One reason we prepare sermons inefficiently is because we get stuck. Either our mind somehow wanders off, or we lose momentum between steps.
That’s why preaching templates help. Its headings focus your attention on the task at hand, gliding you from step to step.
The exegesis template focused on figuring out the text. This one guides us as we apply the text to our people. I learned several of the categories below from Tim Keller’s lectures on how to preach the gospel. They are well worth a listen.
Sermon Application Template
Felt and Spiritual Needs: Let’s get over the false dichotomy of felt and spiritual needs. Felt needs are the tip of the “spiritual needs iceberg.” Point to the tip, and then alert your listeners to their spiritual needs that lie beneath the surface.
Identify a “B” doctrine and an “A” to float it on: Keller uses these terms in reference to ideas your audience accepts (“A” doctrine) and rejects (“B” doctrine). The goal is to show that if they believe “A” then they should also hold to “B”. Every passage will state something offensive to our culture. As preachers, we must anticipate those objections and answer them.
Keller’s gives this example: if liberals desire justice for the marginalized and defenseless (“A” doctrine), then they should fight for the rights of the unborn (“B” doctrine). What is in the passage that people today would have a hard time accepting? This is a powerful way to effect change in our listeners.
Main Point: Having considered 1) the theme and aim of the passage, 2) the needs that it identifies, and 3) how you want to change your listeners’ mind, now you’re ready to formulate the main point of your sermon. I used to go right from the theme of the passage to the main point of the sermon, but these intervening steps help the main point hit the heart of both the text and the listeners.
Homiletical Outline: Put a short skeleton (a Lloyd-Jonesism for an outline) together that reflects the grammatical structure of the passage and elucidates its main point. Include the key word or phrase of the main point in each sub point for continuity.
Underlying metaphor: What vivid image illustrates the main point? I’m not good at illustrations, so I deliberately think of one that puts my main point in concrete terms. It’s nice if something in the illustration is left unresolved at the beginning of the sermon, and can be resolved in the conclusion as an illustration of the power of the gospel. But don’t force it.
Ways to be vulnerable: Keller recommends self-deprecating humor as a tool for preachers to identify with their people (and vise versa). We don’t need to put on a facade of perfection if we are secure in Christ. Poking fun at ourselves shows we don’t take ourselves too seriously, but we do take Jesus seriously. Wisdom is needed here. The pulpit isn’t the place to air out our dirty laundry.
Preach the gospel: Don’t preach “try harder” sermons. Preach “believe in Jesus” and “do the work of faith by the power of the Spirit” sermons. Show how Jesus succeeded where we fail, and that only by trusting in him will we be able to love God and our neighbor.
Perhaps you noticed that this template doesn’t have a section for “three steps to walk with Jesus more closely” or anything like that.
It is is our job to apply God’s Word to our audience, not for them. Only they can apply for themselves. It might take three steps or thirty. But we can bring God’s Word into today and show how the gospel changes the way we think, how we live, and what we worship.
Think of the templates as pulling out all of the ingredients and writing the sermon as cooking the food. Once you have your sermon templates filled in, you’re ready to outline, and then manuscript your sermon.