Preaching the Word of God is among the greatest privileges entrusted to man. It is also one of his greatest responsibilities.
Through the foolishness of preaching (1 Cor 1:21), God has chosen to reveal Himself to men. This knowledge of God, conveyed through preaching, is able to lead men to eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. It is also able to transform them into the image and likeness of God (2Cor 3:18).
These pages are the simple basic principles of preaching. They are intended primarily for those thousands of fine church leaders whose circumstances have denied them the training to develop their latent skills.
The notes were originally prepared for the students of the “Africa Christian Training School” in Harare, Zimbabwe.
“I would also like to acknowledge the insight and inspiration I received from reading “Notes on Homiletics” by Aaron Linford (England).
Seven years of ministry in Africa has brought me into contact with thousands of pastors and church leaders; most have never had the opportunity of any formal training in the art of preaching and teaching. They have not been able to study the principles of preaching; consequently, their abilities and skills are largely undeveloped. Their limitations in this area have impoverished congregations. An adequate preaching ministry is essential to the growth and spiritual development of a congregation. It is to these fine men that this simple training is lovingly dedicated. The art of preaching is called “HOMILETICS,” derived from the Greek words homileo and homilia, which mean “to be in company with, i.e., to converse, and communicate”.
Acts 20:11 is based on homileo. Note how it is translated in The Living Bible: “They all went back upstairs and ate the Lord’s S upper together; then Paul preached [homileo] another long sermon -so it was dawn when he finally left them!”
Homiletics involves the study of everything related to the art of preaching sermons. Good sermons (communication) are birthed out of good communion (companionship) and fellowship.
There are two distinct aspects involved in preaching: Firstly, the divine; secondly, the human. Homiletics is the study of the human aspect!
A. HOW TO BE EFFECTIVE
Preaching is the art of communicating divine truth through human personality. A preacher is essentially a communicator. He receives truth from God and communicates it effectively to men.
God gives the revelation; man provides the presentation.
In order to do this effectively, he must learn to do several things well.
- Wait On God
Firstly, he must learn how to wait on God. The preacher must learn how to be still in the presence of God, and discern the voice of the Lord speaking within his own spirit. (See Sections A2.1 and A2.2 of World MAP’s book The Shepherd’s Staff for more instructions on this.)
Every worthwhile sermon begins in the heart and mind of God, Who is the source of all truth. He is the fountain of all knowledge. The effective preacher’s first task is to learn to receive the thoughts of God. Rarely will he ever hear an audible voice of God.
Divine truth will distill quietly in his spirit like the morning dew. The prospective preacher must wait patiently in the presence of God. There he will receive the precious thoughts and truths that God is always willing to share with those who seek Him diligently.
It is good to make a habit of spending time in God’s presence. Set aside some portion of every day to enter the presence of God and wait patiently on Him. You will soon learn how to perceive the voice of God speaking quietly in your spirit.
We should not enter God’s presence with the sole idea of “getting a sermon.” We need to enter God’s presence firstly to expose ourselves regularly to the scrutiny and counsel of God.
Rushing into His presence with an urgency which “needs a sermon for tomorrow” is certainly not an attitude of heart that can receive the wonderful truths of God. We should allow truth an opportunity to have its effect on us before we endeavor to share it with others.
- Study The Bible
Ideally, the preacher should come before God with his Bible in hand. Make time to sit quietly and patiently before God in this way. Ask for illumination and inspiration on His Word.
Prayerfully seek out the counsel, wisdom and instructions of the Lord in His Word. Spread out the Bible before you and read it in His presence.
Sometimes it is good to follow a regular pattern of reading, beginning where you left off the previous day. This helps you to go consistently through the Bible, instead of reading here and there and neglecting large portions of the Scriptures.
At other times, you may seek some prompting of the Spirit as to where you should read. In this way, you do not get into a rut.
- Keep A Notebook
A notebook in which to record the thoughts and ideas that come to your mind in these times of quiet waiting is essential. It is amazing how quickly one may forget the most wonderful truth, if the thought is not recorded while it is fresh in your mind.
Practice writing down every significant thought which comes to mind as you prayerfully read the Scriptures. If a theme suggests itself to you, follow it through as far as you can, and jot down everything you can on the subject. In this way, you will soon develop a good source of sermon material.
Read through the notebook every once in a while. The thoughts will begin to expand in your heart. You will find that some themes will occupy your mind for weeks, expanding continually as you meditate on them.
Get into the habit of talking to the Lord about His Word. When there are things you do not understand, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the meaning to you. Ask for the spirit of revelation (Eph 1:17).
Then learn to wait quietly and patiently before God as He gently directs the answers into your spirit. Record them as they come to you. Get the truth down in your notebook. Don’t trust them merely to memory. Even the best memory is strengthened by writing things down.
