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Three Layers of Justice Preaching

The Eco Justice Ministries website has a post up entitled Three Layers of Environmental Preaching.

The author of the post is specifically talking about preaching on the Environment, but one can easily adapt the discussion to such issues as Racism, Classism, or other issues that might be a problem in your particular parish.

Issues Preaching

The first layer is called “issues preaching.” Here the preacher would directly address the environmental problems and factors and what we as a people of God who are interested in the welfare of God’s creation should and must do. If one is preaching on racism one could speak of what racism does and how it hurts the world and works against God’s intention. the emphasis here is on public policy.

In many cases issues preaching requires that the preacher be dependent on experts in the field for options. The preacher would then evaluate these options in light of the Gospel. In short, how does the Gospel affect our understanding of the issue and help us find a solution to it?

Generalized Themes

The next layer for preaching is the Generalized Themes layer. Here the preacher looks at themes rather than public policy. The preacher, as the resident theologian, is in a much more solid area when discussing general themes than when she or he is totally dependent on experts in the “issue” preaching described above.

Here the preacher can look at such themes as the interrelatedness of life or our duty to others. The preacher simply speaks on these themes which gives an undergirding to any public policy endeavor in the future.

The Pastoral layer

The next layer is called by the Author “the Deeper Layer,” but I call it the pastoral layer. Here the pastor will look at any issues that stem from the problem.

For example there are pastoral issues of dealing with people who are afraid for tomorrow and the “climate change.” Three are many who might give up in despair. Perhaps you have people who are dealing profoundly with racism and its immediate affects on the human psyche. The preacher is to address these by appealing to the Gospel.

Here we don’t ignore the pain and grief, but seek to channel it to help to bring God’s kingdom more fully into our lives.

Still Struggle with Scripture

As I discuss this article, I wish to add that we must always still struggle with the scripture to get a message. We cannot simply “use” a scripture that is not talking about what we wish it talked about, or simply “ignore” scriptures and go straight to discussing our topic.

Our preaching should be based in the scripture, but when we are looking at how to apply that scripture to modern day realities we can use this article as a tool to look at 3 possible types of questions to ask a scripture when we are exegeting and turning that exegesis into a sermon. These three layers are a very helpful way of conceiving how we will approach demonstrating the relevance of the ancient scripture that has been passed down to us.

How to use in Preparation

I think in using something like this in sermon construction we would first get our text. The first thing we would do is Step 2 of my exegesis method which id described in my book You Can Preach. So then we would have a good idea of what the text meant and who the text was directed to.

Next we would explicitly ask, are there any connections to our issue? The first set of questions have to do with public policy. Is there a connection between experts on our issue and the text? If there are not, then don’t force it.

The next set of questions would have to do with the “theme” layer. Does this text have anything to say bout brotherhood, community, or communal responsibility? I think we will find that many would.

Finally we go to the pastoral and ask questions like: Does the text say anything to help people who are in despair in general or in particular about our issue. Does the text say anything about directing our pain and despair to creatively confronting this issue or other issues? Now we are ready to go to step 3 and begin our creation of a theme.

Preaching Patterns – Moves and Structures

The next preaching pattern is David Buttrick’s “Plot’s and Moves” pattern for sermon construction. What is interesting about his methodology is that he conceives of the preaching task as preaching not to “individuals” neither to “groups of individuals”, but to a community. The sermon is to form “communal consciousness.” His methodology is designed to speak to this communal consciousness.

The sermon is a “plot” with a series of “moves.” The plot terminology means that the sermon has an intention. We are preaching for a particular intention. The sermonic plot is made up of 3-5 minute moves. So the sermon is a Introduction, a number of moves, and a conclusion.

Mode of Immediacy

Buttrick speaks of three basic plot forms that are used to construct sermons. The first plot form is “Mode of Immediacy.” In this plot form the sermon follows the narrative moves in a text. Here we participate in the world of the text. Note that the preacher attempts to have the people expereince the text and thus be able to relate it to the contemporary world.

