I really enjoy listening to sermons. They are essentially free teaching for those that want to learn. A few years back, when I decided that I wanted to pursue a life in ministry, I started paying a little more attention to sermons, and those giving the sermons. So along with the topic of the sermon, I also pay attention to the format of the sermon, as well as how the speaker is speaking. I also sit there and think about how I would do it differently, whether that is a change to the delivery style, the format, or the way the point was explained.
Everyone preaches a little differently. There are the crazy fire and brimstone guys, the ones always looking for a laugh, those that take the Bible verses back to the greek and hebrew texts, those that preach a prosperity message and everyone in between. Some people walk back and forth across the stage, some stand at a pulpit, and others sit on a stool at the same level as the congregation. Some preach from memory, and some spend most of their time reading aloud their notes. Some have a very structured sermon with a beginning, middle, and end, while some just meander around. Everywhere I go, everyone I listen to, I learn something. I’ve learned what I like and don’t like as well as what seems to work for the congregation, which always differs depending where you are.
I’d like to take a class on sermon writing to see how it is taught, but there are a few things I have learned that will definitely influence my eventual sermons. A sermon should be succinct. There should be a clear point to the sermon and it should be delivered in a logical format. An introduction with thesis statement, followed my a number of points to support the thesis statement, and a conclusion to wrap it all up. The listener shouldn’t be left at the end of the sermon wondering what the point of all that talking was. They shouldn’t have to spend the entire 15-45+ minutes struggling to figure out how everything ties together. The congregation is comprised of people of all levels of faith. Some need to be spoon-fed the point, while others want to be left with something to chew on, so a good sermon needs to address these various levels.
Growing up in the Alliance church, sermons generally followed the same format; the 3-point sermon. There would be an introduction usually involving the reading of the passage that was going to be spoken on, 3 points to discuss said passage, and a conclusion. Sometimes they were a little rigid, and depending on the speaker they could be good or bad, but the format worked.
Some sermons are just a mess of incoherent rambling. They meader around touching on one thing and then another and still another, sometimes with an attempt to tie the 3 things together, but failing miserably. The listener struggles to follow the path, struggles to figure out the point of it all, and is often left either frustrated or lost by the end of it. I’ve spent countless sermons sitting and wondering what the fuck they were talking about, and when they were going to get to the point of it all. Not everyone is going to learn something from a sermon, half the congregation probably isn’t even listening. but for those that want to be there, for those that want to learn, they should be left with something tangible. Not a faint nagging feeling of loss and hopelessness. Well, it’s not that bad, but for those that care, there should be something of substance.
I find very short, and very long sermons tend to suffer from the meandering more than those that fit in the middle. I find 20-35 minutes to be an optimal length. There is enough time to cover what needs to be covered without being rushed or blathering on and on. It seems when they are really short ( 35 min) tend to get disjointed and lose their flow.
Now I’ve never given a sermon, so these are just my observations from an aspiring (overly critical?) wannabe pastor. I have no knowledge on how sermons are prepared and written, and how each individual goes about getting ready for theirs. I know what I want to be like someday, and I know that I’ll be a shitty speaker for awhile until I get the hang of it. If my blog posts are any indication, my sermons are going to jump around, not follow any particular order and be laced with profanity. 🙂