- Be Cleansed By The Word
Try to avoid the attitude that seeks a word from God so that you can preach about it on Sunday morning. Do not always be looking for spiritual bullets that you can fire at someone. Recognize the primary need of your own heart. Let God deal with your heart through His Word and by His Spirit. Let the Word wash and cleanse you first.
Sharing what God has spoken to you about in the way of cleansing and correction is some of the best preaching there is.
It is important for you to feed your own soul. One of the traps that preachers can fall into is this: they are so intent on finding food for their congregation that their own spiritual welfare is neglected.
This is one of the hazards of the ministry. The thought is expressed this way in Song of Solomon 1:6: “…they made me the keeper of the vineyards, but mine own vineyard have I not kept.
Sometimes a pastor may be so involved in looking after the spiritual welfare of his flock that he sadly neglects his own spiritual well-being. This is one of the prime reasons that ministers fail. A minister cannot afford to neglect his own spiritual life.
Let the Word of God take root in your own heart and spirit. Let it grow strong in your personal life and experience. Then, when you preach, you will minister out of experience. You will not be speaking as one with a theory, but rather, sharing things which you yourself fully comprehend and have experienced.
The following verse teaches us this. “The hard-working farmer must be first to partake of the crops” (2 Tim 2:6 nkjv). What you plant and harvest (in a spiritual sense), you must partake of (experience) before feeding it to others. You should never feed others what you have not first eaten. You should not try to guide others down paths and trails you have not first walked yourself.
As the Word of God becomes incarnate (that is, indwells you), you will then become a message from God. You will not be one who merely recites sermons, but one whose very life and lifestyle ministers life, blessing and strength to those who know and hear you.
B. TWO FALSE IDEAS ABOUT HOMILETICS
There are at least two common mistakes that people tend to make in regard to homiletics.
- “Preparation Unnecessary”
The first mistaken idea is that preparation is unnecessary and indicates a lack of faith. People who take this view tend to feel that real faith disdains any attempt to prepare the mind, and merely stands before the people -believing that God will then supply the words to speak.
A favorite scripture of such people is Psalm 81:10: “…open thy mouth wide and I will fill it.” The context of the Psalm reveals that this verse has nothing to do with preaching! This tendency to ignore the biblical context of a scripture is rather typical of this kind of person. It betrays an irresponsible and naive attitude. This type of person is often known to speak nonsense. We would not wish to blame God for this person’s words.
There undoubtedly is a place for inspiration, but there is also a valid place for preparation.
- “Human Ability Is Enough”
The second mistake goes almost to the other extreme. In this instance, a complete confidence is placed in preparation and human ability. There is little or no dependence on the Holy Spirit, but a self-confidence which is the result of training and the development of natural ability.
Such training can certainly produce a very interesting and convincing talk. However, it is only the anointing of the Spirit on the message that can minister the life of God to the people.
The truth is that an effective ministry needs both the divine and human aspects. God can certainly bless and anoint thoughts which have been diligently prayed over and carefully considered.
Let your preparation consist of thoughtful preparation and earnest prayer. Determine to be the very best you can, but make sure your confidence is in God and not yourself. Always trust Him for His essential anointing and blessing on your preaching.
C. FOUR AREAS OF HOMILETICS
There are four major areas with which homiletics is concerned:
This has to do with obtaining the original theme for the message. It is the art of knowing how to receive a message from God. It deals with how to get the initial idea and theme for a sermon.
Frequently, a seed-thought is sown in the mind, and may remain there for months before it develops to the size and proportion suitable to be shared with others. Through experience, one is able to develop the ability to recognize a line of truth suitable for sharing with God’s people.
As you meditate on the Word, there comes an inner quickening of a particular aspect. Something suddenly lights up for you. It almost seems to leap from the page. A sense of excitement is aroused within you. It is as though you have discovered a large gold nugget! You can scarcely wait to break it open and investigate its value!
Having received inspiration on a particular truth, you must now begin to analyze it to discover all which that truth contains. Your notebook is important right here! As you prayerfully meditate, write down carefully every thought that comes to mind.
At this stage, you may simply make a list of every idea that your subject suggests to you. Stay with it until you feel you have exhausted the theme and uncovered every possible area of truth contained in your subject.
Don’t worry about neatness and order at this stage. You frequently need to write very quickly to keep abreast of the flow of inspiration you are getting. Just make sure you get everything down on paper. You can sort it all out later.
Having exhaustively analyzed your subject material and listed every aspect of truth you can find within it, you must now begin to assemble those thoughts in an orderly fashion. This is essential so that you can give further prayerful consideration to the subject.
