Test-Driving a New Sermon Structure

Trying something new for the first time is always a little uncomfortable.

Sermon structures are no different. The first time you test-drive a shiny new sermon structure, it’s easy to feel like you are slightly out of control. Your natural cadence, your expectations, your anticipation of what your hearers will do next, your flow–all of that gets thrown out the window and it’s easy to feel a little disoriented in the pulpit.

I know that. I’ve lived it. I’ve taught it. But I kind of forgot it.

I recently preached a sermon structure I had never used before. I chose a Relational Structure because it seemed to fit so well with what I was trying to accomplish that day in the hearts and lives of my hearers. I thought it fit the theme and the content of the sermon well. And I thought it would be good to try a structure that was new to me. After all, there are maybe a dozen or so different ways of organizing a sermon that I use fairly regularly, so I thought it would be *fun* to try something new.

That’s when I remembered: trying something for the first time is always a little uncomfortable. From the writing process to the delivery, this sermon was all uphill.

What I found most disconcerting was the actual experience of preaching. I discovered again that every preacher has a rhythm, an expectation, a give and take with the hearers. One reason you change sermon structures from week to week is so that the rhythm doesn’t become a rut. As soon as your hearers can time their pot roast by your sermon, or reach for their offering when you get to that standard phrase on page four, you’ve lost an important element of preaching.

So using a variety of forms is a service to your hearers. But using a new form is a special challenge for the preacher. Because the people don’t laugh where you expect them to. They become thoughtful at unusual times. Your internal clock that measures the time of the sermon and the Law/Gospel experience of the hearers feels like it has lost calibration.

It’s uncomfortable trying something for the first time. After worship I found I wasn’t even sure how the sermon had been received. I usually know when it feels like the sermon connected and when it feels like I didn’t quite get the message across. Thank God, sanctified ears still receive God’s Word even when I am not on my game. But this wasn’t a “bad” sermon; at least, I don’t think it was. And it didn’t feel like a “good” sermon, either. It just felt, well, different than I expected.

Which is really just what I should have expected. So next time you challenge yourself to try a new sermon structure in order to more faithfully proclaim God’s Word and more humbly serve your hearers, remember it ain’t easy. Expect it to feel different than you expected. And check out these six tips to help you screw up the courage to test-drive a different sermon structure.

Trying something new for the first time can be a little uncomfortable. But the payoff is huge. You and your hearers will both get more out your preaching ministry if you continue to add tools to your bag, one slightly uncomfortable sermon at a time.

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.

4 comments on “Test-Driving a New Sermon Structure

  1. […] was my first time using a Relational Structure, and that experience resulted in two reflections: Test-Driving a New Sermon Structure and 6 Tips for Preaching a New […]

  2. Justin: I was 13 and in the 7th grade when you were born, and your dad was my one of my teachers. I wasn’t a tough guy, but he inspired me to be tougher but to also remain compassionate. I’m glad to see what a fine pastor you’ve become. It strikes me as a kind of miracle. You seem to me to be a wonderful mix of your dad’s and mom’s traits, plus with your own personality and intellect and that which God has added to your growth. God is good indeed.

  3. […] Test-Driving a New Sermon Structure  […]

  4. […] forgot how uncomfortable it can be to test-drive a sermon structure you’ve never used before. Before you buckle up and take a new design out for a spin, here are […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: