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How To Prepare A Sermon: Part 5, Arrive at the Proposition

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This entry is part 6 of 11 in the series How to Prepare a Sermon in Ten Steps

Hi All, especially up-and-coming preachers!light shining down

We are working on our ten-part series on How to Prepare a Sermon.  We’ve already given you all ten steps of sermon preparation, and part 1, Praying about your Sermon; Part 2, Textual vs. Topical; Part 3,Study the Passage; Part 4, Read the Commentaries.  Now, we need to talk about the Proposition.

This is key. The better you do here, the easier the rest of the sermon will fall into place. What is the Proposition? The Proposition is the entire message squeezed into one sentence. It is the ‘sermon in a sentence’; also known as “the Big Idea”. And please note that I said that you “arrive at the proposition”. You don’t create the main idea of the passage; you discover it. You don’t go to it; it comes to you. It IS the message. Then the Mains and supporting material are just unpacking that single idea.

The Proposition is the sermon in a sentence. Sound ridiculous to think you can pack an entire sermon into a sentence? If you cannot say what you intend to say in one sentence, then you do not have a clear idea of what you are talking about. Now, obviously all of the depth of meaning, the expanded content, and the specific application cannot be included in that single sentence; else you would have quite the run-on sentence. But yet, a well-designed proposition captures the essence of the sermon in its grasp.

The Proposition, or Big Idea, or Sermon in a Sentence is something you “arrive at”, you don’t create it. It comes to you as you study God’s Word. God the Holy Spirit reveals it to you, and then you write it out. The Word of God has a message for you and for your congregation. Because the Word is “living and active, and sharper than a two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12), it has a very specific application for your unique church situation. Discover it, and you have discovered the Big Idea for your sermon. How do you know if you have arrived at it? If someone says “give me a quick summary of your sermon”, you can actually give a quick summary, in just a sentence.

Once you have the Proposition, then the Main Points support and explain it more fully. Main points will not add anything new to the big idea of your sermon; they will merely expand upon concepts or themes which are inherent in your Proposition.

Once you have the Proposition, you have a significant part of your sermon already done. Now please note that we are at point 5 in your sermon preparation, and you have just arrived at the Proposition. So you have done quite a bit of research and study already. But once you get the Proposition down, the rest of the sermon will come together relatively quickly, because you already know everything you need to say. You just have to unpack it.

So that is the Proposition. You can read more about the Big Idea here if you like. We are half-way through the process of writing a sermon. Stick around for the rest of the series.

Exercise: Select a passage of Scripture, anywhere from four to ten verses; read it through several times; study it; then try to express its meaning in one sentence.

God’s best to you as you prepare to teach God’s Word!

Dr. Bill Miller

SermonBase.com

HighPowerResources.com

How to Prepare a Sermon in Ten Easy Steps

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This entry is part 1 of 11 in the series How to Prepare a Sermon in Ten Steps

Hey Preachers, and Future Preachers!

In this post, I’ll just summarize for you the main elements of sermon preparation. Then if you want to look at any of these elements in a greater way, take a look at the “Sermon Tips” category of this website.hands

Sermon Preparation in Ten Steps:

1. Pray

If you want to be engaged in a spiritual exercise like preaching, you will need spiritual power.

2. Select your Text & Topic

I believe in pursuing a more textual approach to preaching, rather than topically-based.  See the post “Sermon Preparation: Textual vs. Topical”.  The text will determine the topic; but if you choose topic first, then you need to make certain that you are addressing a significant portion of Scripture so that the text of God’s Word directs your message.

3. Study the Passage

Before you open any commentaries it is important to read, meditate, dwell upon the passage at hand. Study its layout.  Make an outline of the flow of thought.  Identify key themes; important verbs; repeating ideas. That is, thoroughly immerse yourself in the passage so that you know it really, really well. This is one of the most important parts of the sermon preparation process. It is here that you learn the message which God is trying to deliver in the passage. Find God’s message for you here, so that you achieve Focus.

