Writing a Sermon

This guide offers succinct suggestions for the preparation of an exegetical sermon. Sermon preparation follows from and is dependent upon the exegesis of the biblical passage. The exegetical work is always the first step as you prepare to preach from Scripture. Consult Exegeting a Gospel for guidance in this.

The goal of the sermon is to speak faithfully the Word of God to those who have come to hear God's revelation proclaimed. It presumes that the preacher has invested the time both to hear the Word of God and to understand the application of it to the speaker's and the hearer's lives.

Suggested Guide for Preparing the Sermon

  1. Prayer
    Begin your sermon preparation with prayer. The sermon is an act of faith in and obedience to the Living God who continues to reveal Himself through the written Word proclaimed by the power of the Holy Spirit.
  2. Ascertain the main thought of the passage.
    Based upon your exegetical analysis, specify the content, intent, and argument of a passage. Further, how does this passage's message relate to the immediate context as well as to the rest of Scripture? The goal is to discern clearly what the passage is saying. This is necessary if you are to preach from the passage (i.e. follow the path which is already present in Scripture) instead of simply presenting your own concerns.
  3. Identify those to whom you will be preaching.
    It is important to identify and understand those who will hear the sermon. Anytime you seek to communicate effectively, it is necessary to identify the group to which you will speak and tailor your sermon accordingly (e.g., illustrations, vocabulary, etc.).
  4. Begin to apply the text to the life of the your hearers today.
    The sermon seeks to illuminate how the revelation of God in a particular historical context applies to the church's life in Christ today. Having endeavored to understand what the text is saying and why, now try to see how this meaning bears upon the your life and those who will hear your sermon. Haddon Robinson [Biblical Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980)] suggests three developmental questions which will assist in this process:
    1. What does this mean? How is the author developing the thought of this passage? Are there elements in the passage that must be explained to the audience if they are to understand the text? These questions help to ensure intelligibility.
    2. Is it true? Can we believe it? How does the biblical writer substantiate what is said? What experiences in our lives make problematic the claims we are making?
    3. What difference does it make? We read the Bible to hear God speak, so to ask how what the passage says is applicable in our situation is only natural.
  5. Decide the purpose of the sermon.
    From your understanding of how a passage applies to your life and those who will hear the sermon, try to state your purpose in the sermon. Are you trying to have the hearers apply a particular principle or action in their lives? Are you seeking to explicate a crucial aspect of the Christian faith (e.g. the resurrection, who Jesus Christ is)?
  6. Select a sermon form that facilitates the achieving of the purpose and create a sermon outline.
    Sermons come in differing forms: either/or, applying a principle, explaining a key idea, narrative, etc. Try to let the passage itself help set the form that you will employ. Once the form is selected, create an outline that incorporates the message of the passage in the selected form. Try to communicate the message of the passage, not just outline it.
  7. Fill in the outline of the sermon.
    Add the supporting material to the sermon. This includes illustrations, quotations, factual data, etc. that support, illuminate, or apply the sermon's points, as well as motivate the listener to action. Good illustrations are a craft that clearly elucidate a text's meaning rather than simply entertain the audience.
  8. Construct the introduction and conclusion.
    A well-planned introduction and conclusion are essential to a well-crafted sermon,and they possess a significance that outweighs their relative length. The introduction should introduce the purpose and help to capture the hearer's attention. Some may choose to construct the conclusion first, as it is the place toward which the sermon has been moving. The conclusion should bring home the sermon's message.

Preaching: Basic Texts

There are many, many introductory texts on preaching available. Here are some of the more popular ones and those of recent appearance:

Brueggemann, Walter.The word militant : preaching a decentering word. Minneapolis, MN : Fortress Press, 2007.

Refocuses the preaching task around the decentering, destabilizing, always risky word that confronts us in Scripture. These essays,

previously available only in journals, are here combined with a newly composed preface and introduction.

Craddock, Fred B. Overhearing the Gospel. St. Louis, MO : Chalice Press, 2002.

Addresses approaches to the teller, the listener, the method, the story, Kierkegaard, and includes two sample sermons on Matthew 28:1-10, and Matthew 7:21-29.

