I’m preaching this weekend at my in-laws’ church in Lawrenceville, GA, and have been doing sermon prep all week. Of course, when you preach or lead a study, the first thing to do is figure out what the Bible passage you’re dealing with says. But when you’re done with that, you still have to turn it into a sermon or lesson– otherwise it’s just a lecture.
These are a few questions I’ve found that help me get there– mostly ripped off from other people. I’m sharing them here because I think they’d be just as useful for a Bible study as for a sermon.
1. In one sentence, what’s the big point I want to make?
Most passages have several ideas and several applications. You can’t just dump all that info on people; you have to decide which aspect of the passage you want to focus on. That means leaving a lot of good stuff on the cutting room floor. If you (and your hearers) can’t express your point in one sentence, you’re probably not done cutting.
2. What are the questions I want to answer?
This helps show people the relevance of what you’re talking about, and is a good aid for their memory too. For example, this weekend I’m preaching on 2 Corinthians 5:17-21, and I have 2 questions: 1) What is the gospel? and 2) Why must the church preach the gospel? I hope that if somebody who wasn’t there were to ask “What was the sermon on?” anyone in the room would be able to remember those questions and the basic answers.
3. What does this passage show about our state as fallen/sinful people?
This question comes from Bryan Chappell; he calls it the “Fallen Condition Focus.” All Christian preaching needs to communicate that we’re sinners and that we need a Savior (see next point); otherwise it’s easy to obscure the gospel behind other ideas. What aspect of human sinfulness does your passage describe or address? For example, my passage this week hammers on our need for reconciliation with God. We need reconciliation with God because our sin has disrupted the relationship mankind originally had with God.
4. What does this passage show about the work of God in Christ?
Also from Chappell, who calls it the “Redemptive-Historical Focus.” The flip side to human sin is God’s grace in Christ. How does this passage show God’s response to our sin? My 2 Cor 5 passage says that God worked in Christ to reconcile sinners to himself, by imputing our sin to Christ and his righteousness to us.
The last two questions usually involve fitting your passage into the message of the Bible as a whole, which is always a great thing to do when you preach or teach. It shows people how to do good biblical theology and demonstrates that the Bible is ultimately one book with one message.
5. What do I want people to think, feel, and do after this lesson or sermon?
I tend to think in terms of ideas and implications, and so it’s easy for me, when I teach or preach, to make the mistake of dumping a whole bunch of information on people and expect them to know what they should do with it. That’s not helpful, because it expects them to do in less than an hour all the mental work I’ve done in the many hours I’ve spent preparing, without the benefit of the other resources I used!
So Think/Feel/Do (which I learned from Dr. Robert J. Cara) is a good paradigm because it focuses on application, but isn’t limited to actions. It addresses the mind, heart, and will. Most sermons and lessons will lean toward one of the three, but it’s good to have elements of all of them. In the case of this week’s sermon, working through Think/Feel/Do is what got me past a stopping point where I had all my information on the page, but didn’t feel like I had a sermon yet, at least in the second half.
It’s not that I plug all the answers of all these questions into every sermon or lesson; I don’t even always use them all. But these questions can help you get past standing in front of a group of people listing facts, and help you move toward a lesson or sermon that unfolds the beauty of God’s Word to your listeners and helps them see what their response should be.