8 Steps to Developing an Expository Style Sermon
Step 1: Choosing Your Scripture
Choosing the right scripture for your expository sermon is one of the most critical steps in the process. Below are some detailed strategies to help you make an informed decision.
Align with the Liturgical Calendar
Consider aligning your sermon with the liturgical calendar. For instance, during the Advent season, you might choose scriptures that focus on the anticipation of Christ's birth. During Lent, passages focusing on repentance and the journey to the cross could be apt.
Consider the Congregation's Needs
It's essential to keep in mind the spiritual needs, struggles, and victories of your congregation. If you're aware that your congregation is dealing with a specific issue—like grief, forgiveness, or doubt—choose a scripture that speaks to that concern.
You might also select scripture based on a theme you want to explore, like faith, hope, love, grace, or discipleship. In such a case, you'll want to pick a passage that provides a deep and thorough exploration of the chosen theme.
Another approach is to preach sequentially through a book of the Bible. This method allows your congregation to understand the continuity of scripture and the broader context in which individual passages sit.
Seek Spiritual Guidance
Above all, pray for guidance. As a minister, you're tasked with feeding your flock with the word of God, and spiritual discernment is key in this process. Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you to the scripture that will most benefit your congregation.
Research and Study
Once you've chosen a scripture, do some initial research. Read the scripture in various translations and versions. Familiarize yourself with the broader context of the book where the scripture is found, the author, the original audience, and the major themes in the book. This preliminary understanding will be beneficial in the next step, exegesis.
Remember, the scripture you choose will be the basis for your entire sermon. Therefore, taking the time to pray, think, and discern in this step is essential for the development of a sermon that will be spiritually nourishing to your congregation.
Step 2: Exegete the Scripture
Exegesis is a critical part of sermon preparation and involves interpreting and understanding the Biblical text in its original context. This step is where you do the work of a detective, seeking to uncover the original intent of the scripture's author. Here is how you can go about this in more detail:
Understand the Historical Context
Every book of the Bible was written at a particular point in history. To fully understand a scripture, you need to explore the historical context during which it was written. This includes looking at the political, socio-economic, and religious conditions that might have influenced the author.
Explore the Cultural Context
Understanding the culture of the time when the scripture was written can also illuminate the text's meaning. Research the customs, traditions, and societal norms of the time. This context can provide insight into certain phrases, actions, or attitudes in the scripture.
Consider the Literary Context
What genre of biblical literature is the scripture from? Is it poetry, historical narrative, prophetic oracle, wisdom literature, a gospel, or an epistle? Each genre has specific rules and characteristics that guide interpretation. For instance, poetry often uses symbolic language and metaphor, while historical narrative is usually more literal.
Study the Original Language
Though it's not necessary for all ministers to be experts in Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek (the original languages of the Bible), utilizing tools and resources that illuminate the original language can be incredibly helpful. There are nuances, idioms, and linguistic features that sometimes don't translate neatly into English. Resources such as interlinear Bibles, lexicons, and Bible commentaries can be beneficial in this regard.
Use cross-references to see where else similar themes, ideas, or teachings occur in the Bible. This can help show the consistency of a message across different books or authors and may provide further insight into the meaning of a passage.
Consult Commentaries and Scholars
Bible commentaries are a valuable resource for gaining different perspectives on a scripture passage. They offer interpretations from Bible scholars who have studied these passages in-depth and can provide a wealth of knowledge on historical, cultural, literary, and theological aspects.
Pray for Insight
Exegesis is not just an intellectual exercise; it's also a spiritual one. As you study the scripture, pray for the Holy Spirit's guidance. Ask God to open your eyes to see the truths in His word and to give you wisdom in interpreting it.
Exegesis requires time, effort, and patience. It can often feel like you're mining for gold, sifting through layers of context, language, and culture to uncover the nuggets of truth. However, the treasure you find is well worth the effort. It enriches your understanding of God's word and equips you to teach it accurately and effectively to your congregation.
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Step 3: Identify the Main Points
After thoroughly investigating the scripture's context and meaning in the exegesis step, you now need to identify the main points that will form the skeleton of your expository sermon. Here's how you can delve into this process more deeply:
Understand the Central Theme
Every scripture has a central theme or message. This is the overarching idea or truth that the author communicates. Identifying this central theme is crucial as it forms the core of your sermon and guides the development of your main points.
Break Down the Passage
One useful strategy is to break the scripture down into manageable sections or units of thought. Each section usually contains a unique facet of the main theme. Read through each section and summarize its main idea in one clear and concise sentence.