4. Read the Commentaries

Once you have completed step three, then you can read the commentaries to learn the historical, socio, grammatical context of the passage.

5. Arrive at the Proposition

This is key. The better you do here, the easier the rest of the sermon will fall into place. What is the Proposition? The Proposition is the entire message squeezed into one sentence. It is the ‘sermon in a sentence’; also known as “the Big Idea”. And please note that I said that you “arrive at the proposition”. You don’t create the main idea of the passage; you discover it. You don’t go to it; it comes to you. It IS the message. Then the Mains and supporting material are just unpacking that single idea.

6. Develop the Mains

Your sermon can have anywhere from one to five Mains; usually no more. However, I did listen to a message by John Piper which had 17(!) points. But that message was aimed at pastors, so maybe you can break the normal rules in those cases. The Mains explain and unpack all the powerful concepts which are stuffed into your Proposition. The Mains need symmetry to be good Mains.

7. Provide supporting material

This is the main content of your message which supports each of your Mains. It is here that you are teaching the Scriptures, explaining, illustrating, applying, comparing, contrasting, etc., all to make a point.

8. Write the Conclusion

This is where you want to take it home. The conclusion must be powerful, personal, and memorable. This is where you touch the heart.

9. Write the Introduction

Yes, the introduction often comes right at the end. The main goal here is to get their attention and to introduce the topic, thus “introduction”. Once you know the main thrust of the sermon and the main points, it is much easier to write the introduction.

10. Create the Title

Finally, you can choose the title. The only point of the title is to advertise and promote the sermon and let people know in a very brief way what it is about. If you choose your title too early, you may find yourself preaching to the title, rather than the text. Don’t confuse the two.

So, there you have it.  How to prepare a sermon in ten easy steps. Now all you have to do is take a lifetime to master it.

Yours for great preaching,

Dr. Bill Miller

SermonBase.com

HighPowerResources.com

How To Prepare A Sermon: Part 6, Write the Main Points

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This entry is part 7 of 11 in the series How to Prepare a Sermon in Ten Steps

Hi All, especially up-and-coming preachers!Luther

We are working on our ten-part series on How to Prepare a Sermon.  We’ve already given you all ten steps of sermon preparation, and part 1, Praying about your Sermon; Part 2, Textual vs. Topical; Part 3,Study the Passage; Part 4, Read the Commentaries; part 5, Arrive at the Proposition.  Now, today we are looking at that part of the sermon which will be the most memorable part to your listeners, the Main Points.

What separates great! Mains, from so-so or ho-hum Mains? Here are some guidelines you need to follow to write good mains which will captivate your listeners:

1.  The Mains explain and unpack all the powerful concepts which are stuffed into your Proposition.

Remember that your Proposition, is actually the “sermon in a sentence”. What that means is that the key ideas for your entire message are already inherent in your Proposition. The Mains then, help to explain, unpack, unravel, and reveal all the concepts already hidden in your proposition. If the Proposition is the “sermon in a sentence”, then the Mains are simply the sermon in three, four, or five sentences.

So when you write each of your Main Points, you need to be asking the question, “Does this Main Point unpack my Proposition?” If it helps to make your Proposition more understandable, then it may be a useful Main Point (if it meets the following conditions as well).

2.  The Mains should not introduce a concept or idea which was not inherent in your Proposition.

The reason for this is that it destroys the Focus of your sermon. If your Mains do not contribute to explaining your Proposition, then you have not clearly figured out the main point of your sermon.  The Mains explain your Proposition, they do not confuse or expand into new territory which is not inherent in your Proposition.

3.  The Mains need symmetry to be most helpful to your listeners.

The Mains need to have a sense of flow and direction.  Mains can help your sermon to be understandable, memorable, and even beautiful.

