A couple of weeks ago, I posted on my Instagram that I was sharing with a group of preaching students about some of my sermon preparation tips. Several of you asked me to share that teaching here on my blog! Well, you asked and I’m answering.
The focus of the training I provided was about what I call “the sauce” of the sermon. It’s the stuff that takes a message from being stagnate and dry to being engaging and rich. Now, as I go though this, you might notice that I’m not going to share in really spiritual terms. Let me explain why.
I’m assuming that you know that the lifeblood of a sermon is the power of God! Seriously, what’s really gonna make the message have an impact? It will be if you’ve listened to the Lord in what to speak. If you’re cloaked in prayer and depending on the leadership of the Holy Spirit, God will accomplish everything He sets out to through your sermon.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, hear this. This post will focus on some quick tips and preparation that you can control! I’ts a brief overview, but I believe it will be helpful. Are you ready? So am I.
What Makes An Engaging Message?
As I mentioned, I want to focus with you on the “sauce of the sermon”. It’s the stuff that takes you from giving a boring monologue to preaching an engaging message that draws people into the story of God. Think about the sauce that goes on a good meat. The meat is what fills you up, but the sauce is what brings out the natural flavor and goodness of the meat. In the sermon, this happens in the introduction, illustrations and invitation. Let’s define each of those.
The introduction is the beginning part that draws people in and sets the stage. The introduction orients people to where you’re heading. Remember, you’ve been preparing for this moment over the past several weeks or months. The audience has not.
Illustration takes a boring speech and brings it to life. It also takes difficult or abstract concepts and frames them in ways that your audience can easily understand and remember.
Your invitation takes all of the content from the rest of the sermon and brings it to a practical application that your audience is invited to take action on. A good sermon always invites people to respond (publicly or privately).
Now, there are a TON of different types of invitation. There are altar calls, creative steps, a charge to go, challenge for the week, etc. It’s important to get creative here. What is the best response for people to take as they hear this sermon?
Okay, you might be getting excited about these creative elements. I am too! I want you to make a note though before we move on. These elements serve the text. The text doesn’t serve the sauce. After all, it’s a sermon! It’s not just a talk or keynote speech. You’re preaching the Gospel. So, preach the Gospel. It’s not your stories that will change and challenge people. It’s the Gospel! So, give people the Gospel. But do your best work to bring it to life and help your audience find themselves in it through great introduction, illustration and invitation.
How Do You Know What Sauce To Use?
Just like with a good piece of meat, you have to know what kind of meat you have to know what kind of sauce to use. Steak sauce doesn’t go that well on fish. Just like barbecue sauce goes great on chicken, it can taste a little weird on steak. The sauce compliments the meat.
It’s the same thing with your sermon. The introduction, illustration and invitation serve your text. So it only makes sense that you’ve got to know what kind of text you’re working with. Here are a few categories of how I like to understand the categories of text.
The moment is something within scripture that happens all in an instance. And when you understand it, you find that there is a nugget in there where you say “that will preach”. These moments are all over scripture. How about this example, though?
In Matthew 21:18-22, there is a moment when Jesus is traveling to Jerusalem. While he’s traveling, He curses a fig tree. At first, this seems insignificant. But, as we dig into the moment, we understand that it’s significant. If you remember, in the center of the city there was the temple and the fig tree was a symbol of the Jewish religious establishment. So, when He curses the fig tree, it is as if He’s cursing the religious establishment. It’s this moment, Jesus is saying that He is now the way to the father.
So, if you’re teaching this, as you add the historical context, you see that there is a moment with incredible significance.
Movement in scripture is a progression in scripture that as it unfolds, takes you somewhere. For example, in Psalm 1:1-2, there is a progression where the Psalmist brings you on a progression from walking, standing sitting with unrighteousness. As you preach this, you might highlight the progression for your audience. How much easier is it to walk away from something sinful when you’re still in motion. But, once you’ve begun to stand with it, you’re lingering around a bit more. As you grow closer to the sinful thing, you may sit down with it. It’s so much more difficult to get up and begin to move away from it.
