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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Sermon Preparation Process: Preaching as a Spiritual Discipline

Helpful Guidelines
• While the model does not describe the spiritual formation of the preacher outside of the homiletic process, it is assumed. In other words, this spiritual homiletic is not a magic formula that negates the importance of the preacher’s formation outside of the homiletic process. The preacher’s accumulated thoughts, habits, influences, and experiences will shape the preacher in profound ways, in ways that move well beyond simply weekly routine of preaching.
• It will be nearly impossible to preach a topical sermon with this model because in a topical sermon the preacher has already decided in advance what the text says and how he will use it. In the topical sermon the preacher is not typically led by God through the text but actually controls and, sometimes, distorts the text since it must fit his topic.
• Refrain from running to book or website illustrations until you have spent adequate time prayerfully reflecting upon the text and your personal experiences that surface from it. Try your best to let illustrative material come from your rich life and ministry experiences and observations.
• A good commentary or two should be consulted but only later in the process to check the exegetical credibility of what you sense God is saying to you through the text.
• Enjoy the homiletic process and try your best to see it as a devotional opportunity to be with the God who called you to preach the Gospel.

Movement 1: What is God saying to the original audience through the text? (Scripture)
A. Prayerful Preparation: Pray a small portion of Psalm 119 slowly and reflectively. Ask God for revelation and insight into His word. Quiet your soul by sitting before the Lord and allowing him to remind you of his love for you and the important calling he has placed upon your life to preach Christ. Ask God to purify your preaching motives and to spiritually form you through the homiletic process to be the “fragrance of Christ.”

B. Text Selection: Prayerfully select the biblical text to be preached. Be careful to avoid assuming that you already know what God is saying through this text, even if you have preached it before. If you assume the meaning of the text and sermon point at the outset, it will stifle the process of allowing God to speak and it will remove the element of delightful surprise from the homiletic process.

C. Exegetical Insights: Read the preaching text several times, praying for God’s guidance, and record your reflections on the following questions that may apply:
• What do you observe about the text as you read it through several times?
• What questions surface regarding the meaning of the text?
• Who is the author and what do you know about him?
• Who is being addressed and what do you know about them?
• What is the historical context (time and place)?
• What light does the literary context (immediate context, book context, canonical context) shed on the text?
• What important words or phrases appear in the text? What do they mean and how are they used (feel free to consult dictionaries at this point)?

D. Playful Imagination: Fast a meal and pray at least 30 minutes for imaginative insight into the text. Read the text slowly verse by verse trying to imagine yourself as an observer of the original scene. Try to see, hear, smell, touch and taste the original scene. In other words, try to prayerfully and even playfully imagine yourself in the original context of the passage through the eyes of the main characters in the biblical text.

E. Theological Reflection: Reflect theologically about the text. How does this text intersect with a Wesleyan theological foundation? How does the text relate to important Christian doctrines like the Trinity, Incarnation, Christology, Pneumatology, Ecclesiology, Creation, etc.? How might events from Church History and the writings/lives of significant theologians (Athanasius, Augustine, Gregory, Luther, Calvin, Wesley) inform your reading of this text?

F. Text Focus: In no more than one paragraph, record what God is saying through the text to the people who originally received it. This is not the sermon point or sermon idea, which would take into account both the text of Scripture and the context of your congregation. This is simply a summarization of the passage’s meaning in its original setting (i.e., Paul is telling the Galatians that it is foolish to look to legalism for what only faith can provide.)

G. Commentaries: Read 2-3 reputable commentaries on your passage. How do these commentaries confirm or challenge your reflections? What do they add to what you already observed about the text?

H. Internalize the Word: Memorize the preaching text (or at least a main portion of it).

Movement 2: What is God saying to me through the text? (Prayer)
A. Lectio Divina: Prayerfully read the text using lectio divina. As you do, consider the personal implications of the text for your own life. Consider what God is saying to you through the text. How does the text apply to your relationships with Christ and others? How does it confirm, challenge, or comfort you? What does it reveal about who Christ is and who you are?
• Lectio: Read the text slowly several times inviting God to impress upon you the word, phrase, or sentence from the text that he most wants to speak to you. Record these words.
• Meditatio: Reflect on this word or phrase from the text and consider its intersection with your life and with other passages of Scripture. What do you sense God saying to you through this text? Give God some time to speak this word of truth into your life. Be still and let the words from Scripture fill your heart and mind.
• Oratio: Write a prayer of response to God in light of what He has spoken to you. This prayer can be one of thanksgiving, confession, or intercession, to name a few. Note any changes or commitments you will make to God as a result of being confronted, convicted, comforted, challenged or confirmed by this biblical text.
• Contemplatio: This final step takes one beyond words and into intimacy with God that allows the person to actually experience the grace of the Scripture reality being studied. Don’t focus on words or even the sermon, but simply enjoy intimacy with God, resting in His presence as you reflect and worship in images and not words. What do you picture? What images is God allowing to surface?

B. Prayer Walk: Take a prayer walk around the church campus, your neighborhood, or in a nearby park or woods looking and praying for God’s glory and for His kingdom to come “on earth as it is in heaven” through the sermon. Also, keep an eye out for physical illustrations that highlight the main thrust of the biblical text.

