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From 9Marks:
The Appetizer

  • Goal. The goal of a good intro is to show the unbeliever that we understand how they might perceive what we’re saying, and to show the believer why it is important for them to pay attention to this passage and this sermon.
  • When. It’s best to wait the writing of the introduction until the end of your preparation. That way you know exactly what you’re trying to introduce.
  • How. Use a story, quote, experience, or thought that frontloads the sermon’s application for the believer and identifies with the unbelievers’ skepticism.

The Main Meal

  • Goal. To give the weight and balance of the passage, letting it speak, and being sensitive to when things in the text happen relative to salvation history.
  • When. Write the body of the sermon first. Introductions and conclusions are easier to write if you first know what you are trying to introduce and conclude.
  • How. State your proposition clearly. Then formulate main points that demonstrably relate to that proposition and expound the textual referent of each main point.

The Dessert

  • Goal. The goal of a good conclusion is to make the whole weight of the text’s point come down on the listeners’ hearts in one concise statement or question.
  • When. Conclusions are best written late, perhaps just before writing the introduction. Again, figure out what you’re trying to conclude first.
  • How. Repeat your proposition, summarize your main points, and give a concise quote, hymn verse, or a well-phrased sentence that presses the weight of the text on the hearts of the listeners. Winsome second person speech (“you”) can be useful here.

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7 thoughts on “How to Think of Sermon Preparation and Delivery Like a Three-Course Meal”

  1. Mike says:

    I like the 3-course way of seeing things I use it often. What I like to do is apply each main point after presenting it. Something like: intro > main point > application > main point 2 > application…conclusion. This way there is application through the sermon, not just at the end. This may be assumed in this outline, just not sure.
    Do you guys present application under every main point? Then end by conclusively driving home the primary points with questions…?

  2. ((Disclaimer at the end to qualify why a woman with no seminary degree is offering any kind of opinion on this, let alone a possibly critical one.))

    Two related things threw me off when I read this (and I’ve now read and reread both the post and the series it’s based on five or six times). First is the concatenation of sermon preparation and sermon delivery, and second is how those things relate to an analogy like a three-course meal.

    When I read about sermon preparation, what comes to mind are things like study and then note-making that leads to written construction of a planned sermon; when I read about sermon delivery, that seems to speak more to things related to real-time preaching – speaking style, gestures, the mechanics of standing up and delivering a sermon.

    It’s a valid point to say that sermon preparation or construction is analogous to the preparation of a three-course meal. In preparation, you can move back and forth between fleshing out your opening illustration, or your close, just as in prepping a meal you might work on different pieces out of order.

    When it comes to serving the meal (sermon delivery), you of course want to be very disciplined to move very specifically from appetizer, to main course, to dessert. No moving back and forth. Bad for the palate. :)

    I also got thrown a little by the use of “How” rather than “What” to describe each piece. “How”, to me, refers to methodology or mechanics of producing something; “What”, on the other hand, refers to the definition of the something. It seemed that perhaps using “What” would have been clearer.

    But my main concern is that while the analogy of a three-course meal is good for sermon prep, it may have one flaw. Namely, many three-course meals have no connection between the courses. There’s an appetizer, a main course, a dessert. But, unless it’s a frou-frou restaurant in San Francisco, or an episode of Iron Chef, you won’t see a three-course meal dominated by one ingredient, like tomatoes, across all three courses.

    And I’d argue strongly that that’s an essential element of an effective sermon. There is one central idea. And not an idea in a vacuum, but an idea that should cause the listener to respond in a specific way. The opening and the close are perhaps more analogous to condiments to make the main idea more flavorful. But everything – open, close, structure – must serve the main idea.

    (Disclaimer – I don’t have a seminary degree or egalitarian aspirations. But, providentially, I have a long work history in public speaking and I’m about to start a part-time job as a communications coach for a company called Decker Communications. The founder of the company, Bert Decker, is a committed Christian who wrote a book with Hershael York (of SBTS) some years ago on speaking skills for pastors and lay leaders called Speaking With Bold Assurance. We met just yesterday for the first time, and talked about the challenges many pastors have with the mechanics of sermon construction, and also about the reluctance many seminaries demonstrate in teaching what’s perceived to be human techniques in putting a sermon together, versus just “letting the Spirit flow.” Anyway, that circumstance, plus the fact that I’m a pastor’s daughter and very gifted Sunday School teacher’s wife mean that this is just a passion of mine. But I’m perfectly willing to stand corrected by true professionals. It will help me with my new job. :) )

  3. Joseph says:

    This post is interesting to me:

    1. I cooked dinner for my wife on mothers day. I sort of randomly threw things together until it came out! I called it “Pasta-Alla-Joe”. Anyway, there was some intentionality, but my method was far to haphazard. This made me think about cooking and sermon prep… I don’t prep my meals like I cook (thank God – though the meal turned out well!). I have methods and processes I follow. So this was a great post that showed the parallels, when I just thought this the other day!

    2. I would have to agree with Rachael Starke, however on a few points. The Gospel is the main ingredient in sermon prep.

    3. Also I felt that there was little room for creative expression in a sermon. I have heard sermons that were this predictable format, but I have also heard sermons that were, stories linked together that connected the Word in unbelievable ways. I have seen videos, skits, experiments, etc. be a part of effective – word centered preaching. I for one don’t want people coming, knowing exactly what to expect (except for the Gospel of coarse!)

    1. Joseph,
      You may be interested in one of the earlier sections in the series where they describe the different kinds of preaching and make a strong case why expository preaching is the most effective method of getting God’s Word into people’s hearts. Those tools you mentioned can be helpful occasionally, but a lot of folks here might argue that they easily became the main focus. Too much salt in a dish, and that becomes all you taste. :)

  4. Mike says:

    Hey Joseph, I would agree the gospel is to the main meal throughout the sermon and undergirds all preaching. I find the three coerce meal structure is basic rhetoric found in most articles, papers, speeches, sermons… It is just a nice logical flow, I have read about some guys presenting application right up front as the “appetizer.” The argument was basically you present the “end result” and unpack how to get there to engage the audience. The argument was this forces the application to be seen throughout the entire sermon.

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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