“Missionaries need to be ready to preach, pray, or die at a moment’s notice.” Or so I’ve heard all my life. Though this is often said jokingly, there is a ring of truth to it. In this new blog series, I am focusing on how to prepare a sermon. Missionaries often have opportunity to preach both in their home country and in their host country. Yet, many missionaries do not have formal training in preaching. In this post and four additional posts, I will share my perspective on preparing expository sermons gleaned from teaching homiletics (the art of preaching) at Alaska Bible College for 35 years. In this introductory post, I will define expository preaching, and focus on the preacher’s relationship with the Word and the audience. I will also list the topics for the next four posts.
In the previous post in this series, I emphasized that a sermon should have one main point. Now I turn to developing the big idea in the body of the sermon. Haddon Robinson explains the task in this way:
When anyone makes a declarative statement, only four things can be done to develop it. It can be restated, explained, proved, or applied. Nothing else. To recognize this simple fact opens the way to develop the sermon.Haddon Robinson, Biblical Preaching, Baker: 1980, p. 79
There is a story of a preacher describing his sermon outline in this way: “First, I tell them what I’m going to tell them, then, I tell them, and finally I tell them what I told them.” While repetition and restatement have their place in preaching, this leads to boring preaching. Additionally, restatement is only one way to develop an idea and it doesn’t add much to understanding. So, how do we develop the big idea of our sermon?
In this series on preaching for missionaries, I have stressed being students of Scripture and of our audience. This “double listening” (as John Stott calls it)1See the first post in this series. is critical for illustrating and applying the big idea of our biblical text. In fact, illustrating and applying form the key connection between the biblical truth and our listeners. Additionally, illustrations set the stage for the application in the daily lives of our audience.
Illustrating the Big Idea
Shining light on the big idea
Illustrations include quotes, anecdotes, examples, comparisons, statistics, testimony, and poetry. Sources include personal experience, news, history, literature, imagination, and the Bible. Whatever the type or source, they must shed light on the biblical truth and connect with listeners. That is, illustrations must help our audience understand and identify with the biblical truth. For instance, a quote from a book your listeners have probably not read would not make a good illustration. It is helpful to listen to traditional stories and everyday conversations to identify types of illustrations commonly used. Remember, your illustrations are the key connection between the biblical text and your listeners. So, they must be faithful to the biblical text and understandable to the people.
Taking off and landing require a pilot’s utmost attention. Likewise, sermon introductions and conclusions demand careful preparation by a preacher. In fact, the introductions and conclusions will make or break the connection with our audience. In the introduction, we meet them coming from their daily life of the previous week. Then, in the conclusion, we send them off to live in the light of the biblical truth expressed in the sermon’s big idea. So, introductions and conclusions must be carefully worded to connect our audience with the big idea. For the simple reason that we need to know our destination before we start a journey, writing the conclusion precedes writing the introduction.
Writing the Conclusion
A sermon conclusion should not resemble a jetliner in a holding pattern waiting to land, or worse, aborting an attempted landing. Rather, it should briefly summarize the thrust of the sermon. An extended conclusion will frustrate our audience. It should not introduce new ideas but provide listeners memorable statements to aid in application.