I am often asked by aspiring preachers how to put together an expository sermon. I teach a semester-long class at The Master’s Seminary entitled “The Mechanics of Expository Preaching,” in which I lecture on this very subject. By way of analogy, as a mechanic must know each individual part of an engine and how each one works with the other parts, the preacher must know the different parts of a sermon and how they work together to form an effective message.
I want to give you ten key words that will help you think through the different aspects of preparing an expository sermon. Each part plays an important role in putting together an effective message.
First, you must begin with making careful observations of the passage. You must ask questions of your text: Who wrote this passage? What does this passage say? To whom did the author write the book? Where was he? Why did he write it? How did he write it? Where does this text fit into the whole Bible? How does it fit into the flow of this book? What do the key words mean? What are the verbs? How does each word fit into the sentence? To make these observations, you will be required to do multiple readings with an attentive eye.
Second, you must determine what the passage means by what it says. Here, you must know the laws of hermeneutics, which is the science of interpretation. This requires answering more questions: What is the plain or natural meaning of the passage? What is the authorial intent? How does the historical, cultural, and geographical background aid your understanding? What is the literary genre? What are the figures of speech? How do cross-references help our understanding? What is the progress of revelation? You should consult trusted commentaries and study tools to help inform you in this step.
Third, every passage has one unifying theme that runs throughout its whole. So must your sermon. You should discover the big idea of the passage and present it in your sermon. In this sense, every expository sermon should be a one point sermon. You may have three or four homiletical headings in your message. But every message you preach should have one dominant theme or one central thrust. You will want to emphasize this major truth that runs through the entire sermon.
Fourth, you must find the main divisions in the passage to be preached. This will help determine the internal structure of the sermon. Clear headings should be presented. If not stated, they need to be clearly arranged in your mind. When I preach, I use headings that are easy for the listener to recognize. Think of the homiletical outline like the skeleton of the human body. It becomes the backbone upon which you place your teaching. Or think of the outline like the steel beams of a high-rise building. All the construction materials will be held in place as they are attached to the sturdy beams. In like manner, the content of the sermon will be best presented by fitting into an outline of the sermon.
Fifth, sermon preparation further requires giving careful thought to what the implications of this passage are. An implication is a truth that is not directly stated by the text, but is either closely connected or reasonably implied. Though they are not explicitly stated, what inferences can be drawn from what is stated in the passage? The implications explored in the sermon may involve addressing other related doctrinal truths. There will also be practical implications for daily life not stated in this passage, but can be reasonably drawn from it.
Sixth, the sermon should address what the passage requires of the listener. What are the timeless principles within the text that affect the daily life of the listener? How does this biblical text intersect with the daily walks of your hearers? What is the practical relevance of this text? What does it require of the hearer? What steps should be taken based upon this passage? Every passage is profitable for Christian living. It is your responsibility as the expositor to highlight the practical applications to your audience.
Seventh, you may choose to add illustrations to your sermon manuscript. As you present the truth of the passage, you may want to show them what the word of God is teaching and requiring. Illustrations are like windows that let in light, enabling people to see what you are saying. These illustrations may be drawn from various sources, from Scripture, church history, current events, your personal life, or from other various places. These illustrations will help your audience see the truth being presented.
Eighth, you will want to add transitions to the sermon manuscript. These devices will connect together all the major divisions into one streamlined flow of thought. Transitions are like bridges that connect individual islands of ideas, creating a continuous movement of thought. Without transitions, parts of the sermon will appear to be disunited, and the message may feel choppy. Transitions lead from one point to the next, and may take the form of a summary of the last heading. Or they may raise questions that easily segue to the next heading.
Ninth, I would encourage you to write your introduction and conclusion last. You will need to know what the sermon is before you can introduce it. Think of the introduction as the front porch of a house. Its purpose is to provide curb appeal and draw the listener into the message. The introduction is intended to create interest, as well as indicate the direction the message will be headed. It should also show the importance of why this message must be preached and heard.
Tenth, every sermon should have a strong ending that concludes with great impact. Your last words should be lasting words. A conclusion is like the back porch of the house, relatively small, but essential for a smooth exit. The conclusion may make a final appeal to the listener to act upon the truth of the message. It may either challenge or comfort the listener, depending upon the tone and thrust of the sermon.
The Key Elements
These ten elements of preparing a sermon will help you think through the essential steps you need to follow. In summary, answer these questions: What does the passage say? What does it mean? What is its central theme? What are its divisions? What does it imply? What does it require? What are helpful illustrations? How can it start well? How can it finish strong? Answering these questions will address the essential parts of an expository sermon.
There are many more elements that could be added to this brief list. However, these are the most basic aspects of sermon preparation that are absolutely necessary. The more you do this, the more skilled you will become. May God bless your efforts for the advancement of His kingdom.