Sermon Structure

Whilst balance is one of the six qualities of an Inspiring Sermon, structure is where all preaching makes a connection.

Without a strong and balanced structure, the sermon will seem like a litany of random utterances.  With prayer and reflection you will have settled on a theme or topic for the sermon.  Begin preparing using a note pad to gather random thoughts and information. As you progress with sermon preparation it will be necessary to sort and rationalise the random words and thoughts you have compiled. Words and concepts need to be ordered. Any good sermon has a definite opening, sound body and purposeful conclusion.

We can all write something on paper which might become the basis of a Sermon but, we need to work at crafting the words on the paper so they say what they mean and as preacher you can deliver with confidence.  As preachers we aim to share important things with the congregation.

When we are seeking to be influential,  inspiring or compelling in our speaking  getting the speech structure right can be tricky.

One of the biggest Sermon mistakes new Preachers can  make is trying to pack too much information into their delivery.

Sometimes new Preachers stay focused on one tiny area of their sermon for too long and then rush the rest of the delivery.

Having a definite Opening, Body and Conclusion in the framework is a must.

  1. Choose content.

Relate everything you include in the sermon structure to one single purpose. This might mean some editing out of material you like the most, but if it doesn’t relate to your key purpose it doesn’t belong in the sermon.

Make your structure clear to the congregation. Don’t insert unrelated anecdotes unless it is essential to the conclusion.   A classic way to structure a sermon is that the introduction comprises 10% of your content, body 80%, and conclusion 10% of the delivery. This enables the congregation to recognise the important things in your sermon.

  1. Create a powerful flow of information

In Preaching seek a structure which turns up the intensity as you progress through the sermon.  Keep the congregations attention throughout your delivery by building to a climax, rather than peaking too soon. The sermon structure should show a reason why those listening should keep listening. In preaching once we have the attention of the listener’s keep them with you through to the conclusion.   Use the structure to build intensity over time to a crescendo then end on a high point.  This allows the people to remember your peak and not a fatiguing summation.

  1. Find the narrative

The narrative in a sermon is a story in its broadest sense, anything told or recounted; more narrowly,  and more usually, something told or recounted in the form of a causally-linked set of events; account; tale;  the telling of a happening or connected series of happenings.  In preaching a narrative is created by establishing when something is part of a whole and usually that something is the cause of something else.  It is usually combined with human actions or events which affect human beings.

To say what something means is to say how it is related or connected to something else. To ask the meaning of an event is to ask how it contributed to the story in which it occurs. It is the connections or relations between events.

Meaning is a social phenomenon. Meaning is produced not only by individuals but by groups, communities, societies and cultures which maintain – through language and agreed understandings – knowledge of the connections between signifying sounds and signifying events.

Groups, communities, societies and cultures also preserve collections of typical narrative meanings in their myths, fairy tales, legends, histories and stories. To participate in a group, community, society or culture requires a general knowledge of these accumulated narrative meanings. The cultural stock of meanings are dynamic and are added to by new contributions from members and deleted by lack of use.

Narrative meaning is about connections. It links individual human actions and events into inter-related aspects of an understandable composite. Narrative displays the significance that events have for one another. (The anti-story makes explicit that events do not have causal connections between each other.)

Stories fill our lives in the way that water fills the lives of fish. Stories are so all-pervasive that we practically cease to be aware of them.

I am impressed with the writing of Michael Vlach. ©   who shares the following notes.

Introduction to Narratives

  1. What are narratives? A narrative is a story told for the purpose of conveying a message through people and their problems and situations

NOTE: The word “narrative” is preferred over the term “story” because “story” often carries the idea of something being fictional or not based in reality.

  1. Elements of a narrative
  1. Setting
  2. Characters
  3. Plot

These three elements are the vehicles chosen to communicate the larger purpose and truths of a narrative.

  1. What are biblical narratives? Biblical narratives are God’s stories as written in the pages of the Bible. They contain two elements:

History The biblical narratives reveal real historical events and people. The events in history are not just “history-like,” they reveal real historical events and occurrences that actually took place.

Theology  The biblical narratives reveal theological truths about God and His plans.

“Biblical narratives tell us about things that happened—but not just any things. Their purpose is to show God at work in his creation and among his people. The narratives glorify him, help us to understand and appreciate him, and give us a picture of his providence and protection. At the same time they also provide illustrations of many other lessons important to our lives” (Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth).

  1. Narrative is the most common type of literature or genre in the Bible. Over forty percent of the Old Testament is narrative Plus large sections of the New Testament were written in the narrative genre.
  1. Look for structure that compels your audience to act on your words.

Organise your thoughts so that you don’t have to make snap decisions while presenting. Structure your sermon so you send the congregation home remembering your key messages rather than wondering “what was that all about”?

Don’t be afraid to edit your content to the simplest possible structure. If your structure is simple (without being over simplistic) you will keep everyone on board and attentive.

As you establish your structure and feel confident about it, you are more able to improvise and then come back to the plan. This helps you to be more fresh, empathetic and responsive to the congregation.

Any time invested in working on the structure of a sermon will help you to be a more powerful and engaging Lay Preacher.