Hunter, Geoffrey and Gethin Thomas and Stephen Wright (ed.). A preacher's companion: essays from the College of Preachers. Oxford : Bible Reading Fellowship, 2004.

Draws helpful insights from the fields of cultural and communication research, as well as theology and biblical teaching. Included are contributions from: Lavinia Byrne, Donald Coggan, and Lesslie Newbigin.

Jeter, Joseph R. and Ronald J. Allen. One Gospel, many ears : preaching for different listeners in the congregation. St. Louis, Mo.: Chalice Press, 2002.

Addresses age, gender, race, personality type, ethnicity, education, and social and economic background as ways in which sermons are received and how the preacher can optimize the opportunity for each to hear and understand the gospel and one another.

Long, Thomas G. The Witness of Preaching. Louisville, KY: Westminster/J. Knox Press, 2nd ed. 2005.
An immensely practical book, in which Long walks the reader through the various stages of sermon writing.

McMickle, Marvin A. Shaping the claim: moving from text to sermon. Minneapolis, MN : Fortress Press, 2008.

Takes readers beyond the initial steps of theological analysis, contextual explorations, and biblical exegesis to help the preacher discover the core of the message to be preached - the sermonic "claim." The book is keyed to online sermon samples and other Web-based features such as sermon illustrations and art.

Robinson, Haddon. Biblical Preaching: the development and delivery of expository messages. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980 and 2001.
A classic.

Robinson, Haddon W. and Torrey W. Robinson. It's all in how you tell it : preaching first-person expository messages. Grand Rapids, MI : Baker Books, 2003.

Tools and insights necessary to move from ineffective habits into dramatic sermon delivery. Shows how to preach by retelling a scriptural account from the vantage

point of a biblical character-combining the power of drama with God's Word.

Taylor, Barbara Brown. The Preaching Life. Cambridge, Mass.: Cowley Publications, 1993.
Not a how-to book. Instead, Taylor reflects on some of the general qualities required for good preaching.

Waller, J. How to prepare and preach a sermon. Cambridge : Grove Books, 2005.

A Grove pamphlet that offers a simple framework together with reflections on the many different facets of preaching. Will be of use to beginners as well as those with experience.

Wilson, Paul Scott. Broken words: reflections on the craft of preaching. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2004.

From the vantage point of the dynamic of divine grace and human action, addresses the biblical and theological content of the sermon from different vantage points.

Preaching Aids: Exegesis

Biblical Commentaries:
For a list of suggested commentaries, please consult the lists available in the Graham Library.

Preaching Commentaries and Sample Sermons (Lectionary)

Bayer, Charles H. and Robert A. Hausman. Homiletic Meditations. Lima, Ohio: CSS Publications, 1994.
Cycle C (3 volumes).

Brokhoff, John R. Lectionary Preaching Workbook: [Series A,B and C]. Rev. ed.Lima, Ohio: C.S.S. Publishing Co., 1984-6.

Craddock, Fred B. Preaching the New Common Lectionary: [...] Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1984-7.
This series includes commentaries tor years A, B, and C, by liturgical season.

Gibson, Paul. Briefly Stated: Short Sermons for [...]. Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 1994.
For Years A, B and C.

Lowry, Eugene. Living with the Lectionary: Preaching through the Revised Common Lectionary. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1992.

The Proclamation Series: Aids for Interpreting the lessons of the Church Year.
These aids are published by liturgical season (example Pentecost 1,2,3) and church year (series A,B,C). The titles of the books usually go by season.

O'Driscoll, Herbert. Child of Peace, Lord of Life: Year [...]. Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 1986-9.
Years A, B and C.

Smith, Herbert. Sunday Homilies. New York, NY: Alba House, 1990.
For Cycles A, B, and C.

Soards, Marion L. et. al. Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary [Years A, B,C]. 4 vols. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1992-4.

Tovey, Phillip. Preaching a sermon with common worship. Cambridge : Grove Books, 2004.

Looks at the benefits of preaching though the lectionary, its importance for previous generations of preachers, and how we might go about it by using material already available, or by creatively adapting the lectionary ourselves.

Texts for Preaching

A Lectionary Commentary, Based on the NRSV. 3 vols. Louisville,KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993.

