I will never forget my first homiletic class where the instructor told us to “analyze a sermon.” I had no idea where to begin and the whole idea seemed difficult. But I then found out that by analyze they simply mean look at the sermon “critically” and “closely.” Pull the sermon apart and look at the pieces individually. Then see how the pieces fit together. These are all parts of analyzing a sermon effectively. Sermon analysis works best when you are analyzing your own sermons. So in this article I want to give you some questions to ask yourself as you analyze your own sermons to become a more effective proclaimer of the Word of truth.
The first question you want to ask is what was the purpose of the sermon? Was it powerfully conveyed? Too often we either make the main point cloudy by not lifting it up high enough, or we simply do not have a decent idea of what our main point is. When you do either of these things that cloud up your main point, you will make it difficult for the people to know what you are teaching.
Was the sermon important? Some have questioned the idea that something can be true and not important. I do believe that there are things that are true, but are not important enough to be preached at this time, but you don’t have to believe that. Whether you believe everything that is true is important or not, whatever you preach, you need do clearly articulate how it is important. Don’t leave your people wondering or guessing. Help them to find this by your proclamation.
My homiletic instructor, Rev. Dr. Brad Braxton, used to tell us that we need to figuratively package the truth of our sermons into pouches that our people can take with us and use during their daily lives. It is one thing to teach truth, it is another thing to teach important truth, and it is best to present important and portable truth. Let your people bring that main point with them and be in a position to use it in their daily lives. Have you done that in the sermon?
First there are issues regarding the use of the Bible. Look at which scriptures are used. Are they used legitimately? Is it the correct scripture to use in this case? How are the scriptures used? Sometimes scriptures are used to illustrate truth. Other times they are used to establish truth. Sometimes they are illegitimately used as a springboard to what the preacher wishes to say. Sometimes the scripture even says the opposite of what the preacher said that particular scripture says. At any rate, listen to how the scriptures are used in the sermon. Ask yourself if the use of the scriptures are valid and helpful.
Related to this is the use of stories and illustrations. What stories are used to illustrate truth? Are they effective? What could be done to make the sermon better? Do the stories overpower the points of the sermon? Do the stories help the sermon?
Next you want to look at the structure of the sermon. What are the parts of the sermon? How do they fit together? What are the reasons for the parts? How does the sermon move towards ending? How is the introduction structured? There are many different ways of structuring a successful sermon, learning different methods will help you in your efforts to improve you own sermons. Always make sure that your own sermons move forward properly.
Ultimately there is not only one proper way to analyze the sermon. I am simply calling you to look very closely at the sermon. When you look at your sermons closely you may ask some of these questions, you may ask more questions, but in the end, please look closely at your sermons before and after you present them to your people.
In the book, Blow the Trumpet in Zion, Renita Weems has a sermon entitled: Running the Race for Future Generations: Can You Handle the Faith Without Fulfillment? The Sermon’s text is essentially the Book of Hebrews. Weems notes that the author of Hebrews exegetes the whole of the Hebrew Bible and Hebrew history as the longings and journey from a struggle, through a struggle, and to a struggle.
The book of Hebrews was written to Christians who have been around much longer than was anticipated. During this waiting time, the community found itself in a hostile environment. The community life degenerated into mere differences of opinion on many issues as they attempted to live in this waiting time. There were delayed promises. What do you do while you are in between “words from God?” What do you do when you have heard the voice of God in the past but today you hear nothing and can only hope to hear that voice again? That is the theme of the sermon.
Weems sees in the book of Hebrews a call to hold to the tradition that has brought us to the point where we are today. Weems sees in the book of Hebrews a summary of the tradition as a call to hold on to faith.
Weems helpfully weaves in contemporary experiences by noting that the church today is arguing over such things as whether there should be Bishops in the Baptist church while at the same time we are going to war in Iraq and homeless are in the street and teenagers are getting pregnant. Thus she notes a kinship between the waiting of the community that Hebrews was written to and our Christian communities today.
Also she illustrates the living in this period of waiting by also weaving in experiences such as a daughter getting pregnant, son going to jail, or a fearful diagnosis from the doctor. She also notes that during this waiting time we may find that those who have not necessarily followed the road we are on may appear more successful. For example, the minister who didn’t go to the schooling that we have submitted to and yet their church is much bigger than ours and their life seems more together.
But the Book of Hebrews tells us, according to the sermon, that if we are to live in the silence we are to live by faith, not seeing the promise. We will not see what we are working towards. Weems takes up the previous example and notes that we are going to have to preach to 5 like it is 5000. We are going to have to live with blessings that don’t always bless and successes that seem to have failure laced in them. It is Faith that allows us to live in this time of waiting.
There is an element of LaRue’s Care of the Soul domain in this sermon in that Weems articulates the pain and suffering that many ministers will feel while living and working for Christ. There is also an element of Corporate Concerns in that we are led to live for the community. The community is primarily African American women preachers and secondarily the African American community at large. This is accomplished in the sermon largely by the illustrations that are used.
In the sermon, the faith that Hebrews calls us to propels us because we are a part of a community. Weems says that she has no right to stop because she owes those who were faithful in the past and are faithful today even though they have not fully received the promise. Examples are: Jerena Lee, Ella Baker, and Ella Mitchell. In a particularly African move she also includes the unborn in the community of witnesses.
Finally in typical African American style Weems finishes the sermon with a celebration. She states “Therefore let us run this race with patience, looking to Jesus.” She uses the biblical metaphor of a relay race. Here there are some who have gone on before us. They have run a good race. The reason we are in the position we are in now is because they ran their leg of the race well. But they didn’t see the finish line. They pass the baton to us and we are to run. We may not see the finish line, but we owe it to the community to run the race well. Weems notes that when she gets finished running she is going to pass the baton to somebody else. She may not cross the finish line, but faith says somebody is going to cross the finish line if we all just keep looking to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.