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Six Days to Sunday, Part 5 – Getting a Sermon Focus & Function

Now that you’ve made it this far into your sermon preparation it’s time for you to make some decisions. Namely, you need to decide what you’re going to say. (Make sure you read the previous post here, here, here, and here.)

As we’ve discussed before, each text has a “field of meaning” – meaning that there is more to be mined in any text than you’re going to have time to deal with. There will also be much in any passage that will be outside the concerns of your congregation at any particular time in their corporate story. Therefore, communicators have to make choices about the FOCUS and FUNCTION of the sermon. The focus and function, in essence are determine what the sermon is about.

Here’s The Best Path to the Best Decisions:

  1. The Preliminary Decision. Make a tentative decision about what the text is saying before any secondary literature is consulted. It is imperative, for the text to live, that you discern what the text is saying before you think about what you want to say. The text has it’s own voice, its own agenda. Many preachers – especially when preaching topically – will be tempted to jump over the text and twist it to say what he/she wants it to say. That’s bad preaching! If a thoughtful Bible student places your sermon on a text next to the actual text they should be able to obviously see the connection; how you got there from here. If you read a commentary, listen to someone else’s sermon on the text, or consult other secondary sources first, you’re not doing your homework. That’s lazy! You’re not allowing the text to speak.
  2. Investigate Secondary Sources. Now that you know what the Bible is saying, you’re ready for the next step. As an informed investigator, you can now deal with critical commentaries, biblical introductions, previous preached sermons, and journal articles responsibly. Here is where you bring your questions and issues to the scholars. But don’t believe everything they say. They may be Reformed and you may be Anabaptist. Our theological impulses lay beneath the surface as we speak about the Scriptures. You need to be aware of the background music as you study. Plus, when it come to the Biblical text, after spending time in prayer and study, and after absorbing the text yourself, you may be in better position to exegete the text for your community than the scholars are.
  3. Make A Firm Decision. Now you are in a position to determine more firmly what you think the text is saying. These decisions will form the backbone of the sermon or the Big Idea. The Big Idea is a once sentence statement that encapsulates the major theme of the sermon. It is one sentence and one sentence only. It should be “Tweetable” – 140 characters. If you have more than that, your sermon lacks clarity and has no bottom like. Like it or not, people think in short sentences. Get over it!
  4. Determine Text Focus/Function. In your own words, write what you think the text says (its focus or theme – what it meant in its original context) and what you think the text does (its function or purpose – what effect did the author intend to have on his audience). This is the primary filter through which the sermon should be developed. Questions about how biblical the sermon is should be asked from this vantage point.
  5. Determine Sermon Focus and Function. To this point, the process has been looking backwards at the text and its historical context. The sermon grows from the primary focus and function of the text. Now, based on what the text says and does, and considering the unique needs of your audience, what should your sermon say (focus and theme) and what should your sermon do (function or purpose, i.e. what is its desired effect)? Be specific.

These are the steps you need to take in order to be able to write a sermon. Not until you’ve taken these steps are you able to pen a sermon that will be meaningful. Up until now, everything you’ve done is preliminary.

Tell us what you think. What are the steps you take for your personal sermon and speaking preparation?


  • I still write out a focus and function statement for every sermon I write. It has been a tremendous help.

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