein.

Dr. Barrick provides seven aspects of this step in the process:

  1. Ask, “To what is each word, phrase, clause, sentence, and paragraph related? in what way? For what purpose?”
  2. Ask, “Where is the prominence or emphasis?” Pay attention to word order and the employment of emphatic words.
  3. Determine what idioms are being employed in the passage.
  4. Determine the literary form (genre) of the passage. Is the text narrative, poetry, prophecy, or something else?
  5. Determine what literary devices (chiasms, repetition, inclusion, assonance, parallelism, etc.) are being used in the text.
  6. Perform a word study for each key word in the text. Keep in mind that many words have no great “golden nugget” of expositional truth outside of their usage within proposition and context of the passage.
  7. State the argument and/or the development of the theme succinctly and in your own words.

Step 9: Explanation – What does the text mean?

Consult, Solve, and Evaluate

Summary: Having identified the key words and grammatical constructions within the passage, the exegete must solve any remaining interpretive difficulties in the text. This process involves consulting various commentaries (and other resources), listing all of the possible interpretations of the given word or phrase (along with the exegetical support for each interpretation), and then choosing the preferred solution. Once this process is complete, and the exegete believes he has an in-depth understanding of every part of the passage, he should summarize his findings and evaluate his conclusions.

During observation, the exegete has identified key words and phrases within the text—lexical and syntactical elements that he believes are crucial to determine the meaning of the passage. Ascertaining the importance of each of these elements (with respect to the meaning of the passage), is the essence of explanation. By and large, the meaning will become clear during the observation stage: as key terms and structures are identified and as insightful questions are asked and answered.

Of course, numerous questions may remain after the observation step is complete. The exegete may have identified numerous clues, but may still be curious as to their significance or their meaning. At this point, the Bible student must consult, solve, and evaluate.

Consult. With observations made and questions asked, the exegete should now turn to the many helpful tools available to him. These include commentaries, lexicons, Bible dictionaries, Bible encyclopedias, and concordances. In this process new observations may surface, and most of the exegete’s original questions should be answered. Granted, the interpreter should emphasize research in conservative commentaries as much as possible, while realizing that theologically liberal commentaries can offer a lot of sound material with regard to the original language and its usage.

Solve. When a question in the text is answered differently by two different commentaries (such that the two interpretations cannot both be right), the exegete has must decide which interpretation best fits the passage. Understanding that even good commentators do not always agree, the Bible student should list all of the potential solutions for each significant interpretive problem (along with the exegetical arguments both for and against each potential solution). By analyzing the exegetical support for each solution (along with much prayer), the exegete must choose the solution he believes best fits the evidence in the passage (lexically, syntactically, and contextually).

Summarize and Evaluate. With his questions answered and the meaning of the passage understood, the exegete should summarize his findings as concisely as possible. This summary sentence (or paragraph) will provide the basis for the proposition of his sermon. (Propositions are discussed in step 11.) At this time, the expositor should also review his observations and the conclusions drawn from those observations. Having consulted other resources, he may need to change or refine some of his initial assumptions. Barrick adds this helpful comment: “Acknowledge any uncertainties, ambiguities, lack of knowledge, and/or need for additional information. Outline a method of conducting further investigation.”

Step 10: Exhortation – How does the text apply today?

Summary: After identifying the key elements within the passage (observation) and determining what they mean (explanation), the exegete must also ascertain their importance for Christian living (application). In so doing, the preacher should begin by recognizing the application intended for the original audience before identifying principles that apply to Christians today.

Exegesis, for the purpose of preaching, does not stop with simply understanding the text (both in its details and in its meaning). After all, the purpose of exegesis is not merely to drown the congregation in data, but rather to bring God’s truth to bear on their lives. Thus, accurately exposing one’s audience to the Word includes both an explanation of what the text means and also an explanation of how the text should impact people.

