7 Tools for Sermon Development
When I was asked to lead the deacon retreat on preaching, I immediately thought of my friend and colleague Dr. David Schmitt. Dave holds the endowed chair in Homiletics and Literature at Concordia Seminary–St. Louis, and I’ve learned more about the heart and art of preaching from him than from anyone else on the planet (with the possible exception of my Dad).
Schmitt suggests seven different methods for developing what he calls “moments of meditation;” seven tools to put in your bag as you seek to speak God’s Word to God’s people. We’ll talk about each individually, but here’s the list:
- Serial Depiction
I asked Dave to share the way he talks about these tools for development. The following is his material; I just added the bold and italics. (Did I mention I can’t wait for his new book?)
Schmitt begins with a brief definition of that get-off-the-bus-and-spend-some-time-sight-seeing moment in the sermon and goes on to describe each method of development in more detail. Look for tools you already use, and wonder about using ones you’ve never tried.
Moments of Meditation: A moment of meditation is a period of time in the sermon (usually from one to five minutes) during which the preacher focuses upon one particular idea and develops that idea for the hearers so that they understand it (head) and care about it (heart).
This moment of meditation may be deductive (where the preacher states the idea and then develops it) or inductive (where the preacher develops the idea and then states it). In a moment of meditation, the preacher will do two things: (1) he will state a single idea for the hearers, usually in a short and memorable way; and (2) he will develop that idea for the hearers using one or more of the following methods of development.
For those beginning to use these methods of development, they may be hard to differentiate. The more frequently and intentionally the preacher uses them, however, the more clearly he can distinguish between them and the more clearly he can distinguish between them the more variety he has for touching the hearts and minds of his hearers.
1. Narration: this method develops an idea or experience by offering the hearers a story that places that idea or experience into action.
In narration, there will usually be temporal movement for the hearers and a conflict that is brought through climax to resolution. The climax of the story should relate to the main idea of the rhetorical unit, so that the dynamics of narrative reinforce the idea. Also, the preacher needs to manage the details of the story for the sake of the meaning. Concrete details are used carefully so that the hearers are led to the main idea rather than distracted from the focus that is being developed.
Sometimes, the preacher can use an epic form in telling the story. In an epic form, the preacher begins at the middle of the story (right before the climax) and then takes the hearers back to the beginning, only to return to the place where he began the telling so that he can bring the story to a dramatic, climactic close. This method reinforces the climax for the hearers by starting at the moment of climactic suspense and then deepening the crisis before bringing it to a resolution.
2. Character: this method develops an idea or experience by viewing it from the stance of a particular individual.
The hearers are able to enter into the life experience of someone and view the idea or experience from his or her perspective. Development by character offers hearers a living witness of the main idea and a sense of how it is encountered in real life. The value of this method is that it personalizes the idea and, through hearer empathy, generates a personal association with the idea or experience.
Character can often be confused with narrative. In both methods of development events usually happen. With narrative, however, the focus is upon the events themselves. With character, the focus is upon how a person interacts with, responds to, or processes those events. Often with character, the main idea will be connected to a change in the person (the character) that happens when that person witnesses an event.
For example, narrative would focus upon the event of our Lord’s appearance to Saul on the Damascus road. Character would focus upon that event from Saul’s perspective. It would develop Saul’s internal transformation that occurred when the Lord appeared to him on the Damascus road.
3. Serial Depiction: this method develops an idea or experience by offering the hearers a series of examples that clarify and reinforce the idea through repetition. These examples are usually more than a single sentence but they do not last as long as a fuller narrative.
In serial depiction, the preacher has the opportunity to cover a wide range of experiences, demonstrating how this focus is apparent in a variety of situations or contexts. Often these examples are connected by a simple refrain.
The preacher orders these experiences carefully, so that there is some development, logical (e.g., ordering from personal to communal) or experiential (e.g., climactic ordering), in the sequence of examples and so that no one example overpowers all of the others.