4.  The Mains are most powerful when they are phrased as actions to be taken.

There are a number of different approaches which you can take when designing your sermons.  Some sermons are inspirational, some are informational, some are action-oriented. All three are needed.  I personally have a bias for action-oriented sermons. Many people need to know how to live the Christian life in a God-honoring way that helps them to truly follow God.  I believe a preacher’s job is to help them do that. So sermons which are addressed specifically to people to take certain actions will often have verbs in them. For example, your Mains may be something like this:  ”Trust God during tough times,” “Follow God during rough times”, “Obey God during all times”. This is just a quick example, but it shows the key idea of placing an action step for each main. This pulls people into it, because you are talking to them directly.

5.  The number of Main Points should usually be from one to five points.

Finally, there is debate about just how many points a sermon should have. Andy Stanley makes a great case for just one main point. I think it is found in his book “Communicating for Life Change”. But some people prefer to take a more traditional approach to the Mains. In those cases, you need to have enough points to explain your Proposition, but not so many as to overwhelm the listener. Usually, from one (a la Andy Stanley) to five points is normal.

So there you have it. How you put your Mains together will make a big impact on your listeners. The Mains carry your content forward in an understandable fashion. Good Mains make for a good sermon.

Yours for better preaching!

Dr. Bill Miller

HighPowerResources.com

SermonBase.com

How to Prepare a Sermon: Part 4, “Read the Commentaries”

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This entry is part 5 of 11 in the series How to Prepare a Sermon in Ten Steps

Hi All,books

We are working on our ten-part series on How to Prepare a Sermon.  We’ve already given you all ten steps of sermon preparation, and part 1, Praying about your Sermon; Part 2, Textual vs. Topical; Part 3, Study the Passage. Today, we will talk about using commentaries and other references well.

In part 3, Study the Passage, I warned all budding preachers not to run to the commentaries first. You must study the passage on your own, and let God speak to you first. I outlined a number of different exercises which you can do to study the passage. Now, once you have completed those studies on your own, you may certainly feel free to open up the commentaries and learn from those who have gone before.

What can Biblical commentaries give you that you can’t get on your own?

  • Historical Information – to see where this passage fits in the flow of Biblical and world history
  • Cultural Background – to understand the passage more thoroughly
  • Original Language Insights – even if you already know Hebrew and Greek, the insights of a language scholar can be very helpful
  • Linguistic & Grammatical Nuances – you may know the Hebrew or Greek word, but a good scholar can help you understand the unique nuances of the usage of said words in this particular passage
  • Related Texts – where else in Scripture this passage or theme is addressed

How can you use this information in your sermon?

The big mistake is to turn an inspirational sermon into a college lecture. That is not the purpose of the information you gain from the commentary. This “hard data” which you learn in commentaries is likened to the bones of a body. Bones give a body structure; no bones, and you have a jelly fish. Yet bones are often covered in soft flesh. So too, the information you gain from commentaries is there to give structure, strength, and content to your message. It is there to support your Big Idea or Proposition, and your Main Points. It is supporting material to the message which God has already given you as you executed Part Three of Sermon Preparation: Study the Passage.

What else can be used to study the Bible?

There are lots of great tools out there besides Biblical commentaries. Here’s a few:

  • International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
  • Greek & Hebrew Interlinears – provides English translation above the Greek and Hebrew words for each passage
  • Dictionary of NT Theology
  • The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah by Alfred Edersheim

Check out the reference section of a Christian bookstore for lots more.

So get a few commentaries and references and make good use of them; not as a crutch, but as a supplement to your own work and and study.

If you would like to keep your sermons organized, be sure to check out our “SermonBase Message Planning Software“.

God’s best to you as your preach God’s Word!

Dr. Bill Miller

SermonBase.com

HighPowerResources.com

The Big Idea

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HI All,lightbulb

The Big Idea of the sermon is technically called “the Proposition”.  It is a summary of your entire sermon in one sentence.  Some call it “the sermon in a sentence.”

