SAINT SERMON: A Sound and Replicable Model for Sermon Delivery
Jonathan Edwards has been described as “America’s greatest theologian.” But as I understand it, he wasn’t a terrific orator.
As a matter of fact, it’s said when he preached his most famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” he actually read the manuscript in monotone, by candlelight.
While I confess I haven’t spent much time studying his ministry and writings, last year I did read a piece that outlined his sermon delivery method. It was fascinating to see how he methodically delivered his sermons in nearly the same way every time he preached.
As I read the piece I began pondering the method I use to deliver my sermons and was struck by the idea that I was never taught how to deliver a sermon (I didn’t attend seminary until later in my ministry); it was actually something I caught.
I developed my sermon delivery method through a combination of listening to thousands of sermons, applying basic speech 101 principles, reading books on preaching, implementing the natural product of exegetical study, giving thousands of hours to trial and error, and constantly honing the different components of the sermon for more effectiveness.
I wish I could say the outcome has made me a world-class orator. But that’s far from the case.
Instead, I simply have a sound, replicable model for delivering the truth of God’s word in an understandable, and hopefully compelling, manner.
By writing this, I’m not pretending to be the authority on sermon delivery. I’m not even close. Actually, if you listen to any of my sermons, I say “um” too much and have lots of annoying idiosyncrasies.
But I offer the following outline that I developed and use because I wish someone would have outlined a model for me to follow when I first started preaching, and I hope I can help someone else.
You can remember the sermon delivery outline by the acronym, SAINT SERMON.
S – Scripture. We should always start with the Scripture, even if we are preaching topically. Having a topic and then finding a verse that communicates the topic is dangerous business. By starting with the Scripture in study and then starting the sermon by reading the passage or pericope with the congregation, we are not only vocalizing God’s word, we are also communicating the context, which offers confidence for both the preacher and the hearers.
A – Attention. We have about 30 seconds or less to grab our audience’s attention. If we don’t have them listening in that time, it will be almost impossible to get their attention later. Use a compelling story, a powerful quote, an interesting anecdote, a prop, or an intriguing twist on a familiar idea to arrest their attention and draw them into your sermon.
I – Introduction. Introduce the sermon’s big idea by connecting it to the attention getter. As an example, I recently shared a made-up 2015 reading list with funny author’s names like, The Vegan’s Life by Herb A. Vore. The last book on the list was my sermon title which also introduced the main idea of the sermon.
N – Need. Here is where we share with our audience everything they need to know to understand our sermon. This means sharing the pertinent background information they need to know about the book or passage, like the author, date, context of the letter or narrative, and big idea of the whole book or passage, etc.
T – Tell. We also need to tell them what we are going to tell them, and what we expect them to do in response to what we tell them. I usually offer the main points of the sermon and how they would be expected to respond if they truly believe the gospel. This way at any given time, they know where I’m at in my delivery and they can anticipate where I’m going next and how long its going to take me to get them there. It’s amazing how many people stay with you when they know where the journey is taking them and what’s expected of them when they get there.
S – Scripture. We should always return to the Scripture again. Depending on what the sermon or situation requires, I may read the whole pericope again, or I may read the key verse of the pericope. This way we are all reminded that the sermon is anchored in the word and not our own ideas.
E – Exposition. This is the heart of the whole sermon. This is where we share the most important part of our studies with the congregation. We explain the ideas, define the key words, explain the logos (the argument or rationale) of the writer. Here we help the congregation know what the Bible says and what it means.
R – Relevance. At this point we need to show the relevance of the passage to the life of the congregation. We show them how the truth or theological principle of the situation, the problem, the need, the command, the warning, the exhortation, etc., applies to them. While this should be done first in our study, it’s important we recognize, and then relate to the congregation, how wide the river of relevance actually is. For example, we may need to show how the Old Testament law is filtered through Christ, since we are living on this side of the resurrection. We also need explain what is expected of them and what repentance should look like.
M – Magnify. Magnify Christ. All of the sermon converges here. Jesus must be lifted up. The gospel must be explained. Remember Jesus is the point of the whole Bible (Luke 24:27). We must magnify Christ and show how his death, burial, and resurrection answers the felt need highlighted by the passage we exposited. We must be careful not to preach “try harder to do better now” as a response to the dilemma the congregation should now be experiencing because we faithfully exposited the text. That would be legalism. When we magnify Christ and his work on the cross, we are preaching the gospel of grace. C.H. Spurgeon rightly said every text should be a road that leads to Calvary.
O – Offer. Offer the gospel. This is slightly different than magnifying Christ in that now it’s time to invite people to respond to the gospel message “whosoever will may come.” It’s time to invite them to repent and believe the gospel for this situation. We must make the offer clear, as it should already be compelling, if we properly magnified Christ.
N – Next. Now it’s time to briefly tell them what we’ve told them, and then what to do next. We shouldn’t re-preach the sermon, just recap the main points. Then we need to tell the audience what they should do next if they believe the gospel. Perhaps closing with a brief story or anecdote may be helpful. But it’s not always. If you use a story or anecdote, I recommend something realistic, yet dynamic, that will remind them of how Jesus answers the felt need raised in the exposition of the Scripture under consideration.
If you are a preacher, how do you deliver your sermons?
If you’re not a preacher, what part of the list could you apply as a teacher or communicator? I’m interested in your thoughts on this. Please share them with me in the comments.
About Scott Postma
Scott lives in North Idaho collecting more books than he'll ever read in a lifetime. He shares valuable tips on writing and teaching, rich insights into theology and literature, and meaningful perspective on living a life of significance. You can subscribe to the tribe and follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.