- Understand the importance of having a purpose to your sermon
- Learn the difference between hermenutics and homiletics
- Formulate the purpose statement to your sermon
So far, you have learnt to:
- Study the “flesh” by asking and answering key questions about key words and relationships
- Outline the “bones” determining the structure of the text by looking at the various “keys” that establish main points, sub-points etc.
- Finding the “heart” summarizing the big idea of a passage in a single, pithy statement.
In this step, you are going to learn how to connect the world of the bible with the world of your audience. A purpose bridge helps you to take the Big Idea of the passage from Step 3, and communicate and apply it to the lives of your audience in a manner that is relevant to their own context.
What is a Purpose Bridge?
The “purpose bridge” is a statement that connects two worlds – the historical world of the text as it was written and meant to be understood by the people who first heard and read it, and the present world of the people to whom you are going to preach or speak with in their own context. This next step, “Crossing the purpose bridge”, is a crucial point in your sermon preparation. It is the point where you transition from your process of textual discovery (the meaning of words, the structure and the big idea of the text in its original setting) to sermon delivery.
Hermeneutics vs. Homiletics
The following table shows the difference between the two:
|Main focus of attention||The word of God given to God’s people in their historical context||The word of God given to God’s people today in their present context|
|Relationship to “the truth”||Discovering the truth||Delivering the truth|
|Main question to ask||What is God saying (mean) in this text?||How does what God is saying in this text impact the people who are listening to me?|
|Primary context to bear in mind||The historical context of the passage||The present context of your audience|
|Test question to ask||“Have I faithfully determined what God is saying?”||“Have I faithfully applied what God is saying to the people listening to me?”|
The Importance of the Purpose Bridge
The purpose bridge is important because it determines what you are going to say and what you are not going to say. If you have ever listened to a sermon where you thought “what is this guy/gal on about?” it is usually because they don’t know either – they did not have a clear, well defined purpose about their sermon.
Ramesh Richards summarizes the importance of a purpose bridge, saying:
- It focuses the introduction
- Determines the content,
- Influences your conclusion and application
- Guides the choice of illustrations
- Evaluates the success of your sermon.
A purpose bridge says “The people who are listening to me are at point A. God wants them to be at point B. My purpose in this sermon/talk is to get them from A to B”.
The purpose bridge is like a highway starting at point A, with guard rails all the way through to point B. It will keep you from missing out stuff, talking too much or straying into irrelevant territory.
Crafting the Purpose Bridge
To create the purpose bridge, you only need to answer one question – what does God want for his people? Answering this question is not an easy process however. As you can undoubtedly tell, it requires much prayer to our living God (you are speaking as his messenger) and serious thinking, guided by the Holy Spirit and the work you have done from step 1 till now.
Complete the following statement with a general purpose statement like the examples given below
From this passage and to this particular audience, God wants …
Because God expects his people (i.e. your audience) to respond to his word in one way or the other, it is a good idea to use an “action” verb to complete the sentence, for example (this is not an exhaustive list, so don’t restrict yourself to these general purpose statements.)
Unlike the step 3, which says there is only one big idea of a passage, step 4 shows us there can be several purpose bridges. Every sermon you preach must have a specific purpose (or goal) depending on the audience to which you are speaking.
Consider this, how is it that you can preach the several different sermons from the same passage in the bible? Well, it’s because your audience is always different, whether it’s due to age, sex, geography or economic, environmental or situational, or a host of other unique characteristics about your audience. As a general rule, you need to know your audience well and therefore be in tune with their most pertinent need (of course, this is a little harder if you are a visiting preacher or speaker).
Side note: by “God’s people” I mean it in the broadest sense possible, not just as a reference to Christians, but to all men who are created by God who need to hear the gospel.
Practical Example: Ephesians 2:1-3
Ephesians 2:1-3 summary recap:
Using Ephesians 2:1-3, here are some examples of purpose bridges: From this passage, I (the preacher as a messenger of God) want:
- To remind God’s people that they were set free by the power of God’s love which broke their chains of slavery to sin, the world and Satan
- To warn God’s people not to return to their former ways.
- To persuade God’s people that a life of sin leads to terrible judgment.
- To show God’s people that life without Christ is misery.
- To delight God’s people in the power of the grace that set them free.
You could, and must, think of as many purpose bridges as possible.
And then choose one.
Not two or three, but one. Choose the most appropriate purpose bridge for your particular audience in their particular need. Each purpose bridge is the basis for a complete sermon. Therefore, if you pick more than one purpose bridge, it means you will end up trying to preach multiple sermons in one sermon, which simply leaves your audience confused (which will be a direct reflection of your own confusion).
A simple way to check if you have more than one purpose bridge is to see whether or not you used the conjunction “and” in your purpose bridge. An example of a poorly formed purpose bridge will be:
I want to show God’s people that life without Christ is misery and warn them not to return to their former ways.
Such a purpose bridge would be rife with confusion. What is the purpose of this sermon – to show or to warn? You can’t (or rather, mustn’t) do both. Your illustrations, tone, mannerisms, examples and points in a “showing” sermon will be different from ones in a “warning” sermon. It also shows that the preacher in this case doesn’t really understand his or her audience. Do they need “showing” or do they need “warning”?
(Note: The conjunction “and” in this example is not the same as the “and” in the first purpose bridge above “to remind…slavery to sin, the world, and Satan”. In this case, the single purpose of the sermon is to remind the audience of how God set them free from their slavery to three masters, sin, the world and Satan)
To tie it all together, while there is only one “big idea” in step 3, there can be many “purpose bridges”, and therefore as many sermons as there are purpose bridges, in step 4. Remember the diagram below:
Choose Your Purpose Bridge
Once you pick that one purpose bridge, it will then form the basis of the next three steps – forming the big idea of the sermon, developing the structure/outline of your sermon and adding the content of your sermon.
For the rest of this steps, we will be using this as our purpose bridge – “To remind God’s people that they were set free by the power of God’s love which broke their chains of slavery to sin, the world and Satan”
- A purpose bridge helps you communicate the Big Idea of the passage to your audience and apply it in their own context.
- While hermenutics largely deals with the world of the Bible, homiletics is focused on the world of your hearers.
- While there is only one Big Idea of the passage, there can be many purpose bridges for your sermon, and by extension, many big ideas of the sermon as well.
Practice by applying these steps to any one of these passages (or one of your own choosing) – Ephesians 2:4-7, Psalm 1:1-3, Psalm 1:4-6, Colossians 1:1-3.
Remember to use the same passage you picked in Step 1 to ensure consistency.
- Anonymous.Stand up, Speak out: the Practice and Ethics of Public Speaking. University of Minnesota, 2011.
- Bell, John, and Gary Cross. Langham Zimbabwe Preaching Seminars Level One Handbook. Langham Preaching Zimbabwe, 2014.
- Richard, Ramesh, and Ramesh Richard. Preparing Expository Sermons: a Seven-Step Method for Biblical Preaching. Baker Books, 2001.
- Robinson, Haddon W. Biblical Preaching: the Development and Delivery of Expository Messages. Baker Academic, 2001.
- Robinson, Haddon W., and Craig Brian. Larson. The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching: a Comprehensive Resource for Todays Communicators. Zondervan, 2005.