From Paper to Pulpit
Returning to our “real questions” series, this particular issue deserves a full post, but for now, some initial reflections.
“As I research and gather information and insight for the exegetical paper in this class, I have began to wonder how I might harness my study to craft a sermon from the same passage. What is your experience in transforming a purely exegetical work into a digestible sermon? Is this a worthwhile practice?
Response: Don’t Preach your Papers (but there’s still hope)
Great question. I’ve been wanting to write a longer blog post about this, so perhaps your question will let me get my thoughts in order!
Rule 1: Don’t preach your papers!
Some might find that rule a bit obvious, but I’ve heard a lot of sermons that are actually papers, especially from those “fresh out” of seminary. Sure, some changes are made here and there, taking out the footnotes and not relying on technical analysis of the Greek, and perhaps the preacher even reformats it a bit so that it’s fits a more “oral” delivery, but they are still papers in form and function. How so? Because a paper is ordered around a thesis. The temptation is to think that a sermon is similar, but the center of the sermon is different. In fact, the center of the sermon is different enough that it constitutes an entirely different genre of discourse (in my view, at least).
A sermon, in contrast to a paper, isn’t ordered and organized and determined by a thesis, but rather by an exhortation. The center of the sermon–the thing around which it is in orbit–is it’s exhortational purpose, not its doctrinal or exegetical content. (It should be doctrinal and exegetical, of course, but that’s not what makes it what it is). An exegetical paper makes a claim about the meaning of a particular text and uses the tools of exegesis to prove that claim. By contrast a sermon provides a second-order reflection. It uses the text to address and resolve a practical and pastoral problem. A paper is organized around what the text means, but a sermon is organized around the problem the text solves.
So the first thing I would do in “converting” your paper to a sermon is apply the text to your own life and context. How does it address your mind? Your will? Your affections? Your challenges and trials? Make a list of practical implications of the text and pray through that list.
Is one of the items on your list particularly significant, either to you or to the text? That’s the main point of your sermon. Put that thing in exhortational form. Frame it as a problem for which the text offers a biblical solution. Now build your sermon around that (and give it a bit of dramatic flow). As you do that you will pull from your paper. The work is done. The math is all there. It just needs to be packaged as a sermon.