Getting accurate on the Proposition is the most important step you can do as you begin work on your sermon.  Accurately capturing all you have to say in a single sentence will propel you forward to a successful sermon.  Arriving at the Proposition can be some of the hardest work you do in your sermon preparation.  It may take a couple of days to really nail it; you may have to precede it first with exegetical study of the passage, and an understanding of the culture into which the passage speaks.

But once you have the Big Idea, the Proposition, the Sermon in a Sentence, you are almost half-way there!

A finely crafted Proposition can deliver a powerful punch.

Sermon Example:  Ezekiel 18:1 – 30

This is a very long passage and argument from the Lord God to the people of Israel.  It is difficult enough to explain to adults, but what about mid-schoolers?  How would you explain this passage to teens, ages 12-14??  Nathan Miller of Brooklyn Park EFC taught this passage to just such an age group by really nailing the sermon in a sentence.  Here’s his Proposition, Big Idea, or Sermon in a Sentence for Ezekiel 18:

“Your soul is your responsibility.”

That captures it really well.

Once you have the Proposition, you are on your way to putting together a good sermon. Work hard at it, and you – but especially your people – will be rewarded.

For great preaching,

Dr. Bill

SermonBase.com

HighPowerResources.com

How to Prepare a Sermon: Part 3, “Study the Passage”

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This entry is part 4 of 11 in the series How to Prepare a Sermon in Ten Steps

Hi Preachers, and Preachers-to-Be,open bible

We are continuing on this series of How to Prepare a Sermon. I’ve already given you the Ten Steps to Sermon Preparation to lead off the series. Then step one, “How to Pray about your Sermon“, and step two, “Select your text and topic“. So today let’s talk about studying the passage.

Studying the passage on which you want to preach is key. Listen, you can’t have quality preaching without putting in the time to study. It doesn’t matter how much you think you may know about the topic or text, there is always more to learn. Shallow study makes for shallow preaching. so put in the time and do it right. But how do you study the passage?

Number one rule, don’t run to the commentaries first! Study the passage on your own, and let God speak to you through it; then later on you can apply the commentaries to get the historical, grammatical, cultural facts you would not otherwise know.

So, what are the steps to studying a passage of Scripture in preparation for preaching a sermon on it?

  • Read the passage multiple times.
  • Read the passage in a few different translations.
  • Read the entire book.
  • Read it in Greek or Hebrew, if you are familiar with the original languages.
  • Identify the key verbs.
  • Identify key themes.
  • Look for repeated words, comparisons, contrasts, conclusions, assumptions.
  • Look for historical references to previous Biblical history and locations.
  • If necessary, diagram the passage.
  • Outline the passage.

To begin to make sense of all this Biblical data, you can ask and answer three questions:

1.  What does this passage say?

2.  What does this passage mean?

3.  What does this passage mean to me?

Once you have organized the sermon by answering the above three questions, you are ready to move on to Step Four of sermon preparation.

Yours for great preaching,

Dr. Bill Miller

SermonBase.com

HighPowerResources.com

How To Prepare A Sermon: Part 10, Create the Title

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This entry is part 11 of 11 in the series How to Prepare a Sermon in Ten Steps

Hi Preachers!blank billboard

We are working on our ten-part series on How to Prepare a Sermon. We’ve already given you all ten steps of sermon preparation, and Part 1, Praying about your Sermon; Part 2,Textual vs. Topical; Part 3,Study the Passage; Part 4, Read the Commentaries; Part 5, Arrive at the Proposition; Part 6, Develop the Mains; Part 7, Provide Supporting Material, and Part 8, Write the Conclusion, Part 9, Write The Introduction.

CREATE THE TITLE

Finally, you can choose the title. The only point of the title is to advertise and promote the sermon and let people know in a very brief way what it is about. If you choose your title too early, you may find yourself preaching to the title, rather than the text. Don’t confuse the two.

The Title that you choose can simply be descriptive, like the one I heard this weekend for Sanctity of Human Life Sunday:  “The Privilege and Responsibility of Being Human” by Dr. John Crocker at Crossroads Church in Albert Lea, MN.

