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The Structure & Art of a Sermon

(Note:  Years ago, a pastor made a bold proclamation in my presence that he could teach anyone to preach.  And this was not an old guy, but a young guy saying this.  Since I had recently been told that I was “not good” as a speaker by a peer, and since I knew that I wasn’t doing a good job at speaking (I stunk, to be kind), I took this audacious pastor up on his offer.  Could he really teach anyone to preach?  Well, as a result of his help, I became WAY better than I had been.  It’s been almost twenty years.  I’ve withheld identifying this said pastor in the event I don’t convey his thoughts accurately).

Preaching is preparation, and therefore it is assumed (by me, for these purposes) that one is seeking to prepare.

How long does one prepare?  Until one is done.  The amount of time required in preparation varies from person to person- some need 4-6 hours, others 8-12, and others even more than that.  Some messages require more, some require less.  For me, I fall in that 8-12 range.

(Sidebar:  The is not to disavow/underestimate/ignore the work of the Holy Spirit.  At one time, I would get confused and frustrated by people who would thank me for talking about issue Z or for saying something in particular, when I had not mentioned that one thing or even addressed that issue.  I wondered when people would start “listening.”  (This foolishness can be tagged as ignorance and foolishness on my part).  Slowly, I figured out that what people were hearing was the work of the Holy Spirit, who was taking what I was saying and using it in a way that affected people in ways that I couldn’t imagine or plan.  So, I ask God to help me in the preparation, help me in the presentation, and then to take the words and use them however He chooses to do so.)


What is the biblical text you will be using?  This is question number one.  Once the passage has been determined, read it and pray (several times- this cannot be underestimated).

Study the passage.

What is the context of the passage?  What happens before these verses and what happens after these verses?  What kind of style is this?  Is this history, prophecy, narrative, parable, poetry, proverb, allegory?

Make observations about the passage.  What stands out?  What strikes you?  What questions come to mind?  What thoughts come to mind?

How do you interpret this passage?  What do other commentators say about it?  Do you agree or disagree with them?  Why?

And finally, the so what question, how does- how will- how can this apply to your people?  Is it meant to encourage, to challenge, to convict, to enlighten?

Summary statements

Summarize the text in one statement.  For example, as part of our series on the Pastoral Epistles (Timothy and Titus), I preached from the following texts.

2nd Timothy 2:8-13.  My summary statement was “Paul encouraged as well as challenged Timothy to remember Jesus Christ.””Paul” is the author, “encourage/challenge” is what he is doing, the recipient is “Timothy,” and “to remember Jesus Christ” is what Paul wants Timothy to do.

Titus 3:1-15.  My summary statement was “Paul explained to Titus the change that takes place in a person through the grace of Jesus Christ.” Again, “Paul” is the author, “explain” is what he is doing, “Titus” is the recipient, and “change that takes place through Jesus Christ” is Paul’s message.

Next, adjust the summary statement so that it is applicable to the audience.

2nd Timothy 2:8-13.  “The Bible encourages as well as challenges us to remember Jesus Christ.”

Titus 3:1-15.  “The Bible explains to us the change that takes place in a person through the grace of Jesus Christ.”

Next, tweak your summary statement, paying special attention to the phrasing and choice of words.  First of all, stay true to the text.  As you do so, look for phrases and words that will standout.  Sometimes, just using the word from the text is not the most original, but it is the most powerful.  In my message from 2nd Timothy, I used the word “Remember.”  Avoid trying to be too cute.


This should flow from the study that you have done.  The outline provides the skeleton to the message.  What statements, points, question, phrases have stood out to you that will assist you in explaining or supporting the summary statement.

From my message on 2nd Timothy, my basic outline was the following:

SS:  The Bible encourages as well as challenges us to remember Jesus Christ.  Why does the Bible do so?

1.  Is is because we fail to remember Jesus Christ?
2.  Why are we to remember Jesus Christ?  Why Him?
3.  How do we remember Jesus Christ?

From my message from Titus 3, my basic outline was the following:

SS:  The Bible explains to us the change that takes place in a person through the grace of Jesus Christ.

1.  Practice:  For change to occur, we should engage in new practices.
2.  Process:  As we engage in new practices, the process of change takes place.
3.  Point:  There is a point at which the change begins.
4.  Pitfalls:  Along the process, avoid dangerous pitfalls.

(Note:  It is rare for me to use alliteration.  This time is just sort of happened.)


