Communicating a message from the Bible to an audience is serious and powerful. Care must be taken to craft the message and communicate it clearly. Although great preachers spend a lifetime improving their sermon skills, with the following steps you can implement the essentials of how to write a sermon beautifully:
- Get it right – make sure the sermon accurately connects to Scripture
- Get it across – help your audience understand the point(s) of the sermon
- Conclude – drive home the message that you want your audience to apply in their lives
When it comes to writing a great sermon from the Bible, the old adage stands true: get it right and get it across. Before you can communicate the message from the Bible text, you must understand its meaning. And in order to communicate effectively, you must take the time to make that meaning connect to your audience.
Get It Right
A sermon is based upon a section of Scripture, which is called your text. A text can be a phrase, sentence, paragraph, or an entire chapter of the Bible, but it conveys a unit of thought. It is true that some sermons begin with a topic and pull together a selection of Scriptures, but if that is done properly, each of the Scriptures must be used correctly within the flow of their individual contexts. For simplicity, we will discuss basing the sermon on one text from the Bible.
The most important key in how to write a sermon successfully is understanding the point of the text from the Bible. If you don’t understand the point the author is trying to make to his original audience, you will never bridge the gap to bring the message from God from the ancient world to your own.
The Bible is a book of books. There are 66 books in the Bible from a variety of genres. In order to understand your text, you will first need to know the type of literature where your text is found. In other words, if your text is a story in Genesis that will have different characteristics than a poetic section in the Psalms. The Bible also includes prophetic, apocalyptic, and epistolary literature. The epistles are simply first century letters. For example, the Apostle Paul wrote two letters to the church in the Greek city of Corinth, that we know in the Bible as 1 and 2 Corinthians.
The text we will use as the basis for our sermon is 2 Timothy 3:16, which says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” It helps to learn about the historical background of the part of the Bible being used in order to better understand the point the author is making.
Paul’s second letter to Timothy was his final letter. Paul sat in a Roman prison, awaiting his execution. Timothy was Paul’s protege, pastoring a church in far away Ephesus. Paul writes with passion and urgency as he calls upon Timothy to hold onto the Scriptures as the all-sufficient means of ministry after Paul is gone. With that historical background in mind, we turn to the words of the text.
Effective interpretation of the Bible is carefully reading the Bible. Look at the text carefully. Consider each word. What is the main message? How do the parts relate to the whole? What are the most important words? Consider one or two other translations of the Bible to experience the texture of the message in different ways.
Remember, you must get the message text right, before you can get the message of your sermon across, so resist the urge to rush ahead to clever applications of the text for your sermon. This is the time to understand what Paul wanted Timothy to understand before Paul died.
Obviously, 2 Timothy 3:16 is about the Scriptures themselves. Paul describes the nature of Scriptures as being inspired by God. The word “all” declares that the entire Scriptures are God-breathed. Then Paul concludes that because they are inspired, the Scriptures are comprehensively useful. The various descriptions that Paul offers illustrate the many ways the Bible is useful: for teaching the foundations of the Christian life, for convicting those that stray from the right path, for correcting the strays back onto the right path, and for comprehensive training in the way of righteousness. Insights into the meaning of the key words can be discovered in Bible dictionaries, commentaries, and by comparing the way the same words are used in other contexts in the Bible.
Get It Across
Now that you are familiar with Paul’s message to Timothy you are ready to make the transition to your audience. How is their situation like the situation that Paul and Timothy experienced? You want your sermon’s shape and substance to match the text upon which it is based. Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit to make a point––the inspiration and usefulness of the Bible for life and ministry. Your sermon should have the same ambition.
Because your audience is wired to look for order, the heart of your sermon should be helping them to understand how the parts of your text fit together to make the message. In other words, arrange your main points and subpoints of your message to correspond to the points and subpoints of the text in the Bible. The sermon’s points can be more descriptive or more application oriented, but the goal is to help the audience first understand the point of the passage, so that they can apply it to their lives.