John MacArthur gives practical instruction in this regard:

After observation and interpretation comes application. Bible study is not complete until the truth discovered is applied to life situations. Application answers the question, “How does this truth relate to me?” The following questions will help apply the truths discovered in Bible study:

  1. Are there examples to follow?
  2. Are there commands to obey?
  3. Are there errors to avoid?
  4. Are there sins to forsake?
  5. Are there promises to claim?
  6. Are there new thoughts about God?
  7. Are there principles to live by? . . .

Excellent Bible study skills are the foundation upon which good expository sermons are built. The expository preacher is, by definition, a skilled Bible student. He interprets Scripture accurately, applies its truths in his own life, and then proclaims them to his congregation.

Stage 3: Production

Having studied the text in detail, and having ascertained its meaning, the expositor must now seek to organize the information in such a way as to effectively explain God’s truth to his audience. Using the bricks and mortar of exegesis, the expositor works hard to construct a sermon that brings the full weight of the passage to bear on the lives of his congregation. With the exegetical foundation established, the sermon building process involves at least three elements:

  • Framework – the proposition and outline
  • Flow – point development and logical transitions
  • Finishing Touches – the introduction and conclusion

Regarding the importance of this stage in the sermon building process, John MacArthur notes:

Preaching an expository message involves far more than standing in the pulpit and reviewing the high points, details, and components unearthed through research. Neither a word study nor a running commentary on a passage is, in itself, an expository sermon. . . . The task of the expository preacher is to take the mass of raw data from the text and bridge the gap between exegesis and exposition.

Step 11: Framework (Part 1)

Creating the Proposition

Summary: An effective expository sermon begins with a concise and textually-driven proposition (or thesis statement). This proposition should reflect the central idea of the passage, and should become the central theme of the sermon. It is the guiding sentence or statement around which the sermon is outlined and developed.

A good proposition begins by identifying the central idea of the passage being preached. Sometimes this central idea comes from a single statement in the passage, or sometimes from the larger context. By focusing on this central idea, the expositor ensures that his message will not miss the main point intended by the author. Along these lines, Donald McDougall writes:

Our task is NOT to create our own message; it is rather to communicate the author’s message.

Our task is NOT to create a central theme; it is rather to: 1. find the author’s central theme, 2. build a message around that theme, and, 3. make that theme the central part of all we have to say.

Once the central idea of the passage has been determined, the expositor is then ready to develop his homiletical (preaching) proposition. Having ascertained the thrust of the author’s argument, the expositor now composes a comprehensive sentence which reflects the theme or main idea of the text as the expositor purposes to deliver it. The homiletical proposition is slightly different than the central idea of the passage because it has the preacher’s audience in mind (whereas the original text does not).

John MacArthur says this about the importance of a homiletical proposition:

Expositors are unanimous in the necessity of each sermon containing a proposition or main idea. First of all, make sure that every expository message has a single theme that is crystal clear so that your people know exactly what you are saying, how you have supported it, and how it is applied to their lives. The thing that kills people in what is sometimes called expository preaching is randomly meandering through a passage.

Thus the homiletical proposition should reflect both the purpose of the text and the purpose of the sermon.

Carey Hardy gives the following practical tips for creating a proposition.

  • The proposition is a single sentence that functions as the hinge between the introduction and the body of a message.
  • The proposition is a statement of the objective of the sermon.
  • It is not a restatement of the title.
  • It transfers attention to the body.
  • It is a simple sentence stating the theme to be amplified, explained, or proved.
  • The theme is the overall subject (e.g. faith) . . . the proposition limits the theme, gives aim to the theme (e.g. three aspects of faith).
  • When it comes to the actual organization of the sermon, the propositional statement is the most important feature.
  • The proposition can be expressed in more than one way.
    • statement — In this passage we will examine four characteristics of a man of integrity that will help us understand what it means to be a man after God’s own heart.
    • question — What are some reasons for trusting God when you’re in the midst of a trial?
    • exhortation — As we study this passage, commit yourself to following these four steps to resolving conflict in your marriage:
    • exclamation — What a joy it is to contemplate the three proofs of God’s sovereignty that we find in this passage!
  • The proposition should be expressed as concisely and clearly as possible.
  • The proposition contains a “key word”…a plural noun… for example, 4 reasons, 3 facts, 6 ingredients, 3 elements, etc.
  • The key word is always a plural noun that characterizes the main points.

