How to Study a Sermon
Thomas P. Eggebeen, Interim Pastor
Westminster Presbyterian Church (USA)
Pasadena, CA 91104
There are “millions” of sermons (including mine) on the Internet – current and from ages past - a resource for soul and mind.
What follows are a set of guidelines for the reading and study of a sermon. Designed for personal use, the following guidelines could also be used with a group.
- Begin with prayer: God of all life and hope, I thank you for the one who wrote this sermon, the congregation who heard it, and my reading of it now. Help me, I pray, to put myself into it, to grasp the preacher’s intent, to imagine the setting, and to find your sermon. Amen!
- Then, read the sermon through entirely, and importantly, read it aloud. Sermon are written for oral delivery (not publication), so reading aloud will help you better grasp the feel, the flow, the pacing, and purpose. Reading aloud can help us catch something we might otherwise miss.
- If you’ve printed a copy, make check marks (✓) or stars (*) where things strike you as important, or a question mark (?) where you’re puzzled. Underline crucial pieces.
- If a piece seems particularly difficult, play around with the reading of it, change the emphasis, tone of your voice … fast/slow … soft/louder - in other words, play around with it to see if you can capture the moment these words were offered, see how it sounds to your ear. Imagine yourself giving this sermon; imagine a setting, a time. Imagine a congregation listening to you.
- Feeling - am I encouraged, challenged, disturbed or pleased – or a little of everything?
- What experiences or memories are triggered?
- What strikes me as significant? And why?
- Next, read the Scripture associated with the sermon. Do a quick scan of the context – many Bibles have section headings - a quick scan can give you your bearings. Read the Scripture aloud.
- Ask the following questions:
- Is the sermon built upon a phrase or image from the Bible … or something from a novel, a movie, a poem, or a hymn?
- What seems to be the theme or themes of the sermon? There may be one theme presented in multiple ways, or there may be multiple themes related to a core idea.
- Does this core idea emerge quickly?
- Does it take awhile to catch the drift?
- What seems to be the inner direction of the sermon? Does it circle around an idea like covered wagons around a campfire, or does it move along with a series of evolving images, stories, ideas? If it’s moving along, is it straight or does it zigzag?
- Not every sermon succeeds; not every sermon is a great one. Written by fallible but faithful human beings, striving to lift up the name of Jesus for a congregation, real or imagined. There is always someone to whom, or for whom, the sermon is crafted.
- With that in mind, to whom does this sermon seem directed?
- Where and how does it touch your life?
- Growth questions:
- What’s crystal clear to me? Say it aloud to yourself or share it with the group.
- What seems difficult to understand?
- What pleases my spirit?
- What troubles my spirit?
- Is there anything here I’d like to know more about?
- A final piece: use a journal (journal, notebook or computer log – writing something helps cement the idea):
- Is there something here for my life? Name it aloud and record it.
- How would this change my life?
- Is there someone with whom I could share this?
- These can be shared in a group.
- But if you’re studying alone, think of someone you know with whom you might share something. Perhaps the opportunity will never present itself, but thinking about someone you care about, someone you love, helps give focus to our study, even as it helps us grasp the application of the sermon.
- End with this prayer: Eternal God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, thank you for this moment of grace, his time with you. Bless those who preach and those who hear; those who teach and those who learn. May your love and light be at the very center, everywhere and all the time. And may I share your love and light with all whom I meet. In Jesus’ name. Amen!
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