It could be a portion of Scripture, like “Songs in the Night”, the famous sermon by Charles Haddon Spurgeon of the London Tabernacle.  The phrase “songs in the night” is from the Book of Psalms.

The Title could be a very directive title, How to be the Spiritual Leader of your Home, a message which I taught a while back, mainly to fathers, but also to single moms.

USE THE TITLE

Once you have taken the time to write the sermon, you want people to come and listen to it!

So make sure you spread the title of your sermon far and wide so that everyone knows what you will be teaching on. This is your chance to use the title of the sermon to encourage people to come and hear the Word of God being taught.

What are some ways to do that?

sermon sign

  • Whenever I am teaching in a series, I always put in a little teaser near the end of my sermon, about what I will be teaching in the next one. That way people can see how the series is tied together, and will keep coming back, it is hoped.
  • Also, list next week’s sermon in this week’s bulletin.
  • If your church advertises in the newspaper, list your weekly sermon title in there. Many people out there do not want to come to a strange new church unless they have at least some idea of what it is all about. For example, if your sermon title is on parenting, “How to be a great Dad”, that is one thing. If the title, on the other hand, says something like, “How to pick up snakes during worship”, that would tell them something else.

DON’T PREACH TO THE TITLE

Your job is to preach to the Biblical text, not the Title.  The only purpose of the Title is to let the people know what you will be speaking about. It is just there to advertise. Don’t get distracted by it; stay focused on the Biblical text.

Well, there you have it. That is the last of this ten-part series on How to Prepare a Sermon. I hope you enjoy it, and find it useful, as you teach God’s Holy Word!

For great preaching,

Dr. Bill Miller

SermonBase.com

HighPowerResources.com

How To Prepare A Sermon: Part 9, Write The Introduction

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This entry is part 10 of 11 in the series How to Prepare a Sermon in Ten Steps

Hey Up-and-Coming Preachers!     hand shake

We are working on our ten-part series on How to Prepare a Sermon.  We’ve already given you all ten steps of sermon preparation, and Part 1, Praying about your Sermon; Part 2,Textual vs. Topical; Part 3,Study the Passage; Part 4, Read the Commentaries; Part 5, Arrive at the Proposition; Part 6, Develop the Mains; Part 7, Provide Supporting Material, and Part 8, Write the Conclusion. Today: How To Prepare A Sermon: Part 9, Write The Introduction.

Yes, the introduction often comes right at the end, after you have written the Conclusion. The main goal here is to get their attention and to introduce the topic, thus “introduction”. Once you know the main thrust of the sermon and the main points, it is much easier to write the introduction.

Consider the Goal

The Introduction must fit strategically with the rest of your sermon. Too many pastors think that ‘attention-getting’ is the only goal, and thus try to do something lame like just share some cutesy humor or joke which they discovered on the internet. But once you have written the Conclusion, then the Introduction is the most natural next step. This is because, having written the Conclusion, you know where the sermon will end up, and so you begin with the end in mind. If your Introduction and Conclusion have a similar theme, then your sermon has parallelism; there is a natural matching between the two. People’s minds will come back to what you began with and begin drawing conclusions, which is what you want to happen. This is why in our SermonBase Message Planning Software, it is possible to view the Conclusion and the Introduction on the same screen so that you can view the connections and similarities between these two parts of your sermon.

Connect with the Listeners

During the Introduction, you must identify with the listeners. If you can make an emotional connection with the listeners in the Introduction, then they will be prepared to receive what you have to say in the rest of the sermon. If you are going to say something challenging in the sermon, then it is all the more important to relate to the audience so that they can connect and identify with you as a person.

Form a Natural Transition

The Introduction must lend itself naturally to the topic of the sermon. There must be an easy and logical flow from the topic of the Introduction to the topic of the sermon. It must make sense. Don’t give the listeners whiplash where you are talking about one thing over in this direction, and then suddenly we are facing the other way and talking about spiritual things with no warning. For example, a personal story about a recent sports injury may lend itself naturally to talking about physical and then spiritual health.