Step 12: Framework (Part 2)

Constructing an Outline

Summary: After determining an appropriate propositional statement, the expositor should build an outline that supports and expands upon that proposition. These points should reflect the structure and emphasis of the passage, and will thereby naturally support the main argument of the passage. Exegetical information will then be later added to this outline.

With the proposition in hand, the expositor must now construct an outline that reflects the structure of the passage being preached. Because the proposition centers upon the central idea of the text, the outline (if accurately reflecting the passage) will naturally support and expand upon the proposition. The homiletical outline should be easy to understand and easy to remember. After all, it’s purpose is primarily to help the listener follow the logical flow of the passage.

A good clear outline will provide a number of distinct advantages to the expository preacher: 1) it will allow both the preacher and the audience to know exactly where the message is going, 2) it will help ensure that the preacher teaches the message of the text and not his own ideas, and 3) it will better enable the hearers to understand, remember, and apply the sermon.

With such in mind, each point of an effective sermon outline should coordinate with the proposition, be parallel with the other points of the outline, flow directly out of the text, and be easy to understand and remember.

Carey Hardy gives the following helpful reminders in constructing an outline:

  • There is more than one possible homiletical outline.
  • The outline should reflect syntactical analysis.
  • The expositor should never force an outline upon a text.
  • Each main point should serve a specific purpose—to fulfill the proposition.
  • There are three primary types of major points:
    • Markers of the textExamples:
      1. The Basic Essence of Depravity
      2. The Pervasive Extent of Depravity
      3. The Sobering End of Depravity
      1. The Unique Necessity of Christian Love
      2. The Distinctive Character of Christian Love
      3. The Sobering Test of Christian Love
    • Statements/questionsExamples:
      1. Prayer is Comprehensive
      2. Prayer is Required
      3. Prayer is Effective
      1. What Does God Expect You to Do?
      2. Where Does God Expect You to Go?
      3. Why Does God Expect You to Obey?
    • DirectivesExamples:
      1. Understand God’s Process
      2. Embrace God’s Will
      3. Depend on God’s Strength
      4. Imitate God’s Love
      1. Be Genuine
      2. Be Sacrificial
      3. Be Diligent
  • The preacher must be careful that outline points are not too complicated and that major points are clear.
  • He should attempt to keep the points parallel whenever possible.
  • Any subordinate points should relate to the main point.
  • Too many sub-points are cumbersome.

Step 13: Flow (Part 1)

Developing the Points

Summary: With an outline constructed, the expositor must develop each point in a way that is logical and accurate to the biblical passage. Such development usually involves five elements: 1) observation, 2) explanation, 3) argumentation, 4) application, and 5) illustration. By developing each point in this manner, the expositor begins with the biblical text as his authority, and ends by explaining and applying God’s truth to his audience.

Having identified what his points will be, the preacher cannot simply stop without adding meat to the bones. There are at least five key parts of this developmental process (adapted from Tom Pennington). The first two of those elements have been combined because they were detailed in the “Exegesis” section of the Sermon Builder.

Observation and Explanation. With each point of his outline, the expositor must begin by pointing out and explaining the pertinent exegetical information—data that he gleaned during his study. In so doing, he is telling his audience both what the text says and what it means. This is the meat of the sermon, the foundation upon which the outline is built. If the expositor must shortchange any one step of the sermon building process, this must not be it.

Argumentation. The purpose of argumentation is to tell the audience why they should believe the interpretation being given them by the preacher—”to convince the listener that your interpretation conforms to the rest of Scripture and should be embraced as the truth” (Pennington).

Tools that the expositor uses to support his claims should primarily consist of parallel passages of Scripture and other cross references that support the point being made. Secondary tools might include commentaries, systematic theologies, church history, and even logical deductions.