Look for Repeated Concepts
Repetition is a common biblical technique to emphasize important points. If a word, phrase, or idea is repeatedly used in a scripture, it's likely a significant point that the author wants to underscore.
Note Transitional Words
Transitional words and phrases like 'therefore', 'but', 'however', 'for this reason', etc., often signal a shift in thought or introduce a new point. Paying attention to these can help you identify the logical flow of ideas and main points.
Examine Contrasts and Comparisons
Contrasts and comparisons are another way the Bible often highlights key points. If your scripture contrasts two ideas, people, or situations, or compares them, each of these might represent a main point.
Consult Multiple Translations
Different Bible translations can sometimes highlight different aspects of a verse. Comparing translations can provide a more rounded view of the scripture and can help in identifying the main points.
The Rule of Unity
While there might be multiple points in a scripture, remember that they should all connect to the central theme. The rule of unity suggests that all your points should be unified around this central theme. If a point doesn't connect back to the theme, it might not be a main point.
Identifying the main points of your scripture is critical in shaping your sermon. These points will provide the roadmap for your sermon and guide your congregation through the scripture's message. Take time to ensure that you've accurately identified the main points and that they each contribute to communicating the central theme of the scripture.
Step 4: Explain and Illustrate
The main body of your expository sermon will involve explaining and illustrating each of the main points you've identified. This is the heart of your message where you dive deep into the meanings, implications, and applications of the scripture. Here are some detailed steps to help you explain and illustrate effectively:
Clearly Articulate Each Point
Ensure that each main point is clearly and concisely articulated. Use simple, direct language that your congregation can easily understand. Avoid theological jargon or complicated terminology unless absolutely necessary, and always provide clear explanations for any complex ideas.
Explain the Biblical Text
For each main point, explain what the scripture says and what it means. Break down any difficult or complicated concepts. You might want to refer to other parts of the Bible that illuminate or complement your point.
Illustrations are stories, examples, or analogies that bring your points to life. They help your audience grasp the truths in the scripture in a more relatable and memorable way. Here are some types of illustrations you can use:
Personal Stories: Stories from your own life can be very effective, as they demonstrate vulnerability and authenticity.
Anecdotes: These are short, interesting, or amusing stories that make a point.
Historical Events: History is full of events that can illustrate biblical truths.
Current Events: Referencing recent news or trends can make your sermon feel more relevant and engaging.
Nature and Science: The natural world and the world of science can offer a wealth of illustrations.
Literature and Pop Culture: Quotes from books, scenes from movies, or lyrics from songs can also be great sources of illustrations.
Remember, the goal of an illustration is not to entertain but to help your congregation better understand and remember the point you're making.
Apply Caution With Illustrations
While illustrations are a powerful tool, they should be used wisely and sparingly. Here are some things to keep in mind:
Relevance: Ensure that the illustration directly relates to and reinforces the point you're making. Irrelevant illustrations can confuse your audience.
Balance: Don't let illustrations overshadow the scripture. The Word of God should be the star of your sermon.
Sensitivity: Be aware of potentially sensitive or controversial topics that might detract from your message or upset your audience.
Explaining and illustrating your main points effectively is key to creating an engaging and impactful expository sermon. It allows your congregation to grasp the depths of the scripture, see its relevance to their own lives, and remember its key messages.
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Step 5: Apply to Today’s Context
The application is where the rubber meets the road in sermon writing. This is where you help your congregation connect the teachings of the Bible to their everyday lives. Here are some strategies to help you apply the scripture effectively in today's context:
Reflect on how the scripture applies to your own life. As a minister, you're not exempt from the challenges and struggles that your congregation faces. Personal reflection can provide insights into how others might apply the scripture to their lives.
Understand Your Audience
Understanding the needs, struggles, and situations of your congregation is crucial for effective application. Be aware of their ages, occupations, marital statuses, and other social factors that might affect how they interpret and apply the scripture.
Make it Practical
Your application should be specific and actionable. Instead of vague instructions like "love your neighbor", provide concrete suggestions like "Is there a coworker you've been struggling to get along with? Consider ways you can show kindness to them this week."
Asking questions can encourage your congregation to think deeply about the application of the scripture. For example, "How does this scripture challenge your current attitude towards forgiveness? What changes might you need to make?"
Balance Grace and Truth
While it's important to challenge your congregation to live according to Biblical truths, also emphasize God's grace. Make sure your congregation understands that their value doesn't come from perfect adherence to the rules, but from God's unconditional love.
Share real-life examples of people applying the scripture in their lives. These can be stories from your life, from the lives of congregation members (with their permission, of course), or from the wider Christian community.