Getting the material into some proper sequence will help you enormously in this regard. It will also assist you greatly in your presentation of the subject to others. Sharing a developing progression of thought helps others to understand and follow your line of reasoning. If your presentation is all jumbled up, it makes it very difficult for people to absorb your message. Sermon construction aims to make it as simple as possible for your listeners to grasp.
This is the essence of sermon construction. It is very important for every preacher to develop this.
Finally, we come to the presentation of the message:
- The clear and effective communication of the truth.
- How to present your subject in a manner which will captivate the minds of your hearers.
- How to develop your thoughts in such an orderly manner that your audience can easily follow the line of truth you are seeking to convey.
- How to motivate your listeners to appropriate actions, for we are to be “doers of the word and not hearers only” Gas 1:22).
These concepts comprise the essential aspects of sermon preparation. We will be dealing with each of them more fully later in this study.
D. THREE TYPES OF SERMON PREPARATION
- The Written Sermon
This is a method which demands a great deal of time in preparation. It involves very copious notes. Sometimes the whole message is written out beforehand. The preacher knows exactly what he wishes to say and how he wants to say it. Every thought is written out in full.
This often involves several pages of notes. It gives attention to great detail, the construction of a sentence and the correct word to use. Every aspect of the proposed sermon is considered in meticulous detail.
This method has advantages and disadvantages. An advantage is that the whole sermon has been the subject of very careful attention to detail.
Thus, there should be an adequate coverage of every important area of relevant truth. Nothing has been left to chance. This style should ensure a complete and comprehensive treatment of every subject.
The disadvantage in the presentation of this type of sermon is that it often comes across as uninteresting and does not capture the listener’s attention. This style of presentation can easily become extremely boring.
- “Skeleton-type” Notes
This is the most commonly used method, and the one which I feel is the most effective. Notes are kept to a minimum, affording sufficient outline of the message to prompt the memory.
The brief notes form the “skeleton” of the message. They are the bones which give shape and structure to what the preacher desires to say. As he speaks, he puts “flesh” on the bones and a “body” to his sermon. He amplifies the thoughts that his brief notes have stimulated.
This method allows the preacher much more flexibility. He is not tied to his notes so much. He is more open to the inspiration that will often come to him while he is actually preaching. His delivery is more spontaneous and interesting, but the framework of his message keeps his mind on track. He is able to give an adequate, well-thought out coverage of his subject, but his presentation is not hard to listen to.
- The Extemporary Sermon
This style of preaching is spontaneous, and usually presented without notes at the time of delivery. The subject is often given a good deal of careful thought beforehand, and the mind and heart are filled with the vital aspects of the message.
This style is often used to deliver the more inspirational type of sermon. Evangelistic messages can be presented very effectively in this way. The sermon flows from the heart and often carries a strong emotional involvement.
This kind of preaching can be exciting and stimulating when presented by a capable and experienced preacher. It stirs the emotions as well as informing the mind.
There are two potential weaknesses in this style. The first is that it often lacks meaningful content, and the spirits and minds of the hearers are not edified. The second is that the delivery may become over-emotional, and become irrational and unconvincing.
I would suggest that the use of skeleton-type notes combines the better features of both the other styles. The notes are not so heavy that the preacher tends to get bogged down in them. He has room to be flexible, and his mind remains open to fresh inspiration- even while he is preaching.
On the other hand, he does have an orderly format of thought before him. He does not stand before his audience and talk randomly about disconnected concepts.
Skeleton-type notes are suitable for both teaching and preaching. The teaching mode usually requires a fuller treatment of the subject, so some form of notes is almost essential. It is difficult for a teacher to adequately cover his subject without the aid of some notes.
I would, therefore, encourage you to concentrate mostly on mastering the skeleton-type notes approach. Use this method in your study times. As you meditate on the Bible, practice making short, cryptic notes on the inspiration and revelation you receive.
This will help you also when you come to the construction of your message. Familiarity with this style of note-making will help you immensely when you stand to preach. It helps train your mind in orderly patterns of thought. This also makes you more articulate and easier to listen to.
E. SEVEN KINDS OF SERMONS
I want to introduce you now to seven different kinds of sermons. I will try to explain briefly the idea behind each kind, and how you can use it.
A pastor should become familiar with each type. This will give added variety to his ministry, and make it much more interesting for a congregation who may be listening to him week after week.
Over a period of time, it will help him present a much wider coverage of Bible truths. The ministry of any preacher is enriched by versatility.
This style is usually based on one relatively short portion of Scripture. In fact, as the name suggests, it usually concentrates on one Scripture “text.”
