Sermon Structures

ConcordiaTheology.org is honored to host Dr. Schmitt’s guide to sermon structures. © 2011 David Schmitt. All rights reserved.

Overview

Preparing a sermon can be a messy activity. Meditating on the Scriptural text, the world around you, and the work of God in the lives of his people produces a vast array of ideas and experiences. For example, one week a preacher may gather together a line from a hymn, a scene from a recent movie, a metaphor of the gospel, an exegetical insight, a conversation after bible class, a controversy in the news, and a child’s drawing left in the pew. Any of these ideas might make it into the sermon. All of them cannot. So the preacher needs to be selective about what he includes and purposeful about when he includes it as he shapes the experience of the sermon. How does a preacher do that?  By using a sermon structure.

A sermon structure is the purposeful ordering of ideas and experiences in the sermon.  It helps the preacher identify what material will be included in the sermon and organize that material into purposeful proclamation. Historically, preachers have found that certain structures work well for communicating to God’s people. This website provides you an overview of those structures, both in theory and in practice.

The structures are divided into three categories:  thematic structures, textual structures, and dynamic structures. Thematic structures arise from the teaching of the sermon. The preacher identifies a main teaching and then divides that teaching into points for the hearers that follow one another in a logical order. Textual structures arise from the text of the sermon. They may follow the text in a verse-by-verse fashion, move from the text to application, or incorporate the genre of the text in preaching. Dynamic structures arise from the experience of the hearers. They identify the experiences of one’s hearers, their cultural and spiritual modes of knowing, and use them in service to the proclamation of the gospel.

Each structure has strengths and weaknesses in respect to the tapestry of preaching and, therefore, preachers choose their sermon structure wisely. For example, a verse-by-verse structure can work well in communicating the meaning of a text (i.e., textual exposition) but may cause the hearers to be unsure of the primary teaching of the sermon (i.e., theological confession) or to lose sight of the work of Christ in their lives (i.e., evangelical proclamation). In contrast, a thematic structure of definition can work well in defining one main thought for the hearers (i.e, theological confession) and applying it to their lives (i.e., hearer interpretation), but may overlook much of the text (i.e, textual exposition) or not relate this teaching to God’s gracious work in Christ (i.e., evangelical proclamation).

Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of various sermon structures enables the preacher to use them wisely. The more familiar a preacher is with various sermon structures, the greater ability he will have to choose the structure that fits his preaching situation. This website is an introduction to various sermon structures and hopes to foster variety of form and faithfulness in proclamation.

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