While in preaching class in seminary, we were taught in detail how to prepare sermons. One thing that I really liked about the method of sermon prep. that we used was that the main focus was the biblical text. The preaching was "expository," which basically means that we preached directly from the bible. I liked this emphasis and am thankful for it.
The question that I am posing today is not directed at expository preaching in general. Rather, the question is: Why do expository (or any other form) sermons have to be so carefully crafted? Why do they often look and/or sound like something that is so prepared beforehand that the Holy Spirit could not intervene even if He wanted to?
Let me provide an example. In seminary, we were taught to prepare a sermon in the following manner. After analyzing the biblical text, we were to come up with what we might call the main message of the text. This would, then, be the primary thrust of the sermon. We were then to break down the passage into three, four, five, or more main points. Sub-points were to follow.
Each point mentioned above was to have a section for explanation and argumentation. After this came illustration. Finally, we would get to application. This was to occur on every point.
When we completed each manuscript to hand in to the professor, the end result was a very neat looking, organized product. It almost looked like it came from some sort of advertising firm.
But should our sermons be so carefully crafted?
Please let me inject something here before answering the above question. I am not talking about the importance of preparation. Whoever is preaching has a great responsibility to faithfully proclaim the word of God. He should spend time in the original languages (if he is familiar with these), know the context of the passage, read commentaries, get advice on difficult passages, and, if he has time, memorize the text itself. Whoever is the preacher should know his text backwards and forwards. There should be no exception to this.
Now, the question again: Should our sermons be so carefully crafted? Should they have numerous points? Should they follow the explanation, illustration, application model?
What examples do we have in scripture? Let's look at four from the book of Acts.
Peter, in Acts 2:14-39, preaches at Pentecost. He testifies to Jesus Christ as Lord, and says that Jesus has just poured out His Holy Spirit upon believers. Peter does not appear to follow any sort of script, but rather lets the Holy Spirit guide him as he testifies to the Lord. Peter's sermon is organized, and at the end he certainly has application, as he tells the listeners to repent.
Stephen, in Acts 7:1-53, preaches to religious leaders in Israel. Appearing to be guided by the Holy Spirit, he recalls much of the history of Israel, based on what he knows from the OT. At the end, like Peter, he calls for some sort of action by the religious leaders, even though it appears to be implied. Stephen does not follow a script, but rather tells what he knows and lets the Holy Spirit guide him.
In Acts 17:22-34, Paul preaches to philosophers in Athens. Since the OT has little meaning to these men, he does not quote it directly, although he certainly alludes to it. The apostle begins at creation because his listeners do not have knowledge of the biblical account of how the world began. Paul testifies to Christ, relying on his testimony and on general revelation. Paul calls for a response at the end.
Later in Acts, Paul speaks to a Jewish mob in Jerusalem. In 21:37-22:21, Paul testifies to the Lordship of Jesus, tells of his conversion, and makes his calling known. Again, he seems to be relying on the Holy Spirit to guide what he is saying. Quite obviously, he is not using a script.
What can we see from these sermons?
1) The place where the preachers began their sermons was based upon the knowledge of their listeners.
2) The sermons contained much scripture (OT), or were at least based upon scripture.
3) Illustrations were biblical illustrations.
4) The speakers all seemed to be guided by the Holy Spirit. They did not rely on a previously prepared written text.
5) Most of the preachers called for some sort of response from those listening.
6) The focus of the sermons, ultimately, was Jesus Christ.
When we compare what we see in scripture to what we often see in church pulpits today, the differences are quite obvious. So what can we, who have opportunities to preach, do about this? Do we follow the scriptural model or do we not?
This is what I propose, and also what I plan to do from now on when I have the chance to preach: first, after selecting a biblical text, I will prepare in the manner I suggested above. This will not change.
Second, the change will come as I put the sermon itself together. Instead of carefully crafting a manuscript with points, subpoints, and a fully written sermon text, I will go into the pulpit with just an outline in hand. I plan to have a clear idea of what I want to say, but I also desire to be more open to the leading of the Holy Spirit than I have in the past.
Third, other changes include beginning the sermon where I believe the listeners are, quoting more scripture than I have in the past, including primarily biblical illustrations, and calling for some sort of response/behavior change at the conclusion of the sermon.
Finally, I hope that my previous sermons have all been focused on Jesus Christ, but from now on I'll make sure that they are.
I'm curious to hear what you think of this. Should we follow the biblical model as seen in Acts, or is there a better way? If so, what is it?