Pastor's Pastor: Sermonic miscarriage

Pastor's Pastor: Sermonic miscarriage

Organize as you research.

Floyd Bresee is the Secretary of the General Conference Ministerial Association.

The young college couple was enjoying their marriage immensely, even before the miracle happened. Then she became pregnant. As she grew bigger, her smile became broader. The love of husband and wife was about to produce something beautiful.

Then disaster struck. As their pastor, I was called to the hospital to find her in tears, her long-faced husband standing by her bedside. The lights had gone out. Hope had turned to despair. She had suffered a miscarriage.

Sermonic miscarriage produces at least some of those same feelings. As you study and pray, the love relationship between you and your Lord seems about to produce something beautiful. Thoughts tumble over one another practically crying out to be preached.

Then disaster strikes. The inspirational ideas are there, but you don't seem able to organize them into a logical, coherent sermon. You feel so strongly that you have found something important to say, but you just can't organize it into a rational way of saying it. The lights go out. Hope turns to despair. The sermon dies before it's born—sermonic miscarriage.

That need never happen. Here are three "dont's" and one "do" that will prevent the disaster of sermonic miscarriage.

Don't preach without organizing. Many dread sermon organization because it's probably the hardest mental work the preacher does. It requires more mental discipline than does the biblical research. Which ideas are more valuable than others? Which are related to one another? Which should precede the other?

But it's worth the work. Good organization makes a sermon easier to preach, easier to listen to, and easier to understand.

Don't organize before you research. The preacher sometimes takes great pride in having his outline before he be gins his study, or even in finding someone else's outline on which to build his sermon. But what if his research fails to turn up the right material? He can only preach ideas he finds. If what he finds doesn't fit his preconceived out line—sermonic miscarriage.

Don't organize after you research.

Some enjoy Bible study and looking for sermon lessons, but rather dread organizing them. Their tendency is to seek out lots of material, then, at the last minute, try to find an outline under which to organize it. It's a frightfully frustrating experience. The ideas are so intermingled and there are so many. The preacher just can't make sense out of all that wad of material—sermonic miscarriage.

Do organize as you research. Here's a nitty-gritty method that you might find helpful or that you can adapt to use in some way that will work for you.

On a large sheet of paper, write "Possible Outline." Then begin your research. As you study, it is helpful to put on separate slips of paper, let's say three inches by five inches, every thought you might conceivably use. Every time you put a note on one of these slips, ask yourself, "Could this thought be the theme of my sermon? Or a point on my outline? Or does it suggest a possible skeleton for organizing my sermon?" If the answer is no, don't worry about it. If the answer is yes, scribble it down on your large sheet.

By the time you've finished your research, the large sheet should be all filled in, scratched up, and look a mess. But somewhere on there you'll invariably find some combination that makes an outline that will work. The beautiful thing is that since this outline developed out of your research, it will fit the material you have. It will prevent sermonic miscarriage.

Now that you've settled on your outline, put each part of that outline on a separate slip of paper and lay these out in order on the far side of your desk. Then as you read across from left to right, you will be reading the outline of your sermon.

Start through the fistful of notes you took as you did your research. Place each card under the part of the outline where it fits. Some cards will have to be filed for later use. But when they're all laid out, your sermon is virtually prepared before you.

You will even learn to use this method to control your sermon length. A certain number of cards will produce a sermon of a given length. Later, your cards can be filed away and your entire original research notes will be immediately available if you choose to use the sermon again.

It works. It saves the preacher's precious time. And it prevents sermonic miscarriage.

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Floyd Bresee is the Secretary of the General Conference Ministerial Association.

September 1989

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