Reflective Mode

The second plot form is “reflective mode.” In this sermonic approach we use the text as we move from moments of the preacher’s reflection. For example a Pauline letter might have a few points that the preacher wishes to reflect on in the sermon. The sermon follows those steps.

Praxis Mode

The third plot form is “praxis mode.” Here the preacher focuses on a topic and not a text. The plot is a number of steps of theological analysis that will lead one to the christian understanding of the situation.

Components of a Move

Each move has a statement which is a clear indication of the move. Then there is a development of the statement which consists of an explanation. Next the preacher provides an image that helps the congregation to see the point. Finally there is a close statement that summarizes the move.


This method is a comprehensive one that every preacher would do well to have an interaction with. Usually people either hate the method or love the method. One of Buttrick’s disciples told me that the method always works when applied correctly, but it is difficult to apply correctly. I think there are some interesting and helpful things in the method. The whole concept of “move” is important and spending time thinking about the “intention” of the sermon is as well. Making sure that every part of the sermon helps that intention is another good aspect. However, I do get the impression that the method (and the book) are a little too complex for most preaching practitioners.

Four Pages of a Sermon

The next pattern from Ronald Allen’s book Patterns for Preaching is Paul Scott Wilson’s approach described in his book The Four Pages of the Sermon The sermon under this structure is a manuscript with four distinct pages. Each page is a different approach to the materials. Each page is approximately 20-25% of the sermon.

Problem in the Text

The first page looks explicitly at the biblical text or the topic. Here we name the problem that gave rise to the text. Explicitly we summarize the manifestation of sin in the Bible world. We make sure to look at the text in a literary, historical, and theological mode so that the people clearly understand the text from all those different poles. That is a lot to do, but it greatly informs the congregation of the Biblical materials as well as the background behind the materials.

Problem in the World

The second page incorporates a move to the contemporary world. Here the preacher looks at issues in the present world that are similar to the problems that gave rise to the text. This is an interesting move that guarantees some “relevance.”

Gospel in the Text

The third page is another look at the text, but this time we look for good news in the text. Here we clearly identify what God is doing in the world of the Bible. We clearly show how God redeems the Bible world in the text.

Gospel in the World

The fourth page is a final return to the contemporary world. Here the preacher helps the people see and experience that same good news in today’s world. Then you make sure to help the people to continue to reflect on the sermonic ideas after leaving.

The preacher can mix up the pages if the preachers desires, but to follow this ordering makes a lot of sense. Also Wilson sees a direct correlation between the pages and sermon preparation. On Monday he researches the text and plans the sermon, on Tuesday he prepares page 1, on Wednesday he prepares page 2, on Thursday he prepares page 3 and on Friday he prepares page 4.


It is an explicitly theological approach that ends with the people clearly seeing God’s work on their behalf in the real world. In many of my sermons I have unknowningly roughly followed this pattern. Since I am in the Celebration tradition of Henry Mitchell, I do tend to add a celebration at the end of the sermon which is easily added to the end of this pattern.

It is a powerful pattern and I think that all should consider it for powerful Biblical preaching.

Mead Method for Preaching Without Notes

Peter Mead over at Biblical Preaching has a series going on Preaching without notes that I referred to in this post. In his first post he described why preaching without notes is a valuable method.

In the second post which can be found here, Mead emphasizes the HOW. Mead’s method can be summed up in one word, “internalization.”

What You will say not How You will say it

He emphasizes first that it is not about memorizing the whole talk. This is a recurring theme among those who preach without notes and also public speakers. This is a key that is worth repeating, in most cases you do not have to memorize every word. It is important to memorize “WHAT” you will say, and not “HOW” you will say it.

Mead states:

It is probably worth memorizing the big idea, perhaps the statements of each move or point if you are going to state them explicitly, the opening few lines and the concluding few lines. Beyond that, it’s all about internalization.

