LECTURE 23 ON SERMON PREPARATION The Sermon in Worship

Broadus has a lot to say about public worship. First he summarizes the elements: first is adoration praise and confession, then comes illumination, and finally dedication. The planning of the service must be unified, orderly, progressive and proportionate. With regard to the sermon, in some churches it is subsidiary to the worship and others it is the primary thing. The Reformation placed the pulpit at the center in contrast to the divided chancel with the “altar” at the front. They ought to be proportionate and unified. The Sermon should be scriptural, and bathed in prayer and dependence on the Holy Spirit. I have never understood, however often you celebrate communion, that preachers can preach a totally unrelated sermon and then move casually into a communion service at the end as if it were an unrelated and separate entity. Communion should not be administered without a full explanation of its meaning, and, a good place to do that is in the message. The whole message does not have to be about the meaning of communion, but the significance of communion is so central to the message of salvation through Christ that it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to weave it into a variety of sermons.

Other parts of the worship service include the reading of Scripture which is to be done powerfully and with great expression, the praise and music should be fitting for both the theme and the audience. Our music is either a vehicle for teaching, for praise, or for response to what is taught. Thus, the music should be integrated into the theme of the worship. The music is not just a way to establish mood, but a way to learn, to pray and to promise.

Prayer must also be a part. It should be scriptural and understandable. One of my professors in Seminary was John Murray, a Scottish Presbyterian minister and theologian who was versed in the Psalms being an exclusive Psalm singer. Students used to go to chapel just to hear him pray because his prayers were so filled with power through the Scripture. In worship the Pastor may lead in prayer or there can be corporate prayers of confession, for example, in the communion service, or of adoration, or petition. Most prepared forms of worship have collects which are a form of corporate prayer. So are silent prayers, which may on occasion be appropriate. Be brief, be concrete, be comprehensive and above all be heard. Nothing is more boring and frustrating than to sit there while someone else is praying, and not be able to hear what is being said. In our congregation in Pennsylvania in our evening service we had congregational participation in prayer. The biggest challenge was getting people to speak up. Finally the elders devised a plan to rope off some pews and encourage people to sit closer together so that they could hear one another.  The offering is part of worship and should be understood to be an act of worship. Begin on time and finish on time Be dignified before, during, and after the service.

Chapell primarily addresses meaningful reading of the Word of God. Maintain the thought units of what you are reading. Nothing is more frustrating than realizing that the reader does not understand what he is reading. Use emphasis, and all of this requires careful preparation!!

In Logan, Dombek gives us the best account of reading the Word. First he focuses on the physiological equipment and proper use of our God-given abilities. Secondly he suggests that you are always interpreting the Word when you read, and acquaintance with the meaning of the text is an invaluable aid in this process. I have noticed that some preachers, for instance, rush through the reading of the Word as if it were not important, but then slow down when they use their own words in preaching. That really bothers me and it sends the wrong message to the congregation. Many years ago I remember that I saw people exiting to use the rest room during the reading of Scripture which preceded the sermon. They were trying to be polite and not exit when I was preaching. I gently told them that the time when God was speaking in the reading of Scripture was always more important than what I had to say, and I would rather they offend me than offend God. In some churches the people always stand for the reading of the Word of God to show their respect. Then Dombak turns to emphasis. He has many examples. He emphasizes each word in turn in Psalm 23:1 to show us how the meaning can be affected by the reading depending on the point you are going to make. Try it! Dramatic pauses are illustrated by John 13:30. He also gives an illustration based on Genesis 1:1. After emphasis comes variation in pace (in longer passages build to a climax), pitch and rhythm. Don’t be sing-songy with a constant up and down. Punctuation is also important as in the Lord’s prayer. Read the Scriptures out loud because there are three rules. Practice! Practice!  Practice!