Illustration. The flow of the sermon consists not only in smooth transitions, but also in pertinent illustrations—word pictures and anecdotes that help the audience to better understand the truth being prescribed. Illustrations provide a mental break for the audience, thereby aiding in both their attentiveness and comprehension.

While the premise or foundation of any sermon should certainly not be stories, illustrations nonetheless serve an important supporting role. In fact, illustrations function in several ways. For example, they help make truth interesting and concrete as well as memorable. They help the audience relate to what otherwise might be seemingly abstract concepts. By clarifying, humanizing, or emphasizing certain concepts, illustrations provide the expositor with a powerful communicative tool. With this in mind, John Broadus wrote:

Good illustrations are far more easily remembered than bright sayings and trains of argument. It is a not uncommon experience with preachers to find that their finest sentences and most profound observations easily slip the memory, while some apparently trivial anecdote or illustration remains. If these can be made so apt as necessarily to recall the argument or train of thought, so much the better.

Illustrations, themselves, include everything from word pictures and historical allusions to personal experiences and anecdotes. They can be found in the Bible itself, from everyday observation, in newspapers and books, and even from the expositor’s imagination. Illustrations are windows into the sermon, allowing the hearers to visualize what they are hearing. They help the audience see what the speaker is saying.

Here are some practical tips for using illustrations:

  1. An illustration should illustrate a point, not just be a random story
  2. An illustration should draw attention to the idea behind it, not itself
  3. An illustration must be understandable if it is to be effective
  4. An illustration should be convincing, even if the situation is imaginary
  5. An illustration should be interesting, not boring or over-used

Tom Pennington lists several misuses and pitfalls of illustrations.

Misuses:

  1. To manipulate the emotions of the hearers
  2. To shock the hearer
  3. To relate an interesting story even when it doesn’t fit the point of the sermon
  4. To pad a poorly prepared message
  5. Merely to get a laugh

Pitfalls:

  1. Including too many
  2. Including inaccurate facts
  3. Announcing that an illustration is coming (rather than simply beginning the illustration)

Application. Finally, each point of the sermon should be applied to the audience, meaning that the preacher should tell his listeners what to do with the truth they’ve heard. After all, God intends the teaching of His Word to be applied (Rom. 4:23-24; 15:4; 1 Cor. 9:9-10; 10:6, 11).

Pennington gives the following practical tips for applying the points of one’s sermon:

The definition of application (from John Broadus):

  • Focusing the claims of truth – application proper, in which one shows the hearer how the truths of the sermon apply to him.
  • Suggesting ways and means – conclusion of message on Ps. 119; conclusion of 1 Cor. 12; – practical suggestions concerning the best mode and means of performing the duty urged.
  • Persuading to vital response – persuasion in the sense of moral and spiritual appeal for right response.

The guiding principles of application:

  1. Should flow from authorial intent
  2. Should be suited to the audience
  3. Should be placed in the message where best suited to text

Sources for application:

  1. Clear application in the text itself
  2. Your own spiritual experiences (cf. 1 Cor. 10:13)
  3. Observation of your people
  4. Observation of the culture
  5. Commentaries and other resources

Step 14: Flow (Part 2)

Thinking through Transitions

Summary: With the points of the outline developed, the expositor should, at least, think through how he will transition from point to point. Random tangents, a lack of parallelism between points, and illustrations that don’t apply will all hurt the logical flow of the message. Thinking through transitions ahead of time will minimize unnecessary distractions during the sermon delivery.

If the outline is the structure, and the research provides the boards, then transitions are the nails. They attach everything together. Without good transitions the sermon will sound like a choppy conglomeration of unrelated ideas, and the audience will find themselves lost and confused as they wonder, “Where did that come from?”

Concerning the importance of smooth transitions, John Broadus wrote:

Transition may be formally defined as both the act and means of moving from one part of the sermon to another, from one division to another, and from one idea to another. Transitions are to sermons what joints are to the bones of the body. They are the bridges of the discourse and by them the preacher moves from point to point.

