02. Sermon Structure

1 Kings 3:12 informs us that King Solomon was the wisest man that ever lived. In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon gives us some incredible advice about the essence of a sermon. We would all do ourselves a great favor by listening to what he had to say.

Ecclesiastes 12:9-13 says, “And moreover, because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge yea, he gave good heed, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs. The preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was upright, even words of truth. The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the master of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd. And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is weariness to the flesh. Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep His commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.” (KJV)

Consider a few comments on these words:

  • Still – stay in one place
  • Knowledge – study and know God’s word
  • Good heed – listen to the prompting of God’s instructions
  • Sought out study to know God’s truths
  • Set in order many proverbs – give illustrations
  • Sought out acceptable words – know your audience
  • Words of truth – teach God’s word
  • Nails fastened – go over again and again
  • One Shepherd  love your people
  • Conclusion – keep your own life upright before God

I believe that in these powerful words of wisdom God has given us some very wonderful advice. Advice that would bring great assistance to every minister of the gospel to this very day. Although I won’t necessarily present them in the exact same order, the information given below is based on these verses of scripture.

A sermon is a message:

When you are delivering a sermon, it needs to be a passionate message on a topic of an important truth that is taught in the Bible. Preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ contains within itself eternal consequences. The sermon needs to convince the listener that acting on what you are saying will enhance the life of anyone who responds accordingly. To accomplish this takes nothing short of a divine anointing and assistance from the Holy Spirit of God.

There is no substitute for spending time seeking God in prayer. We need to pray for not only our speaking, but also for our entire life and ministry. During the week, and in between services, pray over the altar area and pray over the seats. Pray as you study and prepare. I know we all tend to live busy lives. I know that there are many things that demand our attention. But I have also noticed a common denominator. I have found that when I discipline myself to spend as much time as possible in study and prayer it brings wonderfully positive results. I am not talking about legalism here, but a good formula is to prepare prayerfully for one hour for every minute that you speak.

THE IDEAL MESSAGE SHOULD INCLUDE

  • A Biblical text as its foundation. (2 Timothy 4:2)
  • Important information as to what the Bible teaches on the particular subject being taught.
  • Various illustrated points on how the subject applies to people’s lives.
  • A challenge to the listeners to seek transformation from God in that particular area.
  • Some clear applications as to how one can measure specific results.
  • Altar calls have long been found to be extraordinarily useful in bringing, developing, and reinforcing a change in people’s lives.

THE BODY OF A MESSAGE

A TEXT: A message should always be based on a Biblical text thereby giving the teaching an authoritative basis.

A TITLE: A message title can often assist in letting the listener know a general idea of what you are talking about. The listener can then more readily apply all that you say about that subject to themselves.

A STRATEGYMost messages fall into three basic categories: Expository (to exegete or explain verse by verse); Textual (to use one or two verses as the basis for the entire teaching); Topical (to show what various verses say about a particular subject)

A PLAN: A message should have at least one good point you are trying to get across. Often several points will assist you in covering the varying aspects of even one subject. A basic written outline can even be given to the listeners so they can keep track of where you are. There should be a progressive movement in the message that leads in a specific direction that you are convinced God wants to accomplish in the listener’s lives.

ILLUSTRATIONSThe old adage that “a picture paints a thousand words” is very true. Most of the time when people asked Jesus a question, Jesus told a story to illustrate the point He was trying to make in His answer. Illustrations can be real life experiences of your own or something you read about. Stories can be fiction or non-fiction, but one should make it clear if it really happened or not.

AN AUDIENCE ASSESSMENTA message should give an answer to a question that your audience wants or needs to know about. Ask yourself, “Does this really matter?” Consider as you write your message the span of ages and life experiences of your listeners. Typically, we speak to an audience that includes teenagers, young adults, college students, singles, young couples, divorcees, middle aged, seniors, etc. There can also be common workers, college educated, business executives, and a whole plethora of background experience. Different listeners will hear what you are saying differently so try to present the information with these different perspectives in mind.

A CONCLUSIONThe message should include a logical and progressive arrangement of ideas that leads to a conclusive point of application. Always invite your audience to make an application of your message to their lives. Always, always, always include an invitation to know Jesus as one’s personal Lord and Savior.

PUTTING A MESSAGE TOGETHER

Begin, of course, by asking God to direct your heart as you study. Study with the purpose of preparing a message that will result in a change in the behavior of the lives of the listeners.

2 Timothy 2:15 says, “Study to show yourself approved unto God, a worker that doesn’t need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”

The following introductory information should be considered with every subject in the Bible we ever plan to present.

First of all, your content needs to be important. The Bible does not always give us every small and specific detail about what occurred as each event unfolded. There are at least three things that we need to consider:

(1) Follow the Bible’s lead on how much background information is actually needed. It is far more advisable that we simply trust that God placed the right amount of information that is needed into each and every Biblical event that is recorded. The exception would be to add any information the culture of the time or other details that would help the listener to have a better understanding of the subject.

(2) When one studies any portion of the Bible they should also research what other verses in the Bible have to say about that same subject. Finding additional verses on a subject can ensure you get a good interpretation of what the Bible is truly and actually saying about any particular matter. A good Bible concordance will make this task much easier. Many concordances also have Greek and Hebrew language definitions that can add great value to your understanding.

(3) It is often helpful to read a few books or do some research on the subject you are trying to convey. On more than one occasion I have come across a really good book on an important subject. One can even take the chapters of a book and develop them into a series of messages where you take the frame work from each chapter (or even re-arrange them) and then describe the lessons learned in your own words.

Secondly, it is obvious that there are many subjects where all the material cannot be covered in a single message. I have personally found that preaching a four, eight, even a twelve-week series or longer on a certain subject, really helped people to grasp the concept being taught. The repetition also gave the listeners the reinforcement to be able to put it into practice in their lives.

Thirdly, the Bible itself advises us to consistently have fellowship with other true believers. As we study and discuss with each other we are more likely to discover a true consensus of the teachings and meanings of what the Bible actually does say about any particular subject. (See 1 Chron. 12:32, Neh. 8:8, Ezra 7:10) I have gleaned more insight from attending Bible conferences and taking notes from well-prepared Bible teachers than any other source.

Fourthly, balance is a very important part of life. Both doctors and nutritionists tell us that there are four basic food groups we need to eat in order to have a balanced diet (fruit, grain, protein, and vegetables). Each area obviously provides different and necessary nutrients for our body. In much the same way, if a pastor or teacher wants to be successful in leading those he is ministering to, you will need to be sure you cover a balance of all the basics. To name a few, a person should at least consider to annually minister on the subjects of: The Authenticity of the Bible, Carnal Nature, Conversion, Faith, Family life, Fasting, Forgiveness, the Holy Spirit, Healing, Love, Marriage, Obedience to God, Prayer, Repentance, Righteousness, Serving, Soul winning, Tithing, and Worship. A preacher who has a hobby horse of one or two topics will seldom keep the attention of his listeners for very long or see strong spiritual maturity occur.

Fifthly, the best kind of message preparation is doing a deep personal study on the given subject matter that one feels they should preach or teach on.  Begin by writing down, or typing, all the information you can find. Once you feel you have enough information then go back through it and find the best way to logically present it in the right order.