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The 7 Tools for Development in Action

4. Image

ImageImage is often connected to a narrative. In the sermon clip below (14:30-the end), I am focused on a painting of the Raising of Lazarus from Vincent van Gogh. The image is connected to the story of Lazarus, and also to the story of van Gogh’s time spent in a mental hospital, and the etching his brother Theo sent as a comfort to him. So this image is tied to multiple narratives.

But image is a method of development unique from narration when interaction with the image leads to meaning for the hearers. The back story helps create the meaning, but the details of the image drive the experience of the hearer.

Notice also the way I guide the experience of the image and focus attention on different aspects of the painting in the order I want them to be noticed. I reveal details at just the right time for the purpose of the sermon. And I use the image to state the central idea of the sermon in terms of the lives of my hearers.

This sermon was an adaptation of a sermon in the series on Romans prepared by David Schmitt. The series tracks the epistle lessons assigned in Series A and uses a variety of image-based designs to structure the experience of the hearers. I modified his notes for my sermon, so he gets the credit for the good stuff and I’ll take the blame for anything you didn’t like. You can purchase the sermon series here: God’s Greater Story.


5. Dialogue

DialogueAs a method of development, Dialogue can take many forms. The preacher can report a conversation, or have a conversation with someone during the sermon, or even ask the hearers to converse among themselves.

Like most of these methods of development, Dialogue needs to be handled with care so that the purpose behind the conversation is clear. Whether live or reported, this kind of interaction in a sermon can help engage the hearts and minds of the hearers.

Technology also allows preachers new ways of using Dialogue. Using a series of Facebook comments or a Twitter conversation is just another way of reporting dialogue. In these cases, the preacher wants to handle content both with care and with permission. Although people share their most intimate thoughts publicly on social media, it just feels different when they hear their own public post from the pulpit!

We used media to share a conversation during Easter worship. In this excerpt (14:18-19:16) you can hear how I set up the video clip to help my hearers listen for what’s important. At this point the Character of the person in the Dialogue is also important; but what drives the experience isn’t the internal change in an individual; it’s the actual conversation that takes center stage.

The interview in the video clip serves to reinforce one of the central themes of the sermon. But I don’t leave the hearers wondering about the point: I help them hear why this Dialogue informs their lives as we celebrate the Resurrection together.


6. Enactment

EnactmentDuring a sermon series on Stewardship I was asked to preach on the Stewardship of Teaching. Though that may seem outside of our normal Stewardship box, I found it a great chance to unpack some of what God says in His Word about His Word.

In the following clip (10:15-12:08), I am preaching on Psalm 1 and talking about the word “meditate.” As people entered the sanctuary that Sunday, they each received a sprig of cilantro. What happened next counts as Enactment, developing an idea through an experience shared by the hearers.

Note how I try to use care in guiding the experience and how I clearly state the idea the hearers have experienced so they are not left wondering what that was all about.


7. Explanation

ExplanationLogical Explanation is a valuable, if sometimes overused, tool in the preacher’s bag. Explanation is especially good at communication complex ideas and covering a lot of ground in a fairly short amount of time. While all of the different methods of development have their own kind of reasoning, you can tell when you are using Explanation by what drives the primary point home. If logical progression is shaping the thought or experience of the hearers then that moment of reflection is probably an Explanation.

Explanation can take a variety of forms because logic has a variety of methods. You can work with the dynamic of cause and effect, example and explanation, or comparison/contrast; you might shape a movement in the sermon around definition, process, or problem-solution. In all of these cases, the dynamic of the logic becomes the dynamic of the moment of reflection.

In a sermon about re-imagining our relationship to people who don’t know and follow Jesus I used the following fill in the blank as part of a handout for the day. This fill in the blank uses the logic of cause and effect to shape part of the experience of the sermon.

In this case, the logic involves multiple causes which lead toward one effect: Jesus overcomes our need to divide, our need to defend, and our need to judge so that He can send us out with the message, come and see. The logic of cause and effect shapes the Explanation in this part of the sermon.


I. Jesus overcomes our need to _______________________.

For [Christ Jesus] himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. ( Ephesians 2:14-15a)

 II. Jesus overcomes our need to _______________________.

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” (John 18:36 )

 III. Jesus overcomes our need to _______________________.

 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:17) 

IV. Jesus sends us out with a personal message:

 ________________________  and  ______________________.

Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”  (John 1:46)


This kind of logical flow could structure an entire sermon; in this case, Explanation structured an extended reflection during a sermon which also included metaphor, video, and serial depiction to develop the primary experiences of the hearers. Using a variety of methods of development within the same sermon helps connect to a variety of hearers with different learning styles.

The more tools you have in your bag, the more fun you will have preaching, and the more fun your hearers will have listening. Rather than denigrating the power of the Word, such variety reflects the rich diversity of style and genre found in Scripture itself.

Variety, it turns out, is the spice of preaching as well as life. Try it; you’ll like it.  (And don’t give up easily–it’s fun, but it’s also hard work!)

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.

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