Once your basic outline is finished, then it is time to add muscle to the skeleton.  The muscle comes from:

  • Exegesis
  • Illustration
  • Application

It is not necessary for every point to have exegesis, illustration, and application.  In fact, it may seem forced and predictable to do so.  Sometimes, only one or two of these are necessary.

EXAMPLE ONE: 2nd Timothy 2:8-13

1.  Why do we fail to remember Jesus Christ?

  • Exegesis:  reviewing the context of Paul’s words (2:3-7)
  • Illustration:  Story from work, failing to remember the main thing
  • Application:  Jesus can get lost among the details of our lives.  We must be intentional about not letting this happen.

2.  Why remember Jesus Christ?  Why Him?

  • Exegesis:  2:8-13.  Because Jesus is like no other (raised from the dead, descended from David), He cannot be stopped or contained (God’s word is not chained), and He is hope like no other (This is a worthy saying..)
  • Illustration:  Exodus from Egypt.  The God who is like no other, cannot be stopped by anyone (like Pharaoh), who is Hope like no other calls on the people to remember what He has done (Exodus 13, “signs on your hands and reminders on your foreheads).

3.  How do we remember Jesus Christ?

  • Application:  Sit with God, Stand with someone in need, Look for God (in his Word, in symbols to remind, in His creation), Listen for God, Speak to God and to others.

EXAMPLE 2:  Titus 3:1-15

1.  Practice:  For change to occur, we should engage in a new practice.

  • Exegesis:  Change begins on the inside (Matthew 15).  Six practices Paul challenges us to engage in (3:1-2)
  • Application:  You can remember the six specific practices or you can remember the over-arching principle.  Love God and love your neighbor (Matthew 22).  Thus, 1) remember the over-arching principle, and 2) commit to practicing this principle with one person for a set period of time and see what happens.

2.  Process:  As a person engages in new practices, the process of change takes place.

  • Illustration:  Just starting out with a fitness class, the process feels unnatural at first.
  • Exegesis:  The ‘BEFORE’ picture (3:3).  Luke’s description of the before and after of Paul (Acts 7,8,9).
  • Application:  Change is a process.  When we mess up, do not think of it as a failure, but as a skill/practice that we have yet to master.

3.  Point:  There is a point at which the change begins.

  • Illustration:  Paul, Acts 9
  • Exegesis:  3:4-7  “He saved”

4.  Pitfalls:  Avoid Dangerous Pitfalls

  • Illustration:  Scouting the Divine by M. Feinberg-  When sheep are left to themselves…
  • Exegesis:  3:8-15.  Avoid vain discussions and divisive people.


The introduction is key.  The beginning of a message is when people decide whether or not they will engage in the act of listening to you.  Thus, it is important to “hook them” with a story, a saying, a quote (all of which can be funny or serious) which engage the listener and invite them into what you have to say.  Usually, the introduction begins with an illustration which then sets the tone for the parameters and direction of the message.  After the opening illustration or saying, you then begin to help the listener understand why this message is important.

EXAMPLE ONE 2nd Timothy 2:8-13

I began with a story of how I had forgotten to remember something significant.  After the story, I introduced the summary statement (The bible encourages us and challenges us to remember Jesus Christ) and then asked the question “Why?”  Why does Paul say this?  Doesn’t it seem odd or out of place?  Why would Paul being telling his protege, a minister, “to remember Jesus Christ?”  And then I was into point number one.

EXAMPLE TWO  Titus 3:1-15

I started with a story of someone who had needed to change, who wanted to change, but could not change (and it was a funny story).  I then said, “Change is hard.  Change can be difficult.  But change is possible.”  And then I went into the summary statement, “The Bible explains to us the individual change that takes place in a person through the grace of Jesus Christ.”


Sometimes overlooked, the conclusion is the part where you spell out what it is from that particular biblical text that the Bible is challenging/encouraging/exhorting us to do.  It’s the one thing you want the listener to truly consider (and for me, it’s the hardest part of the message to put together).


Now that you have a basic outline, an introduction, and a conclusion, it’s time to add skin and clothing to your message.  Here, people differ, and it’s going to be a matter of personal taste as to what you do.  Personally, for a Sunday message, I write out the message nearly word for word.  I want the wording of a story to be exact so that the point isn’t lost or confusing, I want the transitions from one point to the next to be clear, and I want to make sure that I don’t start off on the highway but end up on a dirt road.

Others vary and are more comfortable with an outline for their preparation.

As for the message itself, I only take notes with me (I’ve probably read over the final draft 4-5 times).

I hope this helps.

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