A Follow-Up About Sermon Templates.

Several of you asked about my sermon template after I mentioned it a couple of weeks back. If there’s enough interest, I might make a few videos or an ebook, but for now let me try to give the broad strokes. I hesitate to dish it out without my justification of each part, but I don’t have space for that here. Warning, this is going to feel like reading lecture notes, not an essay:
First 9 minutes – Set the textual tension. I like this phrase better than Fallen Condition Focus. The vast majority of texts have some sort of tension – this is how you decide what’s relevant as you study. Anything that explains the tension is relevant historical/exegetical information. Be concrete. Preachers are horrible at using tension in sermons – the Bible is brilliant at it. Understand the tension of your book as a whole, and you’ll get the tension in your text. But what about an introduction? No. If you understand your text, your introduction is captivating people with the story of the text itself. Everything else is a gimmick. It also sets up the true authority moving forward – if I start with, “Listen because this is relevant to your gospel of self-fulfillment”, I’m already off base. Show people that the Bible itself is captivating, take them into that strange world before anything else. Heretic though he was, Rob Bell was BRILLIANT at this (even if his exegesis is incredibly sloppy). Check out a youtube video. He spends the first half of his sermon on this, and people are glued.
Second 9 minutes – Show the tension in our cultural situation. Bridge the gap. After they’ve seen the problem from afar, bring it near, Nathan the Prophet style. Show them the tension in the words of their own prophets, ala Paul in Acts 17. Keep building tension. Don’t give into a solution. You’re stepping away from the text momentarily before you return to the textual solution, so make sure you cut it off at the right point.
Third 9 minutes – Offer the theological solution. This is a return to the text. God is the protagonist. This doesn’t mean doing scatter-brained proof-texting – it means returning to the text and being concrete. Give the solution as it’s presented in the text. After you show God’s response, show how this points us to the gospel. It’s time to PREACH, brother. This is where heart transformation takes place. Be concrete. Use illustrations. Celebrate Jesus. Be a man on fire.
Fourth 9 minutes – I differ with Keller here, and side with Paul. I think the hortatory comes after the proclamation of the gospel. If we instruct people before the proclamation of the gospel, we’re being a bit neo-Lutheran in our theology, and I don’t like that. But how do we do it? People don’t like being told what to do, but they also like concrete guidance. Answer? Stories. My favorite kind of personal stories are “Almost fail” stories. Paul Tripp uses these to great effect – he is vulnerable about his temptations, but also shows how he wrestled with and overcame them through the gospel. It’s not self glorifying, because it show sour weakness, but it’s also not throwing up our hands and saying “No one gets this right”. Stories of faithful church members – biblical, historical, contemporary. TEACH PEOPLE TO EXERCISE THEIR MORAL IMAGINATION.
On transitions: Be more didactical, Pauline. Listen to Martin Lloyd Jones – terrible illustrator, but brilliant at being didactic, which was part of what captivated people. “Now, you say this…and here is my response”. The didactical transition is your go-to tool.

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Nicholas McDonald is a blogger, pastor, and author of the book "Faker: How to Be Real When You're Tempted to Fake it." He studied creative writing and communication at Oxford University and Olivet Nazerene University, and received his M.Div from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. He currently resides in Lexington, NC, with his wife and two boys, Caleb and Owen.

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