Here are some helpful tips to remember when thinking through the transitions of a sermon:

  • Make sure that the points of your outline are parallel. If they are not, it will be hard to transition between them in a clear manner.
  • Be creative in the way you transition. Do not abruptly say, “Point 2″ and start a new thought. Rather, good transitions are clear, in that a new point is clearly being discussed and yet subtle, in that they are not displeasing to the audience.
  • Make sure that the transition circles back to pick up anyone in the audience who may have been distracted and lost the flow of thought during the last point.
  • Make sure that your transition logically ties in to the whole of your speech. (i.e. If you are starting a new main point, it should logically tie back into your thesis. If you are starting a new sub-point, it should logically tie back into the main point it is under.)

Step 15: Finishing Touches

Writing the Introduction and Conclusion

Summary: Only after the body of the message has been completed is the expositor ready to compose his introduction and conclusion. The reason for this being that, until he finishes the body of his sermon, he does not adequately know what it is he will be introducing or concluding.

The final step in the sermon building process is the addition of an introduction and a conclusion. With the body of the message finished, the expositor is now ready to write both an appropriate introduction and conclusion to his sermon.

The Introduction. At its most basic level, the introduction should do at least two things. First, it should secure the interest of the audience concerning the subject to be discussed. Through an interesting illustration, statistic, or some other means, the expositor’s introduction should convince his audience that the remainder of his message is worth hearing. Second, it should present a plan for where the message is going. Usually, this is something as simple as stating the proposition, although it may include an overview of the entire outline.

Tom Pennington gives several helpful hints for introductions:

  • It must be designed to accomplish three things:
    • Grab the hearer’s attention and secure their interest—but avoid sensationalism
    • Create a need; why should I listen to you?
    • Introduce the theme of the passage and the body of the sermon
  • It should make one dominant impression through a narrowing focus upon a single theme.
  • If a series, the introduction should make the connection with previous messages.
  • It can be drawn from: situations and experiences of life, historical settings, biographies, news items, quotations, references from literature, geography, culture, customs, background materials, anecdotes, humorous incidents, striking statements.
  • Is important to make a smooth transition to the proposition . . . and the proposition needs to be stated clearly.
  • The introduction should end with the proposition and the transition sentence.
  • It should be an appropriate length – as brief as possible…as long as necessary.
  • In most cases, it is best to write out introduction (but try not to merely read the introduction).

The Conclusion. Contrary to what some may think, the conclusion should be the climax of the sermon (and not merely a summary statement tagged on to the end). While it certainly includes a summation of the message, it should also include a call to action—reminding the audience that, based on the weight of the evidence in the sermon, certain application is required. In other words, the conclusion should provide the audience with a final and climactic, “So what?”

Here are some helpful hints for an appropriate conclusion:

  • It should never be impromptu, but always carefully prepared.
  • It should be a natural ending to the sermon, not an abrupt stop.
  • It should be personal in its aim—the goal is to reach and impact each and every individual of the audience.
  • The call to action should be the climax of the sermon.
  • The conclusion should not be announced, lest the listeners tune out before hearing the entire conclusion.
  • It should usually include an appeal for unbelievers to repent.
  • It should be the clear, forceful, and natural appeal from the preacher to his congregation, emerging from and grounded in the body of his sermon.
  • The preacher should always try to have the last line of your conclusion written down (so as to avoid unnecessary rambling).

Stage 4: Presentation

Practical Tips for Sermon Delivery

Summary: With the study completed and the sermon constructed, the expositor is still not finished with his task. There remains another crucial aspect to the full sermon building process—namely, delivery. In communicating effectively, at least seven essentials should be considered: preparation, perspicuity, poise, projection, props, parameters, and passion.

The sermon is not really finished until it is delivered. Certainly, presentation is not the most important step in the process. If the exegesis is incorrect or the exposition poorly crafted, the presentation will fail. Yet, at the same time, the expositor must constantly seek to be an excellent communicator—not for the purpose of astonishing people with his own ability, but rather that the truth of God’s Word might be clearly expressed to God’s people.