C. Retro Reflection: Prayerfully and honestly reflect upon why and how you chose this text to preach. What is behind your choosing of it? Are your motives for choosing this text pure? Is there some past, present or future concern that preconditions you to choose this text and/or skews or enhances your reading of this text? What part did God play in your choosing of this passage? In what ways did the meaning of the text surprise you?

Movement 3: What is God saying to the congregation through the text? (Fellowship)
A. Intercessory Reflections and Applications: Spend at least 30-60 minutes praying through the church directory and any special congregational prayer requests, incorporating the preaching text into the prayer time as often as possible. Reflect on how the text might address the joys, sorrows, hopes, hurts, sins, and dreams of people in your congregation, in particular, and of humanity, in general, and pray accordingly. Prayerfully consider how God wants to guide, comfort, or confront the church through this text. What changes might God want to initiate in your church through this text? Be careful to let God’s desires for the church, and not merely your own desires and ambitions, determine the application of the text to the congregation you serve. Don’t force the text to say more or less than it really says. List the possible sermon applications that result from this intercessory prayer time.

B. Initiate Contact: Initiate contact, by phone call or visit, with 2-3 congregants for spiritual care and directing. If possible, select congregants whose lives may be profoundly addressed by the biblical text and sermon for the coming Sunday. Depending on the circumstances, you may not want them to know that the coming sermon applies to them. This, however, does not prevent you from offering spiritual care to them.

C. Human Feedback (optional): In staff meeting, read the text and ask staff members to reflect upon how the text might intersect with their lives. Ask them to express how the text challenges, comforts, convicts, instructs, etc. (If you don’t have a staff, you can do this with a group of pastors, your family, or your friends). Record their reflections, but ensure anonymity. If you want to share one of their reflections, get their permission first.

D. Sermon Function: You have already written out the focus of the biblical text, answering the question “What did God say to them (the original recipients).” You also reflected on the question “What is God saying to me.” Now, prayerfully consider and write out, in one sentence, the main function of the sermon that will connect the meaning of the text with the context of your congregation. Reflect on the question “What is God saying to us (the congregation).” This is a crucial step in the homiletic process that will hold all the parts together as one whole.

E. Illustrations: What stories, images, analogies, people, current events, songs, movies, tv shows, statistics, sports, jobs, animals, etc. might illuminate the sermon function? Have fun brainstorming and listing everything that comes to your mind, even if it seems a bit odd at first. Some of the best illustrations come from our past experiences or from the stories of people in our lives. Make sure the story does not detract from but works to illumine the Word of God.

Movement 4: Prayerfully Put It All Together
A. The Big Picture: Prayerfully complete the “Putting It All Together” worksheet by going back through your notes and listing the most significant reflections that answer the following questions: What is the main sermon function around which everything else will revolve? What are the most significant exegetical insights that highlight the text focus? What other significant theological or personal reflections have surfaced? What illustrations illumine the meaning of the text? What applications accurately flow out of the text and challenge the congregation to embody the reality of the text through their lives and community?

B. Prayerful Pause: Spend 15-30 minutes prayerfully asking God to guide you in ordering the parts of the sermon so that it will most glorify Him, clearly communicate the sermon function, and spiritually form believers. This is where preachers tend to rush things. We have all the parts we want to throw in the sermon, but we must remain prayerful as we consider whether or not all the parts really fit and how they should be ordered into a seamless flow. Think of the parts of the sermon as a recipe in which some ingredients must come first to prepare the way for later ingredients. Pray for guidance and wisdom on this often overlooked element in the homiletic process.

C. Outline It: Since the hard work has been done, it’s time to have fun with the sermon parts, putting them together in a seamless flow. You should have more than enough spiritual sermon fodder than you will actually need. Develop an outline of the parts (i.e., exegetical insights, illustrations, applications, personal and theological reflections), including a one sentence idea for both your introduction and conclusion. Try to maintain conversation with God and keep in focus the intersection of the biblical text with its original audience, your life and your congregants’ lives throughout the process.

D. Title It: While the title should have attention-grabbing appeal, it is even more important for the title to be a memorable reminder of the main thrust of the sermon, it’s function.

E. Manuscript It (optional): Fill in the outline with a word for word manuscript, allowing your language to paint a picture of the Kingdom of God embodied by the people of God. Do it as if every word choice was a devotional act of worship that comes from a heart of deep love for God and for people.

Movement 5: The Main Event
A. Prayerful Practice: Prayerfully meditate on and practice the sermon in your study or home, not for eloquence but to spiritually reflect upon the message to be shared. Speak it aloud 1-2 times, as if you were preaching it to yourself (since the sermon must impact you before it impacts anyone else).

B. Personal Prayer: Pray at the sanctuary altar for personal purity, love, humility, and the ability to incarnate and communicate the sermon through your own life.

C. Intercessory Prayer: Do a prayer walk around the sanctuary, praying for the peoples’ receptivity to God’s Word and spiritual formation through it.

D. Develop Prayer Teams (2 or more people): Maybe you can delegate the recruiting of these prayer times to someone in your church who is passionate about prayer and its importance. The following teams of people should be recruited and empowered to pray:
• Pre-Sermon Prayer Team: to pray with the preacher before the sermon
• Sermon Event Prayer Team: to pray during the sermon
• Post-Sermon Prayer Team: to be available for prayer with people after the sermon (if no one needs prayer, this team can pray for the impact of God’s Word)

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