One of my professors gave me a few approaches to generate sermonic ideas. The first approach would be to take the author of the Biblical passage or one of the characters in the passage and simply imaginatively sit across from her and him and ask different questions. Allow the conversation to proceed like any conversation. Ideas can stem from such an imaginative approach.
Another sermon idea generation method would be to take an issue and look at the text in light of that issue. Think about what your particular text has to say to someone who has just lost a job if that is your issue. On the opposite extreme, what does the it say to someone who has just found a job? Does your text encourage? Does it challenge? Does it do both? How does the issue change how you look at the text? What questions does your issue raise in the text? There is a lot of preaching in those questions.
Another method is to take a saying, cliche’, or say a song from the church and “riff” on that in conversation with a scripture. For example, let’s take “God is good all the time, all the time, God is good.” Now look at that text in light of the Book of Job. What does that saying mean in light of the scripture? Is the saying confirmed? Is it denied? What does the saying mean in light of John the Baptist getting his head chopped off. What does that saying mean in reference to that? Is the saying true? Is it untrue? Work it out in your sermon.
One can also take a sermonic walk to get ideas. When I got up this morning, I saw the shining light of the morning sun. Telling me both that I was getting up late (I should be getting up too early to see the sun so clearly) and that I have made it through another day. One could look at the assurance and the challenge in that one symbol of the sun. Can that give us any sermonic possibilities? What about the door you opened to go to start your day. The door you opened to confront the day? Does contemplation of these things in light of scriptures help you create a messsage?
Finally, it is always helpful to take a walk through the scripture. What do you see when you are walking in the biblical story? What do you smell? I told one preacher that you are not ready to preach on the demoniacs until you smell the unwashed bodies. You ain’t ready to preach it until you feel the fear of human beings that are acting like animals coming after you. You aren’t ready to preach it until the fear strikes you that one day he was just like you and something turned him into something else. Could that happen to me? Could it happen to you? All of these questions can help you generate sermon ideas.
Now don’t get me wrong, all of these approaches will give you both fruitful avenues as well as dead ends. You must complete a full exegesis of the passage before preaching, but at the least, they will help you to get the creative juices flowing.
If you can think of any other ideas, please comment below so that I can compile them into another article.
OK, this is one of those questions where our practice is often at odds with what we say we do. What am I talking about? The big question, WHAT COMES FIRST, THE TEXT OR THE IDEA? Some people will say that you are doing something illegitimate if you have a sermon idea before you have a text. But many of us definitely do that.
Some preachers tell me that you should always start with the text and let the sermon ideas flow from there. Addressing the needs of the community to affect what you preach is thought to usurp the authority of the Bible.
Let me say that I disagree with that stand. I believe that one can have an idea or a theme first. And as long as you do not allow that idea or theme to take over for the Biblical witness, you can still preach a faithful sermon. In fact, I would argue that ALL of us go to the scripture with ideas and thoughts and interests, and questions. Your question is not my question all the time. Grandma’s question is not my son’s question all the time. And your questions do and must affect what we even see when we go to the text.
Now please don’t say, “Brother Cox says we need to preach our feelings and tack a text on at the end of it.”
That ain’t what I am saying. Let me put it this way. Our first question is how do we find a text to preach. There are a number of methods for answering that question. I believe that allowing your understanding of the theme to help guide the selection of text can be helpful. But once you get a text, the text is in the driver’s seat. You have to struggle with that chosen text. You have to exegete that chosen text. You have to be true to that chosen text.
Now, piety tells us that we always have the text before our idea. But let’s be honest for a second, many of us have been given themes to address in a sermon. You know when you are given a youth day program and you are expected to preach to the youth. Or the deacons want you to address something related to the deacons on ordination day.
So you have a theme, is it legitimate to go to the text and then preach a sermon to the deacons even if the text is addressing something else.
OK, let’s get to the punch line. Someone is asking, “How am I supposed to do that?”
I’m glad you asked….
I would suggest following a procedure like the following: You have a theme, go looking at texts that you THINK will address that particular theme. Of course after a little exegesis you may find that it doesn’t address it at all. Or maybe it pushes you towards a deeper understanding of your theme. Yep, exegesis may confirm the text choice or it may push you to go find another text. Then again, it may push you to do a little bit more exegesis.
OK, you are thinking that this is a lot of work and it could take a lot longer than my sermon preparation normally takes. The only answer I have to that is…well yeah it could take a lot longer…
So keep going forward with that text, it may or may not address that theme, but your in-depth exegesis will tell you if it does. Hate to tell you, but you may still later find out your text doesn’t address the theme. Then you must choose another text that may address the theme. This is why you get a lot of time to prepare for a thematic sermon.
In addition, I also would suggest that you take a chance from time to time. Like during youth day, why not take a sermon about an elderly Biblcial character and see what it says to the youth. You may be surprised by the Spirit that one can be true to the text as well as preach a sermon relevant to the theme without being untrue to the text.
True, this is a painstaking process which is why you often hear the same sermons during youth day like, “Dare to be a Danniel”…But surprisingly, if you will only look at the scripture with new eyes, you will see that many texts that you thought may not address certain themes, will address them.
So what do you think? Leave comments below….
Have you ever really analyzed your illustrations? I suspect most preachers don’t. I did it one time and found that the vast majority of my illustrations were largely about men. They were mostly american stories. The ethnicity of the people were mostly either African American or not stated. They were largely about middle class people and their struggles…etc
Now when you look at who I preach to, does it correlate? Well some pieces do and some pieces do not. Now don’t get me wrong, a good story will transcend ethnicity, gender, age, and these other things and cause us to think about our humanity in relationship to the divine.
I am certainly mindful and hesitant to use the terminology of “God said.” Or in more common vernacular, “God told me to tell ya.” Such language can be difficult and problematic when we are not even sure that God necessarily desires what we are about to say.
Many call for practical sermons. I have made the same call on occasion. However, the term “practical sermons” means different things to different people. For example, some preachers use the term to mean sermons that give people life skills to help them live in this world. These sermons would address such important things as becoming a better employee or entrepreneur. Other sermons might be how to overcome racism and sexism to break through the glass ceiling that “the enemy” wants to use to block you from your God given destiny of prosperity, health, and wealth (certainly you have read enough of my work to know I have great problems with such a presentation…but I digress…).