Sermon Illustrations

Browne, Benjamin P. Illustrations/or Preaching. Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman Press, 1977.

Chapell, Bryan. Using Illustrations to Preach with Power. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992.

Deffner, Donald L. Windows into the Lectionary: Seasonal Anecdotes for Preaching andTeaching. San Jose, CA: Resource Publications, 1996.

Deems, Edward, ed. Holy-days and Holidays: A Treasury a/Historical Material, Sermons in Full and in Brief, Suggestive Thoughts and Poetry Relating to Holy Days and Holidays. New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1902.

Foster, Eldon. New Cyclopaedia of Prose Illustrations, v.2. 6000 Classic Sermon Illustrations: An Alphabetical Collection from Leaders and Writers of the Ages.Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1993.

Jeffs, Harry. The Art of Sermon Illustration. London: J. Clarke, 1909.

Stauderman, Al. Let Me Illustrate: Stories and Quotations for Christian Communicators. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publications House, 1983.

Sumwalt, John E. Lectionary Stories. Cycle [...]: 40 Tellable Tales for Advent Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter and Pentecost. Lima, Ohio: C.S.S. Publishing, 1990-92.
Cycles A, B and C.

Sumwalt, John E. and Jo Perry-Sumwalt. Lectionary tales for the Pulpit: 62 Stories for Cycle B. Lima, Ohio: CSS Publishing, 1996.

Sermon Collections

To improve your preaching skills, listen to, watch, or read the sermons of the preaching greats. Many of the TST libraries have tapes of sermons by visiting and local preachers; Emmanuel College has perhaps the best collection of tapes and videos of well-known preachers. The following is a sampling of books, tapes and videos that can help you hone your preaching skills.

Craddock, Fred B. Sermons Preached at the Altar [sound recording], Lubbock, Texas: Net Press, 1988.

Craddock, Fred B. Recorded Sermons of Fred B. Craddock [sound recording]. Atlanta: CST Media, 1986.

Great Preachers. Series 1. [video recording] Odyssey Productions Ltd. Worcester, PA: Gateway Films, Vision Video, 1997.
This series (available in the Graham Library) includes sermons by preachers like Barbara Brown Taylor, Billy Graham, Tom Long, Fred Craddock, and Haddon Robinson

Long, Thomas G. and Cornelius Plantigna, Jr., eds. A Chorus of Witnesses: Model Sermons for Today's Preacher. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1994.

Long, Thomas G. and Cornelius Plantigna, Jr., eds. A Chorus of Witnesses: Model Sermons for Today's Preacher. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1994.
If you are only going to buy one collection of sermons, make sure it is this one. In this book, you will find modeled every possible type of sermon. The editors have written brief, helpful comments on each sermon. Most of the sermons are "Anglican" in length.

Long, Thomas G. and Cornelius Plantigna, Jr., eds. A Chorus of Witnesses: Model Sermons for Today's Preacher. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1994.

Newland, Henry, ed. The Seasons of the Church, what they teach: a series of sermons on the different times and occasions of the Christian Year. London: J. and C. Mozley, 1856.

Long, Thomas G. and Cornelius Plantigna, Jr., eds. A Chorus of Witnesses: Model Sermons for Today's Preacher. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1994.

New Pulpit Digest. Louisville, KY: Pulpit Digest Inc.
This bi-monthly journal publishes sermons which treat texts following the lectionary readings.

O'Driscoll, Herbert. Prayers for the Breaking of Bread: Meditations on the Collects of the Church Year. Cambridge, Mass.: Cowley Publications, 1991.

Rahner, Karl. The Great Church Year: The Best of Karl Rahner's Homilies, Sermons and Meditations. Edited by Albert Raffelt. New York: Crossroad, 1993.

Robinson, Haddon. Biblical Sermons: How Twelve Preachers Apply the Principles of Biblical Preaching. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989.
Includes sermons, commentaries and interviews with preachers.

Rottman, John Michael and Paul Scott Wilson. Seasons of Preaching: 160 Best Sermons from the Preaching Resource, Word & Witness. New Berlin, WI: Liturgical Publications, 1996.

Spurgeon, Charles H. Sermons on Special Days and Occasions. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1995.

Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers. Translated and edited by M.F. Toal. Chicago: Henry Regnery, [1957-1963].