At this point, it is important to issue a caution. If you have done your work properly, you will have learned many wonderful details on your way to understanding the point of the passage. Perhaps you will have dictionary definitions, cross-references to other places in the Bible, and powerful quotes from Bible scholars. These resources have been essential for you to get the passage right, but they may not be essential for you to get the meaning of the passage across to your audience. You needed to do all of the background research in order to thoroughly understand, but you must not then dump all of that information onto your audience (no matter how excited you became in the discovery process). Your audience will become lost in the data. You must be concise, telling them what they need to know to get the Bible’s point for themselves.
The main points of 2 Timothy 3:16 are about the nature and the benefits of the Scriptures. Perhaps you could describe these points as: 2 Essential Lessons about the Bible from a Dying Man. Your first point might be: 1) The Bible is the Breath of God. The second point might be: 2) The Bible is Beneficial for all of the Christian Life.
Then the subpoints could break down the benefits of the Bible as: a) Instruction, b) Reproof, c) Correction, and d) Training. You can certainly more creatively describe these benefits in the wording of the points, but be certain that the clear point of the passage comes through to your audience. You don’t want your audience to admire your creativity as a communicator, as much as you want them to grasp the significance of the Scriptures.
Because the world is so hectic, it is naive to assume that an audience will come to your sermon with quiet hearts ready to follow you to the world of the Bible and eagerly make applications to their crazy lives. You aren’t an attendant at an information desk passing out instructions and sending them on their way. You are a guide, meeting them where they are and leading them to where they need to go. An introduction finds the audience where they are with a story they can relate to, an arresting quotation, or even a joke, but then the sermon pivots to where the audience needs to go, toward the message of the text.
There are many ways to begin a sermon. Having variety is good in introductions, especially if you are addressing the same audience, week after week. Try to capture their attention and then direct it towards the passage in the Bible. Keep your conclusion in the mind, as well. A beautiful introduction will aim you where you want to go, when the end is in your mind at the beginning. Then is when you’re able to say you know how to write a sermon that comes full-circle.
Throughout the message illustrations help the audience understand and remain attentive. Clever stories can become a distraction and they take valuable time to describe, but at their best, illustrations open windows to shine light on the meaning of a point in the sermon.
There are a variety of good illustrations. Stories from your life are usually the best, especially if you are self-deprecating (why does the audience love that so much?). But a moment from history, a television program, or even a story from another part of the Bible can be helpful for the audience to connect to a point within the message. It can be one thing to grasp an idea mentally, but then to see it lived out in a timely account brings the idea to life within the heart of the hearer.
It is not enough to inspire your audience with a memorable story or a dazzling rhetorical crescendo at the end of the sermon, you must help your audience understand the point of the text of the Bible. Then you must call them to action based squarely on that point. That is your sermon’s mission. The clear outline, strong conclusion, arresting introductions, and variety of illustrations help you accomplish your mission.
As you consider your audience, what is the message from the text that they need to understand and apply to their lives? This is what you want your sermon to drive towards. Your conclusion should make this message clear to your audience. Perhaps they need to take the Bible more seriously. Maybe the thrust of your message will be to elevate their confidence in the Bible. Instead of relying on other tricks and ministry programs to grow as Christians, your audience ought to go right to the source, the inspired Word of God. That message certainly lines up precisely with the point that Paul left to Timothy, and it remains vitally important today.
The conclusion summarizes the point of the passage, but it drives the message of the passage home to the audience. Leave no doubt about the “so what?” of the text of Scripture. A sermon is no mere Bible lesson, it is a message from God from the Bible. The conclusion clinches the message into the hearts of the hearers.
Take your time and work hard in understanding how to write a sermon with substance. Getting the Bible text right is always your priority, but you must also labor to get the Bible’s message across. It doesn’t matter if you bring home steak to your children, if you don’t cut up the meat into manageable bites they will never appreciate the taste or benefit from the nutrition.
I hope that my installment in the How to Be a Better Writer series has helped you learn how to write a sermon.
I understand that you may have other writing goals outside of sermons. Therefore, I highly recommend that you check out the 3×3 writing process to help you write articles, books, and more.