Introduce the Text

The purpose of the Introduction is to move people’s minds from the everyday mundane to the sacred Scriptures. So the topic must lead to the Scripture text upon which you intend to teach. Now it is important to note that in the Introduction you introduce text, you do not explain the text. That comes later during the Main Points of your sermon. Just introduce the text at hand, and explain why it relates to what you are going to discuss for the day. Then move quickly from the Text to the Proposition to the Main Points.

Don’t go too long

Some preachers spend way too much time on the Introduction. Use it as a tool to get you to where  you need to go, which is the Proposition. Then launch into your sermon. Preachers make the mistake of going to long when they lose sight of the purpose of the Introduction, which is “introduce”, not “explain”.

If you have already followed through on the other eight parts of the sermon preparation process, then the Introduction portion should come pretty easy. For by this time, you have a clear sense of purpose; you have the Proposition, the Main Points, the supporting material, and the Conclusion. The Introduction will then almost jump out at you as to how you might begin the sermon.

The final article in this series relates to the Title, which can trip you up if you don’t know its true purpose.

God’s best to you as you prepare to share God’s Word with His people!

Dr. Bill Miller

SermonBase.com

HighPowerResources.com

The Three Types of Expository Preaching You Could Use

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Hey Preachers and Teachers!

There are three types of Expository sermons:  Book Exposition, Biographical Exposition, Topical Exposition.

I know that there are various definitions of ‘expository preaching’, so just to clarify, when I say ‘exposition’ I am referring to a verse-by-verse study of a particular passage of Scripture. You work your way through a single passage of the Bible; you don’t jump around all over the place; you teach the Word of God where it stands, letting the text before you form your major points and even form the structure of your sermon. That is expository preaching.  Having said that, even with that definition, there are three different ways you can do this style of preaching.

Let’s look at each of these:

  • Book Exposition

This is the one which most people are familiar with. You take a book of the Bible and work through it from the first verse to the final. In some cases, you may take key passages which communicate the main message of the book. This is sometimes helpful for larger books when you don’t have time in your church calendar schedule to work through every single verse. For example, years ago I worked through the Book of Joshua. The book has 24 chapters, but I took a 9-week expositional walk-through of the book by hitting the 9 Key Faith Themes from Joshua. It was called “Living on the Edge of Faith” and was very good. You can get that series, by the way, at my HighPowerResources.com site.

So that is Book Exposition; well-known and well-loved.

  • Biographical Exposition

This is a bit more tricky and requires some advance prep work before you get into the series, because you have to find all the relevant places in the Scripture where the person is referred.  It could be all over the Old and New Testament, so you will want to find your key themes first, then prep your major points, as your create the Series.  For example, think of how Daniel is referenced in various places in both the OT and the NT. Then, once that prep work is ready you can do an exposition of that person’s life by taking each of the key passages about him or her, and doing a complete exposition on each passage.

  • Topical Exposition

Does that sound like a contradiction to you? How can it be both topical and expository? Well it can, but you have to be careful on how you handle it. Sometimes this third version is called “textual topical” just to emphasize that in expository topical preaching the Text is still primary. You see, in much topical preaching, the teacher simply pulls out a concordance, and locates all key passages where that topic is used and then in the course of one sermon, takes you on a hunt throughout the Bible. While that is always a lot of fun, it is not expository topical preaching; that is just plain ‘topical’.  In ‘expository topical preaching’ you stay with one passage, which is focused on a key topic. For example, think of Paul’s argument about the power of Sin in Romans 7. That would make a good passage for an exposition of the topic of Sin.

Topical Exposition has its own dangers, so we will address those in a future blog. For now, give some thought to each of the three types of Expository Preaching, and give them a try if you’d like.

Yours for great preaching!

Dr. Bill Miller

www.SermonBase.com

www.HighPowerResources.com

 

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