Sermon and Lesson Preparation

For those who have no formal training in the art of preaching or teaching I have prepared some basic notes to help you.

The art of preaching is called homiletics, but as we shall see a homily is a particular kind of discourse that fits into the art of preaching in the general sense.

This is my personal system of explanation of message types and is atypical of the discipline and I use the terms in unconventional ways, but I think my system is much easier. And I think I use the terms more like how the plain meaning of their etymologies would indicate they should be used.

In my system there are only several kinds of messages that can be prepared and delivered. They are separated into two main categories: Topical and Textual.

A topical message or a study, focuses on a particular topic (subject) which is covered either in the broad general or minutia aspect of detail.

Examples of topics would be: The crucifixion of Christ, salvation, future judgment, the works and modes of operation of the Devil, the temptation of Eve, alcohol, making friends, caring for family, forgiveness, the law of Moses, the temple of God, the Holy Spirit, the rewards of obedience, the power of God, the spirit of grace, grace versus law, the apostle Paul, the book of Luke, the epistles of the New Testament, the purpose of the Old Testament, etc. for the list is endless.

Because topical messages cover subjects which are mentioned multiple times throughout the entire Bible it is common in this sort of message to use many sections of scripture throughout the delivery.

Topical subjects are usually selected for Sunday School as that time is set aside for furthering a Christian’s doctrinal and historical knowledge by way of particular instruction.

When instruction, and not edification towards better personal conduct nor an invitation towards salvation, is the motive and intent of the speaker what would normally called the “preacher’s message” is called properly “a study” and the preacher properly called “a teacher” and the congregation properly called “a class“. But often the Pastor, who serves as the principal preacher of a church, doubles as an adult Sunday School teacher and will often teach other classes as well. In Baptist churches often these classes will take place on Sunday night when more of the regular church members (usually called the “church family“) are in attendance and fewer guests are present that are more likely to be unsaved or on a Wednesday night as part of a weekly prayer meeting and Bible study.

A textual message or study, is what it is called when only one particular section of scripture is preselected as the primary source from which the sermon or lesson will be taught. In the textual type all other sections of scripture referenced are used only as cross references in support of the points being made or for further information which may be necessary so that the congregation or class understands the text.

The section of scripture chosen as the primary text can be one verse or more or an entire chapter or book. Examples would be: John 3:16, Romans chapter 12, the book of Matthew etc.

In my system there are two subtypes of textual messages. These are: Homily and Expository.

Homiletical lessons are those where usually a rather large section of scripture is taught thoroughly and systematically and progressively word by word and verse by verse in the same order in which the words appear. This is usually done in a series of lessons because it takes a while to cover the verses like that.

The word homily implies a discourse and so a homily is taught in more of a lecture style mostly without emotion.

Homiletic lessons are the best to use when teaching the doctrinal application or historical background of a specific section scripture which had been selected by way of necessity (one such necessity could be because that is the next section of scripture in a series of studies that are progressing through a particular book of the Bible) instead of by topic.

While moral instruction is also included as part of the homily however when the sections of the scripture being covered broach things like moral issues, Christian living, and godly behavior or whenever comments of that nature are appropriate and so must be covered, instruction about the entire section of scripture in order to make its meaning clear is the purpose of the homily. The idea is line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little (Isaiah 28:10 For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little).

Technically any message which follows the form of a systematic breakdown of a verse or a progression through the Bible is considered “homilectic” regardless of the content or other aspect of the approach.

Besides meaning “discourse” the word “homily” implies an almost scientific approach to exposition for the sole purpose of making the author’s actual and original intended meaning clear so things like word definitions, etymologies, grammar, and linguistic construction and syntax of the selected section of the scripture will often be covered and again; this is usually done so in the same order in which the words appear in the text so that lessons makes the meaning clear to the congregation by way of thorough explanation systematically.

A homily then could be called an analysis of the scripture or it could be said that a homily is like rhetorical teaching or lecture as the first lectionaries were those of Christians teaching the Bible in this manner and speakers in this style stand in front of a “lectern“, but in a church we call it simply “teaching” from what is normally called a “preacher’s pulpit” when as it is normally used to preach from.

A.P. Gipp calls this the homiletic approach “a commentary”, but I do not believe that would accurately describes the approach as it would imply something casual.

Written Biblical commentaries are however very common like what Gipp is suggesting and are more casual than formal doctrinal writing giving and vary a lot more as to their adherence to strict doctrinal purity than a strictly written doctrinal study on a single topic would.

What should always be avoided however in any case is a critiquing of the word of God. A textual critic of the German variety has no place in the pulpit as we are to preach the word of God, not criticize or deconstruct it. We accept the word of God by faith as being accurate and use it to criticize and deconstruct its critics and our own behaviour and society’s failure to adhere to it. As we come upon information that casts doubt upon the word of God it is our responsibility to be skeptical of those sources and rebuke them using God’s word and reprove its falsity and do so in a public way that instructs and strengthens people’s faith in the Bible.

If the homily is used primarily to edify and instruct the hearers towards good works the homily, in my system, can be called a benediction meaning a “good discourse, speech, or word.” Approaching godly instruction by progressively moving through a large section of the Bible is seldom seen in Baptist churches as expository preaching is usually used for that purpose, but it is perfectly acceptable.

