Retooling Your Sermon Development

4. Image: this method develops an idea or experience by associating it with a central image for contemplation.

ImageIn developing the image, the preacher offers concrete details to enable visualization and uses poetic language to evoke significance or meaning.  The goal is not that the hearers be able to reproduce the entire image but rather that they interact with the image in a way that leads to the meaning the preacher seeks to convey.

Often a story lies behind the image.  In development, however, the image remains central.  The preacher freezes that moment in time and focuses upon the presence of the image.  By viewing the image from various perspectives (e.g., the artist who created the image, a viewer who sees the image, a person within the image, the place that surrounds the image), the preacher can creatively appropriate the image and use it to communicate a specific idea or experience. 

5. Dialogue: this method develops an idea or experience by placing it within a conversation.

DialogueThe conversation may be spoken by the preacher and overheard by the people or be between the preacher and the congregation (for example, in a sermon on love for one another, the preacher could interview a member who recently participated in a servant event or, in a sermon on the fifth petition, the preacher could ask congregational members to name how the world encourages us to hold on to the sins that others commit against us) or be between members of the congregation and then summarized by the preacher (for example, in a sermon on prayer, the preacher could encourage members to share prayer petitions with one another).

When spoken by the preacher, this dialog often places into conversational speech the anticipated reactions of one’s hearers and takes the form of disagreement moving toward greater clarity (e.g., a debate or series of questions and answers) or agreement moving toward deeper understanding (e.g., a collaborative endeavor of mutual discovery wherein each speaker makes significant contributions to the dialogue).

The entire rhetorical unit does not need to be a sustained dialog.  Often, the preacher conveys the most important point in a moment of conversation.

6. Enactment: this method develops an idea or experience through the dramatization of that idea in actual experience for or with the hearers.

EnactmentThe preacher initiates an experience of the idea and then links that experience with a clear statement of the idea.  By experiencing the idea, the hearers become witnesses of that idea as an event in their lives.  For example, a preacher may engage the hearers in an experience of rejoicing in the Lord by having them sing a verse from a hymn.  A preacher may enact the power of prayer by going to an individual in the congregation and praying for that individual by name.

When working with dramatization, the preacher needs to be aware of both how clearly the experience will communicate the idea and how the hearers will respond to the dramatic experience.  Some experiences may not communicate an idea clearly because the experience, itself, is hard to interpret; other experiences, while easier to interpret, don’t always work every time they are performed (ask any couple who has struggled lighting the unity candle at a wedding can attest).  In addition, the introduction of a dramatic experience into a sermon can challenge congregational understandings of preaching and hence need to be used with care and appropriate contextualization.

7. Explanation: this method develops an idea or experience through the use of logical explanation. 

ExplanationUsing reason, the preacher offers the hearers a series of statements that hold together by the logic of definition, classification, cause-effect, comparison/contrast, process, problem-solution, analogy, or example and explanation.


These seven methods of development are distinct and complementary. Just as you wouldn’t eat lunch or go swimming at every stop on a Dune Tour, your methods of developing different moments of mediation within a sermon will be most effective when you purposefully use variety.

Shortly after the deacon conference, I asked Dr. Schmitt to present The 7 Methods of Sermon Development for the Five Two Mission Network during a monthly All Network Call. If you would like to hear his presentation directly, check out the following YouTube of that presentation.

Schmitt on The Seven Methods of  Development

One of the best ways to get a better handle on a new tool is to see that tool in action. In the video above, Dave artfully develops the same idea for the hearers using all seven of the different tools in his bag. I highly recommend checking it out.

You will also want to look back at the last several sermons you have preached and bible classes you have led. See if you can name which methods of development you are already using. Use them more intentionally, and then seek to add a tool or two to your bag.

I did that same exercise and looked for how I use different tools for development in my preaching. In the last section of this article I share some examples.

Continued in the blog  The 7 Methods of Development in Action

More from the Michigan Deacon’s Conference

Coming Soon

About Justin Rossow

Justin writes and talks at the intersection of Scripture, culture, and metaphor theory. As founder of Next Step Press, he helps people delight in taking a next step following Jesus.

2 comments on “Retooling Your Sermon Development

  1. […] Target, Test the Limits, and See Through a New Lens. In this case, however, these dynamics shape the development rather than the structure of the […]

  2. […] your preaching feels a little stale, check out different ways to Structure and Develop your sermons. It works for […]

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