What are the things your audience has been walking with, standing by or sitting next to that they shouldn’t? There is a progression where the Psalmist takes the audience somewhere. So, you should craft a message through your creative elements that also takes people on a journey. Remember, you’re creating a sermon that serves the text. Your sauce needs to match the meat.
This is the final category I’d like to highlight for you. It’s the mystery in scripture. Mystery are the things in scripture that draw out questions within us and stir our curiosity. When preaching about mystery, you can pose questions and allow your audience to wrestle with it and find themselves in it.
As an example, think about Exodus 20. It’s where we find the Ten Commandments. Think about how the first 9 are external and visible. The 10th is invisible. It’s the one about coveting. I could be coveting now and you wouldn’t know. So, what if the 10th is more of a reward than a command? As if to say if you follow the first 9, you won’t want to covet anyone else’s life.
When you’re preparing your message, you’ve got to spend enough time wrestling with the text and understanding the heart of the message. Why? So that you know how to craft a sermon around that. What’s the text saying? What kind of text is it? And what questions will it evoke in your audience?
This is just a very brief introduction of how you can begin to wrestle with the text you’re preaching. So, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that this is it! But, if you’re not used to doing this, it will get you started.
How Do You Get The Sauce?
This is a fair question. You may be wondering by now how you can find and craft great introductions, illustrations and invitations. Well, my best suggestion is to find a system and stick to it!
There are a multitude of ways that you can go about this. For example, I’ve had friends that just keep a list of stories in the notes section of their phone. That one hasn’t ever worked for me. However, if it works for them, great.
For myself, I like to plan my messages a ways into the future. So, I allow myself plenty of time to wrestle with the text, do research and write and rewrite my message. I have a list of stories, props, illustrations that I’ve categorized by topics. Over the years, these have grown… and grown… and grown. I mean, if I see something interesting while shopping, I take a picture of it. I may not know when I’ll use it. But not I’ve got it. If I hear something funny, I write it down. Yeah, I’m kind of a hoarder of ideas, stories and props.
When I’ve had time to sit with a text, I begin to look and think through my stash of sauce. And I begin to pull out the ones that will serve the text the best. Now that I understand the meat of the sermon, I’m on a hunt to find elements that will help my audience understand the Gospel and find themselves in it. And, I’m crafting a message that will draw them to take action.
Which brings me to my last point. I’d like to make a few notes about the Invitation.
Whatever You Do, Don’t Skip The Invitation
The invitation is crucial. It’s where you get to invite people to respond to the Gospel. As I said in the beginning, there are tons of different ways you can craft this. It doesn’t need to be an altar call every week. The invitation is the unique response that you believe God is inviting the people to take as a result of the Gospel message.
Think of what it says in James 1:23-25. When we hear, action is required. What good is it to hear and go away unchanged, forgetting what we’ve heard? But, often preachers skimp out on the invitation. I can’t say definitively why. But, I would assume there are a few things at play. First, I believe that somehow, along the way, we’ve forgotten that God’s word is alive and active. And that through it, He is speaking. Secondly, I believe we’ve forgotten that God is present in our services and is big enough to actually stir hearts and draw people into deeper relationship. We don’t want to be embarrassed by asking people to respond, only to have them stare blankly at us. Well, my friend, God can handle His own reputation- and ours. Our job is to be obedient to boldly proclaim and trust His Spirit to stir hearts.
You may disagree, and that’s fine. But, from what I’ve seen and understood, there are many who would struggle to admit it, but in their hearts, that’s what the struggle is. It’s a small view of the grandeur of God and what He want’s to accomplish in the sermon.
So, don’t have a small view of God. Ask Him what He desires to do in the people you’re speaking to. And then call them to it.
What have I missed? Like I said, this is an introduction to these topics. Are there ideas that you’d like to share? If so, leave a comment. Would you like to hear more about preaching? If so, let me know. I’d love to include things like this on the podcast and in the blog if you’re interested.
oh yea, have you tuned into The Jesus Leader Podcast?