Taylor, Barbara Brown. Bread of Angels. Cambridge, Mass.: Cowley Publications, 1997.
This collection of sermons by Taylor provide students with an excellent example of narrative preaching.

Taylor, Barbara Brown. Mixed Blessings. Atlanta, GA: S. Hunter Publications, 1986.
Same as above.

Sermons for Special Occasions

Bunting, Ian. Preaching at Weddings. Bramcote, Notts.: Grove Books, 1980.

Caley, James Cowin, ed. The Apostles' Doctrine and Fellowship: A Symposium on the Christian Year, Sacraments and Services, some Aspects of the Outreach of the Church. Written by 150 bishops of the Anglican Church throughout the world. San Francisco: The Recorder-Sunset Press, 1958.

O'Driscoll, Herbert. Heralds of God: Homilies for Saints' and Holy Days. Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 1995.

Roguet, A.M. Homilies for the Celebration of Baptism for Children. Translated by Jerome J. DuCharme. Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1977.

Richmond, Kent D. A Time to Die: A Handbook for Funeral Sermons. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1980.

Schmitz, Barbara G. The Life of Christ and the Death of a Loved One: Grafting the Funeral Homily. Lima, Ohio: CSS Publication Co., 1995.

Swords, Liam, ed. Marriage Homilies. New York: Paulist Press, 1985.

This New Life Together: An Anthology of Wedding Meditations. Lima, Ohio: CSS Publications, 1994.

Children's Sermons

Augsburg Sermons for Children. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1992-1994.

Coleman, Richard J. Gospel-telling: The Art and Theology of Children's Sermons. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982.

Gospel Sermons for Children: 60 Creative and Easy-to-Use Messages. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1995.
3 volumes. Series A, B, and C.

Schroeder. Philip D. Children's Sermons for the Revised Common Lectionary: Using the 5 Senses to Tell God's Story. Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Press, 1997.
3 volumes. Years A, B and C.

Sherer, Michael L. Good News for Children: Object Lessons on Epistle Texts Series [...]. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1981-2.
Series B and C.

Weisheit, Eldon. The Psalms for Children: 60 Object Lessons on the Psalms, Series A. Minneapolis: Augsburg Pub. House, 1983.

_________God's Promises for Children: Object Lessons on Old Testament Texts, Series B. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1981.

_________God's Promises/or Children: Visual Messages on Old Testament Texts, Series A. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1980.

_________The Gospel for Kids, Series B. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1978.

Preaching: Special Topics

Bond, D. Stephenson. Interactive Preaching. St. Louis, MO: CBP Press, 1991.

Brown, Teresa L. Fry. Delivering the sermon : voice, body, and animation in proclamation. Minneapolis, MN : Fortress Press, 2008.

Buttrick, David. Speaking Jesus: homiletic theology and the Sermon on the mount. Louisville, Ky. : Westminster John Knox Press, 2002.

Campbell, Charles L. The Word before the powers : an ethic of preaching. Louisville, Ky. : Westminster John Knox Press, 2002.

Erdman.Chris. Countdown to Sunday: a daily guide for those who dare to preach. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos Press, 2007.

Long, Thomas. Preaching and the Literary Forms of the Bible. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1989.

Loscaizo, Craig A. Preaching Sermons that Connect: Effective Communication Through Identification. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Lowry, Eugene L. How to Preach a Parable: Designs for Narrative Sermons. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989.

Northcutt. Kay L. Kindling desire for God: preaching as spiritual direction. Minneapolis : Fortress Press, 2009.

Salmon, Marilyn J. Preaching without contempt: overcoming unintended anti-Judaism. Minneapolis, MN : Fortress Press, 2006.

Thompson, William D. Dialogue Preaching: The Shared Sermon. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1969.

Thulin, Richard L. The "I" of the Sermon: Autobiography in the Pulpit. Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 1989.

Troeger, Thomas H. Preaching and worship.St. Louis, Mo. : Chalice Press, 2003.

Van Seters, Arthur. Preaching and ethics. St. Louis, Mo. : Chalice Press, 2004.

Original version: Stephanie Douglas & Greg Robertson, July, 1998; updated by Tom Power, Nov. 2012.