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On Preparing Expository Messages

I am an expository preacher. As such, I primarily teach through passages of Scripture (often in the context of teaching through an entire Bible book), gaining the content of my message from the point of the passage I am teaching to the congregation.  Although I do preach some topical and doctrinal messages (which I have given samples of on my websites), let me give you the elements of preparation that I go through in preparing an expository sermon from a passage:

Observing the Text: I read the book in which the passage resides repeatedly to gain the overall context of the passage. Then I pull the passage in question apart with exhaustive observations in the English text and related passages in the Scriptures.

Discerning the Preaching Point: After performing my thorough observation, it is usually possible for me to discern the main idea of the passage, which then becomes the main point of my sermon, my preaching point. The entire content of the message is then built around this idea.

Identifying the Flow: I then spend time in working through the passage again to see how the author expressed the main idea, spending time analyzing the structure of the sentences, the use of verbs, the styles of argument, etc. The big question here is “What is the point that the author is making about the idea, and how is he doing it?” This is critical to discerning and delivering a message that has an outline that people can follow in their Bibles and will remember long after you’ve preached the message.

Analyzing the Parts: Here I spend time studying the passage’s words and grammar as they appear in the original languages. It’s also where I often discover interpretive problems in the original text that will need to be solved.

Clarifying the Questions: I have at this point listed a volume of questions and problems that the text presents, both in terms of interpretation and in terms of questions about what the original language really conveys. I set out my own answers to these problems and then I explore what other Bible students have discovered on these questions by considering what various commentaries and lexical/grammatical sources have to offer. When I’ve solved the problems in the text to my satisfaction, I can move on in confidence with my interpretation of the passage for my listeners.

Developing the Exegetical Outline: This is an outline that comes from the semantic and grammatical content of the text itself, and relays the preaching idea in a technical way from the passage. It forms the basis for what comes next, namely the homiletic or preaching outline.

Designing the Homiletic Outline; Whereas the exegetical outline is developed from the text and should not vary from the bare elements of the passage’s structure and language, the homiletic outline is designed, that is, I build or design it with my listeners in mind, taking the preaching point and the elements of the exegetical outline and designing a “preachable” outline out of them. This is an outline that makes sense to the listener and makes sense of the passage at the same time. I then deepen the content with insights both from the passage and relevant cross references to make each point clear to my audience.

Illustrating the Content: I seek at this point to design and discover appropriate illustrations for most of the major elements in my message, drawing first from Scripture to illustrate and then from the worlds and experiences of my listeners.

Applying the Content: Next, I run through the entire message asking one provocative question: “So what?” In other words, now that I’ve gotten the message right and clear, what dimensions of God’s will in the lives of my listeners does all of this content apply to and why? How can I place multiple examples into my message content where I drive home how and why all of this is important to my listeners? This is the step where I hammer out the planks of a bridge from the first century meaning to the twenty first century world my hearers live in. When I’ve worked hard here and gotten some “real world reasons” as to why this all matters, then I’m almost ready to finish.

Clarifying the Conclusion:  Finally, I write out the sentences I will use (and the illustration I’ll need) when I conclude the message. Driving home the main idea one more time and calling the audience to action because of what they’ve heard is a critical final piece and can’t be forgotten.

Calling Out for Power: This is often the hardest step: beginning to take my own life through the message in prayer, and spending time engaging my soul with God’s presence in every aspect of what I will say and who I need to be as I say it. I begin to spend time alone calling out to Him for His presence and power to visit the preaching of the message and its impact on the hearers.

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