What is a Sermon?
For many ordained ministers, writing and delivering sermons is an essential part of their duties. The point of a sermon is to offer motivational advice as well as give insight on how to interpret religious texts and make their lessons applicable for your congregation. While these are mostly delivered in person, they can also be disseminated online whether in video or written form. Sermons typically last somewhere between 10 minutes to an hour.
Constructing a Sermon
The best sermons are informed by a variety of sources. You should choose your topic and find the most applicable aspects from each source. Some examples of good resources include:
- Current events
- Stories from your life
- Scripture from holy texts
- Songs, poems, and tales
- Scholarly essays
Pull ideas from these and arrange them into an outline that can be easily followed. Once that pre-writing is done, you'll find that constructing the wording will be easier.
Sermons really can be about almost any topic, as long as you keep in mind that you are meant to teach a lesson with a religious or spiritual nature. You can always find the opportunity to make it relevant to the people in your congregation perhaps by including recent local or national events. Be sure to tread lightly as these topics can sometimes be sensitive. As long as you know your audience, you should do well.
When we hear the word "sermon," some of us may think of messages threatening Hellfire and brimstone to sinners. Negative sermons typically aren't received well so try to be uplifting with an inspiring message. Perhaps focus on the goodness, or virtue in things. This can include personality traits we ought to strive to attain such as kindness, patience, love, and forgiveness.
Starting your Sermon
As you construct your sermon, try to recall speeches that you heard that you found moving and consider the following:
- What emotions did you feel when you heard it?
- How did hearing it leave a lasting impression?
- What changes did it inspire in your life?
- Can this be applied to others?
Your own personal journey can be insightful for others. Pepper in some readings of scripture that are relevant to the topic to draw in the audience. Ancient texts can also help convey that many problems are universal human problems. It’s comforting for the congregation to hear that people have gone through similar obstacles in life and they found the strength to overcome them. Problems are normal and a vital part of our spiritual growth and maturity.
As ordained ministers, sometimes our devotion to our craft is a little too evident. That is to say that sometimes we delve too deeply into a topic and it comes off more as a treatise on a scholarly idea rather than a relatable message that the congregation can absorb. Try not to present things in a complicated way; this includes word choice. If you are going to introduce a term that isn't used colloquially, don't assume people know what it means. Take the time to define it before using it in your message.
As an example, we can think of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus addressed a large group of diverse people by making his message as simple as possible. It also helps to use inclusive language. You will help your audience feel like your message is for them by using "we" statements. Instead of the stand-offish, "you might experience this issue…" try saying "we all could experience this issue…" This removes a feeling of judgment that the congregation might otherwise pick up on.
You may end up with a case of writer's block, and that's to be expected. Even seasoned ministers of the ULC can have trouble filling up a time slot with a meaningful and relevant message. Just remember that quality is preferred over quantity. If you've crafted a great sermon but it is short, it's best to leave it as is rather than sacrificing its potency to boost your word count.
Delivering a Sermon
Whether it be a long or short sermon, you should rehearse it. Record yourself or rehearse in front of a mirror so you can catch any errors or oddities you may accidentally be putting in. This can also help you with your pacing. You always want to enunciate and speak at a reasonable speed and volume. For short sermons, you might want to add a dramatic pause, or put special emphasis on a certain part. For longer sermons, you’ll want to move from point to point at a quicker pace.
Giving a sermon can be an exciting and fulfilling experience for many people. Don't be nervous! Delivering a spiritual message in public is a great honor. Remember, the audience is there to support you and listen to you.