It involves choosing an appropriate statement of Scripture. Then you investigate it, analyze it, and discover all the truth it contains. Then you present that truth in an orderly and progressive manner that is easy for the hearers to assimilate.
Here the preacher aims to present a specific topic to his congregation.
For example, he may take the subject of “justification.” His aim would be, firstly, to discover everything the Bible has to say on this enthralling subject.
He would then arrange all the Scripture references and thoughts he gets into an orderly format. He then develops his theme as fully and faithfully as possible. His objective is to tell his audience everything they should know on this important subject.
Of course, he may not be able to do this in one teaching session; so he will then prepare a series of messages or teachings on that same subject. This ensures a much fuller treatment of the topic.
The Topical Concordance in The Shepherd’s Staff is of immense value when preparing such a message. There, one can quickly find every Scripture reference relating to the topic concerned. A good reference Bible is also helpful. This will also enable you to follow a given theme throughout the Scriptures.
This is the art of uncovering and communicating truth which is hidden beneath the surface of the various “types” in the Bible.
A “type” is a person, object or event which is prophetically symbolic of someone or something yet to come. It is similar to, and characteristic of, that person or event.
In its biblical application, it refers to a Bible character or event which foreshadows some future one.
For example, the Passover Lamb in Exodus is a type of Christ. Every detail of that paschal lamb spoke prophetically of the redemptive role Christ would fulfill as the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29). Every prophetic symbol was fulfilled when Christ died for the sins of the world.
Biblical types are often referred to as “shadows of things to come” (Heb 8:5; 10:1). Such persons and events are like a person walking with the sun behind him. His body casts a shadow into the future, before him, portraying the shape of things to come.
The Law of God was a shadow of the good things to come. It represented, and was a shadow of, the better things which were to come in Christ (Heb 10:1).
The “holy days” of the Old Covenant were also shadows of things to come (Col 2:17). Those holy days were not complete in themselves. Part of the purpose of their fulfillment was to project a prophetic picture of things which were yet to come.
The interpretation and exposition of Bible types is a rather specialized task; it deserves the skill of those who are mature and knowledgeable in biblical subjects.
Novices should avoid attempting to preach from the more profound types, since unskilled interpretations can lead into all kinds of unfortunate error.
A deep and thorough knowledge of the whole Bible is essential to those who seek to expound the meaning of the types. Such teachings should be substantiated and undergirded by the whole Bible.
- Principles For Use. When you first attempt to teach from biblical types, please try to keep the following principles in mind:
a) Use Simpler Types. Begin with the simpler types, in which the implication is very obvious.
b) Keep To Broader Interpretation. Never try to interpret every tiny detail of the type. Keep to the broader outline of truth.
c) Don’t Be Dogmatic. Avoid being dogmatic as to what the type teaches.
d) Illustrate Doctrine. Never base your doctrinal position on the teaching of types. Types should illustrate doctrine, not initiate it.
e) Be Open To Correction. Remain open to correction from those of greater maturity than yourself.
By this method, we endeavor to expound the meaning and truth contained in a particular passage of Scripture. We seek to bring out the truth which is often hidden beneath the words on the page. This is an excellent method of teaching the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27).
You may take a book of the Bible and explain the meaning of it chapter by chapter. Perhaps you may take one chapter each week – and go through it, verse by verse, explaining the significance and truth as you go. This may develop in to a series of Bible studies that may take weeks or months to complete.
Thus, over a period of years, your congregation will become familiar with every part of the Bible, and be exposed to all the truth God wants to convey to them for their enrichment and spiritual equipping.
A biography is a life story of a person. Therefore, this method involves the study of the lives of the many characters we encounter in the Bible. Every biography recorded in the Bible holds important significance for us. Every life has something to teach us.
The study of Bible characters is very enthralling and absorbing. Choose a particular person. Read every reference to that person that occurs in the Bible. Make notes of every thought that comes to mind.
Begin to assemble those thoughts into chronological order- the order in which they occurred:
- Study the birth of the person.
- Consider the circumstances of his upbringing.
- Focus upon the dealings of God in his life.
- How did he react to God’s dealing?
- What did he learn from it?
- If he was a success in life, what made him successful?
- If his life ended in failure, where did he go wrong?
- What can we learn from his life?
These are all interesting and informative things we can learn from the rich lives of the men and women we meet in the Bible.
This type of sermon relates to the detailed analyzing of a subject in order to extract the greatest amount of truth from it. From this truth, you can then teach the underlying principles involved.
Much of the Bible is written in the form of analogy. It teaches a truth from a parallel case. The writers often use a natural subject from which to teach a spiritual truth. It involves the comparison of similar functions, and the process of reasoning from parallel cases. The analogical sermon endeavors to communicate truth contained in an analogy.