Proclamation of the Word has long been a foundation of Christian worship. Our Sunday services have often been referred to as “preaching services,” reflecting the central role of the sermon. Preaching is seen as one way of proclaiming God’s Word in worship. Other forms of the spoken word such as testimony, drama, or music may be used in addition to or instead of a sermon.
When preparing to preach, keep these four simple principles in mind:
Share the Good News of the Gospel
Every sermon should look to the Scriptures as the source for the good news of the gospel and should be the foundation of all sermons. The Revised Common Lectionary provides a sound scripture schedule and a beginning point for sermon preparation. As preachers, we are called to proclaim the Word—to announce the good news of the gospel.
Focus on a Central Idea
Most memorable sermons contain one central thesis. A thesis is more specific than a theme; it is a complete sentence that makes a positive (as opposed to a negative) declaration. The annual Worship Resources provides several samples each week. You may select one of them; you may think of a way to combine them; or you may think of another statement that relates to your experience.
Your central idea or statement may be stated explicitly in your presentation, or it may only serve as a guide as you prepare. However, the congregation should have a clear idea of what the central idea is by the end of your sermon.
Do not try to do too much in one sermon—a simple idea clearly subdivided and illustrated is often a very good sermon.
Share Your Personal Experience
A powerful sermon must flow from the thoughts and experiences of the speaker. Because identifying these thoughts and experiences is one of the most difficult tasks for the speaker, a list of questions is presented each week in Worship Resources to stimulate discovery. Every person has a rich accumulation of ideas and experiences—the hard part is effectively using them to support the central idea.
Bear in mind that these questions do not necessarily have one answer, nor do they necessarily have a right and wrong answer. The beauty of the lay ministry of our church is that each minister comes to the pulpit with real-life experiences from which to draw. Whether you acknowledge it or not, you are making theological assumptions all through your sermon. The questions posed here also try to make those assumptions explicit for your consideration.
Your personal testimony is the single most powerful element of your sermon. Your personal testimony should always be included. Do not be afraid or embarrassed to share your failures and mistakes with the congregation. Be sure that you are not always the hero of your own testimonies.
Remember Your Audience
To be effective, your sermon must address the individuals who make up the congregation—their personal interests and needs and the interests and needs of their communities. Sound advice comes from a great minister who observed that the effective preacher speaks with the Bible in one hand and the daily newspaper in the other.
Religion has too often failed to be a powerful influence in people’s lives or has turned them off altogether when its spokespeople have misrepresented its promises, thus rendering it irrelevant to real human experience. The gospel of Christ is relevant to the immediate needs and experiences of the listeners.
One final brief counsel:
Prepare early and prepare thoroughly!
Even though you do not have a specific sermon assignment in the immediate future, you can constantly assess your life’s experiences for their appropriateness as sermon material. Once you have a specific assignment, don’t wait until Saturday to organize your ideas. Never forget that God’s Spirit will bless your efforts as you prepare and as you stand before the congregation to offer your ministry.