In order to communicate effectively, there are several aspects of delivery that should be considered.

Preparation. Having properly studied for his sermon, the preacher must also undergird his message with prayer, make certain to start the process early enough so as not to feel rushed, be sure to get proper rest the night before, and review his notes beforehand so as to feel comfortable with them when preaching. By preparing properly (mentally, physically, and spiritually), the expositor will be much more ready to communicate effectively.

Perspicuity. Clarity of thought and word is the most important part of delivery—expressing the truth of God’s Word in a way that the audience can understand. This, of course, flows out of having a good outline and good transitions. However, the expositor should also know his audience: using language with which they are familiar and illustrations with which they can relate.

The speaker should also speak loudly and clearly. He should not be afraid of or distracted by the microphone. And he should train himself to avoid common verbal errors, such as using the word “um,” hurrying his speech, or mumbling.

Poise. The preacher must present himself respectably and with dignity, not in a puffy or arrogant manner, but in such a way that neither his office or message are trivialized or disdained on his account. His posture should be correct and his eye-contact direct. His delivery should be made with confidence and conviction, being given in an organized and natural manner. Moreover, the expositor should refrain from either degrading or exalting himself, either through his words, his actions, or his dress (clothing should be clean, neat, and appropriate to the setting). The message itself is what is important. With proper poise, the message is communicated effectively without undue focus being placed on the messenger.

Projection. Preaching should be natural—in that it is not faked or forced, but rather an enlargement of the speaker’s normal style of communication. However, each part of the message (such as intensity, volume, facial expression, and hand movements) must be enlarged (especially for large audiences) so that every individual in the congregation gets the message.

Props. On certain occasions, it is appropriate for the expositor to use certain props to aid in the communication of his message. This may be something as simple as an overhead or PowerPoint projection of the outline. Whatever the prop, however simple or complex, the expositor must make sure that it is in place and ready to go before he begins his message. Nothing is more distracting or embarrassing than a visual aid that fails to work.

Parameters. Depending on where and when the sermon is given, the expositor adjusts to fit within the parameters of any given situation. Such limits include how much body language and expression he will use, how long of a sermon he will give, the words he will chose to say, and so on. For example, jokes may be appropriate to introduce a message for youth on a Wednesday night, but they would not be appropriate during a funeral eulogy. Expositors who know the limits of each situation will be able to maximize their communication within that given sphere.

Passion. The expositor must preach passionately if he expects his congregation to respond passionately. After all, if the preacher himself cannot get excited about what he has been studying, why should the people get excited about it. Insofar as his message accurately reflects the Scriptures, the expositor can be confident that his message carries with it God’s authority. Thus, having been compelled himself, he compels others with the truth that has already impacted his own life.

In each of these areas, it is important that the expositor be continually assessing his communication techniques—always seeking to improve for the glory of God and the clarity of the message.

After preaching, the expositor must also guard his heart — always striving to improve in his effectiveness, always fleeing from the sin of pride, and always allowing the Holy Spirit to do His work.

7 thoughts on “Sermon builder: Preparing a sermon.

  1. I was drafted as an elder intern yesterday! Much work ahead, may the Lord purify my soul that I may be, by His Spirit, worthy of the calling. This guide should come in handy. May the Lord alone be glorified in all by all.

  2. Frank Chirwa says:

    I am very grateful for this subject. It will help me be a better expository preacher and a teacher too

    We live in a place were books on preaching and resources to get them are unavailable. Yet God’s people need to be sharpened in order to rightly devide the Word of God. Maany websites sell their content in dollars while in remote places like ours one can barely get a dollar in the bank and puchase an item on internent. May God repay you for this ministry in His own way abundantly. Thanks.

  3. Carlitos R. Ramos says:

    *[[Num 6:24-26]]* “The LORD bless you and protect you; The LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; The LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”’

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