In my system an example of a homily covering only one verse would be: John 11:35, JESUS WEPT. Who was this Jesus? He was the Son of God in earthly flesh. And why was he weeping? It was because a friend of his called Lazarus by name had died.

In my system textual exposition or what I call “expository preaching” (a better term as it explains the motivation more than the method as even a thorough study of a passage is a type of exposition) is when a moral lesson or moral sermon is derived from a text.

Usually it is a singular block of text or a singular verse and the points the preacher makes are not necessarily in any particular order as though necessarily derived from the text as read, but always center around the primary text which was selected.

The purpose of expository preaching is not a thorough explanation of the precise meaning of the text, but rather moral instruction in order to lead a soul to Christ or to edify the body of Christ towards better behavior or by the rebuke of bad behavior.

[Textual exposition then could be considered preaching whereas other kinds of delivery could be called teaching. And so this is why I have simplified the system of preaching which I was taught to just include those two goals and I ignore the details that makes naming the approach difficult.

To give you an idea of how complicated the discipline can become some authors distinguish between messages derived from long or scattered passages and single verses calling the first category “expository” and the second which are from singular verses “textual” but I think this distinction causes more confusion than necessary as all messages are derived from the text of the Bible and all expound upon the text to at least some degree so I think my system of explanation is more easily understood and it has served me well.]

In expository preaching each point is extracted from the text as it is in the homily but also each point is greatly expanded and expounded upon as other supporting scriptures are brought to bear which further explain the point the preacher is trying to make.

The preacher derives these points through his prayerful observation of the text with spiritual discernment of the Lord’s body and the state of the flock in mind rather than just what the actual text says.

These types of messages are the most likely to make converts of men as they can be emotionally driven and powerful as the preacher needs to spend far less energy in fully explaining the text and he can focus on his delivery. But there is also danger as the immense license taken, and liberty granted, can lead to either an entirely innocent misunderstanding by the congregation about some particulars or a careless or unscrupulous preacher may accidentally or purposefully introduce false doctrines. Nefarious persons will do this knowing that during emotionally driven deliveries a person’s critical mind is not as engaged because their emotions are and so falsehoods and errors are more likely to go unnoticed or may be overlooked or even excused.

The possible excuses come by way of the congregation, who enjoying the message so much, develop an emotional bond with the preacher choosing rather to be entertained rather than instructed, not enduring sound doctrine, having itching ears that long to be scratched with some pleasant word or crazy grand gesture of a dynamic preacher flying around the pulpit shouting and sweating like any common rock star or celebrity boy band “singer.”

Another danger in expository preaching is that cross references which have nothing whatsoever to do with the primary text are often linked inexplicably to the main text giving a false sense of context to both causing the same problems of misunderstandings and false doctrines being introduced. So there too the license can be used in careless or deceptive manners. (However that is also a concern in topical studies and verse by verse homily that everyone should be aware of.)

And so diligence must be maintained to not deviate too far from the actual words of the text even in expository preaching. And the plain meaning of that text when extracting a moral message must be held to more or less closely even when some liberty is being used.

Because a homily is a systematic form of exposition it is easy to confuse the two types until you understand the difference. Often the only difference is the intention of the effect upon the hearer. Preaching is to convert the sinner and instruct in ways of righteousness whereas teaching is to inform. Understanding that difference is the only necessary part of my system as the delivery can vary as needed, but the goal should be clear from the beginning of the sermon preparation until the delivery is finished.

The expository message form of preaching also be a confusing form to master because while most textual messages use a single block of text or a single verse it is possible in some instances to use various sections of scripture as a single text as long as they have some similarity which allows such a combination possible.

For instance a particular event may be covered in both the books of Matthew and Luke with each furnishing necessary details or particular phrasing which informs us of the meaning of Christ’s words or perhaps a further bit of instruction on a particular moral matter might be covered in three sections of scripture and so taken together can make up a singular text from which points can be derived which could not necessarily follow a strict topical grouping.

An example of a expository message would be: In John 3:16 we see three reasons for which Christ died. One for the love of God, two as a gift towards us, and three for our eternal salvation.

The basic structure of a message outline includes elements like a title usually, the text, the introduction, a segue or transitional sentence, each main point and sub-points the points also being called divisions and subdivisions, cross references in order to support any point, segues between points, verbal illustrations or examples and analogies, and a summary or conclusion and usually a prayer to begin and end the message and an opportunity to get saved or come to the altar for prayer called the alter call after the conclusion.

A.P. Gibbs who wrote The Preacher and his Preaching breaks down the types of messages differently than I do and I was taught by a preacher using his method. His system says that which is gathered from multiple portions of scripture but centered around one theme within the passage is an expository message also known as a benediction and that from a singular verse is a textual message but which is still centered in one text within its proper context. To this he adds types like biographical messages that focus on one character of the Bible, which to me is just a topical message of a particular sort and personal testimony which again would be topical in my opinion, historical incident, which to me is just either topical again or else a systematic homilectic. So I think my system of explanation of types is more easily understood and expands the discussion into teaching and not just preaching more easily.