Offer Tools and Resources
Sometimes, your congregation might need additional resources to apply the scripture. This could be prayer guides, book recommendations, referral to a church ministry, or any other resources that can help them put the scripture into practice.
Remember, the goal of the application isn't just to inform your congregation but to transform them. As James 1:22 says, "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says." By helping your congregation apply the scripture in relevant, practical, and meaningful ways, you're helping them live out their faith in a real and tangible way.
Step 6: Create Your Introduction and Conclusion
The introduction and conclusion of your sermon are key elements in delivering an effective message. They set the tone for your sermon and bring it to a close, respectively, and they're crucial in engaging your congregation's attention and leaving a lasting impact. Here are some detailed strategies to craft compelling introductions and conclusions:
Crafting an Engaging Introduction
The introduction of your sermon has three main objectives: capture attention, establish rapport, and introduce your topic. Here's how to achieve these:
Start with a Hook: Open with a compelling statement, a thought-provoking question, a captivating story, or a relevant quote. The goal is to immediately engage your listeners' interest and make them eager to hear what you have to say.
Establish Connection: Build rapport with your congregation. This could be by sharing a personal experience, showing empathy for a common struggle, or expressing enthusiasm for the opportunity to explore the scripture together.
Introduce the Topic: Clearly state the scripture and the central theme of your sermon. Provide a brief overview of what you'll be discussing. You can also share why this topic is relevant and important for your congregation.
Developing a Memorable Conclusion
The conclusion is where you wrap up your message, reinforce your main points, and call your congregation to action. Here's how to create an effective conclusion:
Summarize Main Points: Briefly reiterate your main points to reinforce the message. You might say, "So remember, in today's scripture we learned that..."
Call to Action: Encourage your congregation to apply the scripture in their lives. Remind them of the specific applications you discussed during the sermon.
End with Prayer: Conclude your sermon with a prayer. This could be a prayer asking for God's help in applying the scripture, a prayer of gratitude for the truths discovered, or a prayer related to the theme of your sermon.
Use a Clincher: A clincher is a final thought or statement that leaves a strong impression. It could be a compelling quote, a challenging question, or a vivid image that encapsulates your message.
Both the introduction and conclusion play vital roles in your sermon. The introduction captures your congregation's attention and sets the stage for your message, while the conclusion drives home your main points and leaves your listeners with a clear idea of how to apply what they've learned. Crafting these parts of your sermon with care will help ensure that your message is effective and impactful.
Step 7: Practice and Deliver
After all the work of preparation, it's time to deliver your sermon. Just like a musician practices before a concert or an athlete before a game, practicing your sermon is crucial for a confident and smooth delivery. Here are some strategies for practicing and delivering your expository sermon:
Read Through Your Sermon
Read through your entire sermon several times. This will help you familiarize yourself with the flow of your sermon and identify any areas that may be confusing or difficult to deliver. Pay attention to the transitions between points to ensure they are smooth and natural.
Practice Out Loud
Practicing out loud allows you to hear how your sermon sounds and gives you a chance to adjust your tone, emphasis, and pacing. This is also a good time to practice your body language and gestures, which can greatly enhance your message.
Time your practice runs to make sure your sermon fits within your allotted time. If your sermon is too long, you may need to simplify some points or reduce your illustrations. If it's too short, you might need to add more depth to your explanations or applications.
If possible, practice in front of a trusted friend or mentor and ask for their feedback. They might offer helpful insights on clarity, pacing, body language, or other aspects of your delivery that you might not notice on your own.
Prepare Your Heart
Before you step onto the pulpit, spend time in prayer. Ask God to use you as His vessel to deliver His Word. Pray for your congregation, that their hearts would be open to receive the message.
When it's time to deliver your sermon, keep these tips in mind:
Start Strong: A strong start can capture your audience's attention and set the tone for the rest of your sermon.
Maintain Eye Contact: This helps to engage your audience and create a sense of connection.
Use Natural Gestures: Natural, expressive body language can enhance your message.
Vary Your Voice: Changes in pitch, volume, and speed can keep your audience engaged and highlight important points.
Pause for Effect: Pauses can give your audience time to absorb what you've said and build anticipation for what's to come.
Be Authentic: Be yourself and let your genuine passion for God's Word shine through.
Remember, the ultimate goal of your sermon isn't to showcase your own knowledge or eloquence, but to faithfully communicate God's Word and inspire your congregation to apply it in their lives. With thorough preparation, heartfelt delivery, and reliance on the Holy Spirit, your expository sermon can be a powerful tool in God's hands.
