“So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:17)
What is the preacher saying? I don’t get it. I don’t understand. Who or what is that Matrix thing he was talking about in his sermon? These are probably just some of the questions the hearers are saying to themselves or to one another on Sunday after after lunch.
What does the preacher do all week? How does he go about writing a sermon? After reading the text, the preacher probably sits and ruminates at least four hours looking for the right illustration, story, or anecdote.
The first step in sermon writing is to throw your thoughts at the canvas. Look at it. Rework it. Maybe even trash it and start over. Thinking about the text, whether from the Old Testament, one of the Epistles, or the Gospels, the preacher examines the text and divides it into Law and Gospel. The Goal of every sermon is to give the hearers Jesus. Let them see Jesus. This is why they came to Church (hopefully).
Back to the manuscript. Does every pastor write one? No. There are a few methods of preparing to preach (maybe I’ll tackle that subject in the future).
- Length. A lot of preachers know how long the sermon will be just by the number of words they write. If they forget, there may be a “father time” sentry in the pews playing time keeper to remind him.
- Readability. This is an indicator that let’s the preacher know what the grade level his sermon is written for. I personally learned that the sermon should be kept to a 3rd or 4th grade level.
- Illustrations. I personally don’t like them and rarely use them. If the preacher thinks he needs this element, that’s fine. Illustrations are not application. Application is the way the preacher directs Jesus and the Word into the lives of the hearers.
- Style. Fire & Brimstone. Soft. In your face. Friendly. Conversational. Storytelling. There are all kinds of styles. – Remember, style is not why you go to Church. You go to see Jesus.
- You vs. We. A great deal of discussion takes place about this element. Does the preacher use the “WE” to include himself in the audience of the sermon? Does he preach “YOU” (although he is still included) to drive home the “FOR YOU” proclamation of salvation in Christ Jesus? I personally use the “YOU” element in my sermons.
- Outlines. Should the preacher provide an outline to the hearers to take notes on during the preaching of the Word? Are outlines a distracting element from hearing the Word? Are outlines a temptation provided to the hearers from the preaching office? As of this writing, I’ve provided outlines two weeks in a row. The feedback is limited. The hearers who are enjoying them do not consider them a distraction but a good review for the week during their meditation. The jury is still out on this element.
The pastor spends his week wrestling with the text and all of Scripture to prepare for the preaching of the Word on Sunday morning. Does he stop to consider the hearers during his preparations?
Will they know what justification means? Sanctification? Atonement? Alien righteousness? What if the preacher referred to Judas Iscariot as an osculator? Would the hearers understand? (By the way, an osculator is one who kisses).
Going back to readability, the preacher may follow the advice given him to keep between the 3rd and 4th grade level. How would the congregation feel? Stupid? On target understanding the sermon? In between the two measures? Offended? Talked down to?
Does the preacher take into consideration whether or not the congregation even knows how to listen to a sermon? How to listen to the words, the art of his craft, and hear the Law and Gospel as it is pumped into their ears? Is it good for the preacher to point out that, “this is the Law!” or “this is the sweet Gospel” during the preaching to ensure the hearers grab it? I don’t think so.
So, do the hearers hear what the preacher is preaching? Whether they get everything he is saying or not, they are still hearing Jesus preach. They are hearing that their sins are forgiven; they have life and salvation in Jesus Name.
They may not understand all the BIG theological words (the pastor can work on that later or even as he is preaching). Hearers: If you don’t understand something in the sermon, go ask the pastor. In the end, the hearers are gathered by the Holy Spirit into the sheep pen to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and the Holy Gospel.
May our eternal Father continue to bless the under-shepherds and the hearers until His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, returns on Judgment Day.
Always under the cross,
+ Pastor Wurst