The Predictability Challenge: Crafting Sermons with Variety

 |  June 29, 2018

I’m not a very creative person. As a matter of fact, more often than I wish to admit, I’m confronted by the fact that I’m a pretty predictable guy. That’s not to say I don’t have creative moments but that those moments tend to come slowly over time. Perhaps you can relate. And yes, I agree that being predictable can be a strength in some circumstances. In the case of preaching, however, I’m aware that predictability is a flaw. Unfortunately, preaching a “3-points and a poem” sermon every week is not a strength. If I truly desire to faithfully communicate God’s word for His glory and the good of His people, then I must seriously consider the “predictability challenge” and the need to craft sermons with variety.

I must admit, at first blush, the idea of crafting sermons that are “less predictable” and with greater variety sounds hard and time consuming—and perhaps even unnecessary. I assume for most local church pastors we experience a similar pressure. Amidst the weekly meetings, hospital visits, counseling sessions, Bible studies, administrative duties, phone calls, emails, family time, etc., lurks the thought “Sunday’s coming!” Surely you know that thought and the anxious feelings it can foster. If I hope to be prepared for Sunday, ready to step into the pulpit with an interesting and applicable sermon, then I need more time—and that’s assuming I’m preaching a sermon crafted in my basic “go-to” format. Crafting sermons with variety sounds idealistic but perhaps too challenging.

In the next few paragraphs, I will focus mainly on one sermon crafting method that helps me craft sermons with variety. First, though, let me begin by noting why I think it’s worth your time to consider doing likewise.

Crafting sermons with variety directly connects to the ultimate goal of preaching. What is the chief aim of a biblical preacher? The Bible provides the answer: in sum, we pastors are called and gifted to teach God’s word to God’s people (see 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus). As a local church pastor, then, my primary responsibility in the preaching event is to re-present what God has already said to the people. As I accomplish this goal, crafting sermons with variety will take care of itself. Let me explain further.

If my job is to re-present what God has already said to the people, then it logically follows that His words (i.e., Scripture) should drive my content and determine the shape of my sermon. What I’m not saying is that my sermon should be simply about the text. Rather, I am saying in order to rightly communicate the true meaning of God’s word to His people, my sermon shape and content should be driven by the shape and content of the text. If Scripture consisted of one shape, then we should have one form of sermon and our text-driven sermons would and should be predictable. However, the content and shape of scripture consists of nine discernable genres, namely Old Testament Narrative, Law, Psalms, Prophecy, Wisdom Literature, Gospel/Acts, Parables, Epistles, and Revelation (Apocalyptic). The good news is that all nine genres are expressions of three larger literary structures that will fit within three basic sermon templates: Narrative (story), Poetry and Letter. Dr. Steven Smith aptly observes, “Therefore, if the sermon reflects the text, at least three different sermon forms are needed: one that recognizes the flow of stories, one that reflects the verve of poetry, and one that can communicate with the directness of letters.” When the content and form (or substance and structure) of the text drives our sermon structure, we will craft sermons with variety.*

Brothers, the reason we craft and preach sermons with variety is not simply to be less predictable and more entertaining. We should craft sermons with variety because we’re committed to the discipline of crafting text-driven sermons with the goal of teaching God’s word to His people. The varied literary styles of Scripture are the source and warrants for sermon variety. May the Lord bless us as we continue to faithfully submit ourselves and our sermon structures to His Word.

*For a helpful, in-depth treatment regarding how and why the shape and genre of Scripture should drive a sermon’s form (and delivery), please see Dr. Steven Smith’s excellent volume, Recapturing the Voice of God: Shaping Sermons Like Scripture. In this work, Dr. Smith provides examples and templates for preaching narrative, poetry and letters. Many of the thoughts and comments in this blog were drawn from his excellent work.

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