Step 8: Evaluate and Reflect
After delivering your sermon, it’s essential to take some time to evaluate and reflect on your performance. This process can provide valuable insights that help you grow as a preacher and improve your future sermons. Here are some detailed strategies for effective evaluation and reflection:
Begin by evaluating your sermon delivery yourself. It's often helpful to do this while the experience is still fresh in your mind. Here are a few questions you might ask yourself:
- Did I communicate the scripture's message clearly?
- Did I stay true to the original context and meaning of the scripture?
- Were my explanations and illustrations effective in enhancing understanding?
- Was the application relevant and actionable?
- How was my delivery? Did I use my voice, gestures, and body language effectively?
- Did I effectively engage with the audience?
- Was there a point at which I felt the audience lost interest or seemed confused?
- Was my introduction engaging and my conclusion powerful?
Feedback from Others
While self-evaluation is important, getting feedback from others can provide a more rounded view of your sermon. Ask a few trusted members of your congregation for their honest feedback. You might ask them similar questions as in your self-evaluation, or simply ask what they found helpful and what areas they think could be improved.
Review Your Sermon Notes
Go back to your sermon notes and compare them with your actual delivery. Did you miss any key points? Did you deviate from your planned structure? Understanding these differences can help you plan better for your next sermon.
Record and Review
If possible, record your sermon. Listening to or watching your sermon can provide invaluable insights into your preaching style. Pay attention to your voice, gestures, and audience engagement. Look for any patterns or habits you might not be aware of.
Reflect and Pray
Take some time to reflect and pray over your experience. Ask God to show you areas where you can improve and thank Him for the opportunity to share His Word.
Remember that the goal of evaluation and reflection isn't to beat yourself up over any mistakes or imperfections, but to learn and grow. Be gracious with yourself, and remember that every preacher, no matter how experienced, has room for improvement.
By taking time to thoughtfully evaluate and reflect after each sermon, you'll continually grow and develop as a preacher, becoming ever more effective in sharing God's Word with your congregation.
Example 1: Sermon on the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12)
- Hook: Share a story about a time when worldly happiness failed to satisfy.
- Connection: Discuss the universal desire for true and lasting happiness.
- Topic Introduction: Introduce the Beatitudes as Jesus' radical redefinition of happiness.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (v.3).
- Explain: Discuss the concept of spiritual poverty and its relevance.
- Illustrate: Share a story about someone who realized their spiritual poverty and found joy in God.
- Apply: Challenge the congregation to acknowledge their spiritual need and seek God's kingdom first.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted (v.4).
- Explain: Explore the paradox of finding comfort in mourning.
- Illustrate: Use an example of someone who experienced comfort in mourning.
- Apply: Encourage the congregation to bring their sorrows to God and find comfort in His love.
(Continue with the other Beatitudes in a similar manner)
- Summarize: Recap the main points about the Beatitudes.
- Call to Action: Encourage the congregation to live out the Beatitudes in their everyday life.
- Prayer: Pray for God's help in living out the Beatitudes.
- Clincher: End with a powerful quote or statement about the true blessedness found in God.
Example 2: Sermon on the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32)
- Hook: Share a personal story about a time when you felt lost or separated from someone you love.
- Connection: Relate this feeling to the universal human experience of being lost and longing for home.
- Topic Introduction: Introduce the Parable of the Prodigal Son as a story of lost and found.
The younger son's rebellion and departure (v. 11-13).
- Explain: Discuss the younger son's request and his journey to a distant country.
- Illustrate: Compare this to our own experiences of rebellion and separation from God.
- Apply: Invite the congregation to reflect on areas of their lives where they might be running from God.
The younger son's repentance and return (v. 17-20).
- Explain: Explore the younger son's realization of his situation and his decision to return home.
- Illustrate: Share a story of someone who repented and returned to God after a time of rebellion.
- Apply: Encourage the congregation to repent and return to God in areas where they've strayed.
The father's unconditional love and forgiveness (v. 20-24).
- Explain: Discuss the father's response to his son's return and what it tells us about God's love.
- Illustrate: Share a powerful illustration of unconditional love and forgiveness.
- Apply: Encourage the congregation to accept God's unconditional love and to extend this love to others.
(You could continue with the older brother's reaction as an additional point)
- Summarize: Recap the main points about the Prodigal Son.
- Call to Action: Encourage the congregation to return to God if they've strayed and to live in the light of God's unconditional love.
- Prayer: Pray for God's help in living out these truths.
- Clincher: End with a compelling statement about the power of God's love and forgiveness.