Step 6: How to Structure Your Sermon (or Bible Study!)

Learning Objectives

  1. Understanding how the context of your audience affects the form your sermon will take.
  2. Learning how to develop a sermon outline that is centered around the Big Idea of the Message.
  3. Learning basic principles of crafting the introduction and conclusion.

So far, you have learnt to:

  1. Study the “flesh” by asking and answering key questions about key words and relationships
  2. Outline the “bones” and determining the structure of the text by looking at the various “keys” that establish main points, sub-points etc.
  3. Finding the “heart” and summarizing the big idea of a passage in a single, pithy statement.
  4. Craft the “purpose bridge” to combine the world of the Bible and the world of your hearers.
  5. Forming the “heart” of your sermon by using the Big Idea of the passage and the purpose bridge.

In this step, you are designing the “blueprint” of how you will achieve the goal of helping your audience grasp and understand the big idea of your sermon, which you developed in step 5. Like writing a story, a sermon has three sections – the introduction, body and the conclusion. But before you develop the structure of your sermon, you first need to decide what form your sermon is going to take.

Deciding the Form of Your Sermon

Your options will most likely fall into one of the following forms (adopted from Haddon Robinson’s book “Biblical Preaching – The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages”):

  1. An idea to be explain – you are trying to make an obscure or difficult to understand concept or doctrine clear. (e.g. explaining Paul’s idea of “every spiritual blessing” in Ephesians 1:13-14).
  2. A proposition to be proved – you are trying to prove an idea or principle (e.g. Genesis 1-3 is a true account of the creation of the world).
  3. A principle to be applied – the focus of your sermon is to answer the question “so what”? (Ephesians 5:15-21 makes the case that a Spirit-filled life is shown in submission, the practical implications of this truth are then detailed in 5:22-6:9).
  4. A subject to be completed – you are asking and answering the 5w’s and 1h questions – what, why, who, which, when and how (e.g. in Ephesians 2:1-10, the subject might be “why should a believer worship God” and in your sermon, you give reasons why). This is the most common form and there is a danger of using it as your only form. As a preacher you should try to be as dynamic as is necessary since you will likely be speaking to wide variety of audiences.
  5. A story to be told – considering that the bible is itself a story full of stories, and that story-telling is one of the most common and effective ways of communicating deep truths and ideas, this is possibly one of the most powerful forms of sermonizing to use. However, it is quite likely also the most difficult because not many people are good story tellers. So you will need to practice and learn to develop this skill.
  6. A problem to be addressed – this is useful for dealing with difficult issues that many people may be thinking about or affected by (you always want to be careful as a preacher not to “target” certain individuals among your congregation. If there is an issue that only concerns a small handful of people, it may be more prudent to counsel those individuals in a private setting rather than making it a public matter). Questions about the resurrection, polygamy, sexual issues etc. can be answered using this form.

The Importance of Structuring Your Sermon

Creating an outline for your sermon has the following advantages:

  1. It helps you present your sermon as a unified message and not a hodge-podge of disjointed thoughts.
  2. It keeps your sermon and its different parts clear and connected.
  3. It keeps you on track! (this is important, stay away from the rabbit trails).
  4. It helps your audience receive your sermon a whole unit.

Practical Example: Ephesians 2:1-3

Structuring the Sermon

Having worked through steps 1 – 5 we came up with this big idea of the sermon:

Big Idea:

You were set free from slavery by the power of God that broke the chains that trapped you in sin, enslaved you to the world and made you a servant of Satan.

First, we need to choose which sermon form to use. The form of your sermon must align with your purpose bridge in step 4, so it is a good idea to review it:

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.

Sermon Form

 For this example, our sermon is going to take the form of a principle to be applied. We want our audience to respond to this reminder by changing or enhancing their actions, thoughts or feelings. So our sermon outline could be as follows:

Sermon title (which is basically a summary of your big idea):

You are no longer a slave, therefore:

Sermon points:

  1. Walk carefully in God’s love, as one who is no longer of the world, yet still remains in it.
  2. Work hard to remain free, temptation is always seeking to trap you.
  3. Worship the God of your salvation, and do not follow the ways of your old masters.

If you were using a PowerPoint presentation or printing it in a bulletin, the structure we created above would look something like this (I have already alliterated the points, but you really don’t need to do this until the next step. In fact, you should probably only alliterate after you finish writing your manuscript):

You are no longer a slave. Therefore:

    1. Walk carefully in God’s love
    2. Work hard to remain free
    3. Worship the God of your salvation

Introduction, Body and Conclusion

Introduction

The introduction of this sermon could focus on explaining the former lives and suffering of the Ephesian Christians as slaves. Show the audience how they also were once slaves but have now been set free.

Body

The body will consist of your three main points.

In the first point (a), you could remind them to remain separate from the world (holy) and yet not as arrogant, self-righteous Pharisees, but humble, grateful believers who know they were saved by the love of God and not by anything they did. You can encourage them to share that love with those who do not yet know him, treating them with kindness and respect, and not judgment or condemnation.

In the second point (b), you can remind them that even though they are free, sin, the world and Satan are constantly trying to trap them back into slavery. So they must “work out their salvation”, continuously putting off their old selves and putting on their new identity. Yet, they are not alone in this effort – they are helped and encouraged by God the Holy Spirit and by Jesus the Son, who enables them to do what they cannot, and has abundant grace and mercy that flows with forgiveness whenever they fail.

In the third point (c), you can remind them that their worship belongs to God alone, and not their former masters of selfish sin, the world at large and Satan. You can show them how worshiping their former masters led to a life of misery; in contrast, worshiping God is a freeing, joyful experience that leads to life, not death.

Conclusion

In your conclusion, reiterate your main points and the big idea. Do not repreach the entire sermon a second time! This is the struggle of many preachers, but one that can be unlearned. 

Key Takeaways

  • A sermon outline helps you present a clear, concise and unified sermon.
  • The introduction and conclusion of your sermon should be the last thing you craft.

Exercises

    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.

Practice!

    Step 6: Practice Developing the Outline of the Message

    • E.g Genesis 4:1-5
      What form will your sermon take? Choose one.
    • Major PointMinor (sub) Point 
      Remember the S.A.V.E (a) point principle. If you have multiple sub-points under a major point, add a new line, leave the "Major Point" field in the new line blank, and add the additional sub-point. And don't forget to try to alliterate your points (make this one of the last things you do after you finish your manuscript).
    • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Sources

  1. Anonymous.Stand up, Speak out: the Practice and Ethics of Public Speaking. University of Minnesota, 2011.
  2. Bell, John, and Gary Cross. Langham Zimbabwe Preaching Seminars Level One Handbook. Langham Preaching Zimbabwe, 2014.
  3. Richard, Ramesh, and Ramesh Richard. Preparing Expository Sermons: a Seven-Step Method for Biblical Preaching. Baker Books, 2001.
  4. Robinson, Haddon W. Biblical Preaching: the Development and Delivery of Expository Messages. Baker Academic, 2001.
  5. Robinson, Haddon W., and Craig Brian. Larson. The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching: a Comprehensive Resource for Todays Communicators. Zondervan, 2005.

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