The Manuscript in Internalization

More could have been said by Mead on internalization. Also more should have been said about having a manuscript that flows sensibly. In other words, it is easier to memorize a sermon that flows in a way that makes sense, than one that doesn’t. However, following Mead’s methodology will do this because he states that one should type out the whole manuscript. This is Mead’s main method, it seems, to internalize the message, he states:

This manuscript allows you to work carefully on specific word choices and phrasing. The work of giving close attention to the manuscript is surprisingly effective at internalizing the wording so that it comes out again when you practice the message and/or deliver it.

Another important component is hinted at in the final paragraph, namely having a strong spiritual and prayer life. He states:

Preaching without notes is not about special memory skills. It is about full preparation that leads to the preacher being very at home in the preaching text. It is about prayerful preparation that allows the message to soak into the very fiber of the preacher’s life.

As always, go ahead and try it. Even if you don’t do it every time, preaching without notes can cause your messages to soar. You are much more dependent on your preparation and the Spirit than you are with a manuscript. You are also much more fallible and can make bigger mistakes. However, with practice one can find one’s best way of putting together a sermon that can be preached without notes.

7 Steps to a Good Sermon or How To Create and Preach a Sermon

I am writing this to include in the How To Group Writing Project. At this link you can find a number of Bloggers giving “how to’s” on a ton of subjects…

This post has been expanded into a free ebook that you can find information about at this link

  1. Get a Text to Preach – There are many ways to get a text. The preacher can choose a text. The preacher can use a lectionary like the Revised Common Lectionary that assigns a text. The preacher can create a sermonic plan that incorporates and includes a list of texts. One preacher told me that he daily reads the Bible devotionally and then he writes down insights. When it is time to preach he goes through his notes for the previous year to find themes and texts to preach.
  2. Interpret the Text For Preaching – Biblical exegesis consists of readingPreaching Paul the text closely. An outline method that I use for exegesis is from Dr. Brad Braxton. He looks at the text from a few angles to get a well rounded view of the text. First he gets his initial impressions of the text by reading it in various translations and noting whatever comes to his mind in relation to the text. Then he goes to a literary analysis where he carefully examines the literary structure of the text. Here we look at exactly what is said in the text. Then he does an analysis of the Historical and Rhetorical dimensions of the text under consideration. Here we look at the history behind the text including the author and the hearers of the text. Finally, Dr. Braxton looks at the Theological and Contextual dimensions of the text. Here we seek to understand the social context of the text and the theology of the writers and hearers of the text.
  3. You can see his process more fully in the book Preaching Paul.

  4. Get a Theme for the Sermon – What is the point of your sermon? Here you look at your exegesis and determine what does God want the hearers to get from the sermon and how do you think the hearers should respond to the sermon? In other words what does the Sermon Claim about the Gospel and what do you want the people to do as a result of hearing the sermon.
  5. Write the Sermon – Using the theme of the sermon and the exegesis, write the sermon. Be sure to structure your sermon in a way that makes sense. By that I mean that the movement of the sermon makes sense and would not be confusing to the hearers. I try to write my first draft as quickly as possible.
  6. Prepare Sermon for Preaching (Editting and Polishing) – If you have written your sermon very quickly then it is time to actually edit the sermon. Condense the sermon by getting rid of words that are redundant. You also want to get rid of theological concepts that might be hard to understand for the hearers. You don’t have to dumb down the content, but you must state whatever you have to say in a clear way.
  7. Practice the Sermon – Go over the sermon in your mind or out loud. Reading the serrmon out loud will help you to continue the editing. You will find some parts don’t make sense and other parts can be made more clear. You will also gain a greater command of your sermon.
  8. Preach the Sermon With Confidence – Go ahead and present the sermon. You have prepared, you have a Biblical sermon becuase you did adequate exegesis. You have an interesting and informative sermon becuase you came up with the sermonic point and you have an idea of how the people should respond to the sermon.

Someone asked once how long should each step take? Well that is a hard question, it should take as long as it takes you to finish the point. But I do wish to add that you will never be totally finished in sermon preparation even after the presentation of the sermon. So you must prepare enough…what that means depends on who you are…

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