Before You Preach
When I go to the store without a list, there's no telling what I'll bring home. Same with preaching. Without a list to go by, there's no telling what I'll deliver.
I have a three-by-five card taped to my desk with a list of questions on it. Once I've done my biblical spadework, I break for caffeine, then start in with the first question. I ask these questions every time I prepare a sermon.
In one sentence, what is this sermon about? When, on Tuesday, someone asks, "What are you preaching about Sunday?" I hope I can answer with one clear sentence. It may be similar to the big idea of the text, but it's more relevant.
I recently preached on the Lord's Prayer, using the text in Luke 11. The idea of the text was "Jesus reveals the secret of his rich prayer life." My one-sentence description of the sermon was "Prayer charges our spiritual batteries."
What theological category would this fit under? Am I being theologically faithful? If the sermon is not theological, on some level, what is it?
I once preached a Father's Day message from Psalm 15 on the characteristics of a godly man. It was biblical, but not particularly theological. If pressed, I would justify the message as illustrative of our redeemed ontological nature or some such blather.
I wish I had preached the message from a recent issue of Preaching Today delivered by Jim Nicodem from Psalm 103:8-12. It was entitled, "The Father Heart of God." It was also a sermon for Father's Day, but it was a theological exploration of one aspect of the nature of God. Every father who heard it learned something about being a better dad, but the focus was Godward, not manward. Increasingly, I'm moving from the anthropocentric message toward the theocentric.
What do I want my listeners to know? This question causes my sermon to engage the mind. What information does a listener need to know before he or she can act?
In a recent sermon on forgiveness, Bob Russell, minister of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, wanted his congregation to know that forgiveness will set them free from a variety of emotional and spiritual maladies. More specifically, he wanted people to know there is a reward for doing the painfully hard work of forgiveness.
What do I want them to do? This is the application question, which focuses on my listeners' hands and feet. I must be as specific and practical as possible. In Bob Russell's message, he asked specific questions not easily deflected by the heart: "What about your boss, who denied you a raise, even though you had a more productive year than the year before? Will you forgive her? What about your dad, who left you and your mom when you were 8? Are you ready to forgive him?"
What do I want them to become? Now I'm going for the heart. What attitudes, priorities, and adjustments in lifestyle will this sermon address?
This question is often the hardest to answer, and for that reason I'm tempted to ignore it. It's easy to say, "As a result of this message, I want ...