Sermon Methodology
TH 661A
Winter Term
Class Sessions:  Thursdays 8:30-11:20



Prof. David Schnasa Jacobsen
Phone:  884-0710 ext. 3493
Office Hours:  whenever the door is open, or by appointment


Learning Goals: 
The purpose of this course is to help students gain competence as preachers of the gospel.  In order to do this, students will be equipped as theologians of the Word who are able to evaluate the usefulness of various tools for preaching in light of that gospel and then employ them fruitfully.  The tools we will consider include:
1.  interpretations of pastoral contexts,
2.  methods of homiletical exegesis of biblical texts, 
3.  rhetorical skills and strategies to aid the hearing of the Word and
4.  ways of integrating preaching into its liturgical/sacramental context.
To meet these learning goals, the professor is more than happy to help students individually during office hours or by special appointment.


Students with disabilities or special needs are advised to contact Laurier's Special Needs Office for information regarding its services and resources. Students are encouraged to review the Calendar for information regarding all services available on campus.


Wilfrid Laurier University uses software that can check for plagiarism. Students may be required to submit their written work in electronic form and have it checked for plagiarism.



Buttrick, David G.  Homiletic:  Moves and Structures.  Philadelphia:  Fortress, 1987.

            (The above text is mostly for reference and occasional reading assignments.)
Jacks, G. Robert.  Just Say the Word.  Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 1996.

Kim, Eunjoo Mary.  Preaching the Presence of God: A Homiletic from an Asian American

            Perspective.  Valley Forge: Judson, 1999.


All of the above books should also be available on 1-day reserve at the Library Reserve Desk.


The schedule below shows that the course's format varies:  lectures, presentations, discussions, workshops, sermons, etc.  Still, you can figure out what will happen by looking at the typeface.  The stuff I do is in regular type.  The stuff you do is in bold.



Session 1 (1/10):          Syllabus, Preview:  Where We Are Heading

In class Assignment #1:  "What is the Word of God?"
Lecture:  "Preaching and the Turn to the Hearers"
Lecture:  "Homiletical Hermeneutics:  Our Texts, Ourselves, Our Worlds"
For next class:  Begin reading Preaching the Presence of God


Session 2 (1/17):          Discuss Preaching the Presence of God book in class.
Lecture:  "Preaching, Culture and Language"  
Lecture:  "Homiletics as Theological Poetics:  Image, Metaphor & Story"  
For next class:  Begin reading Just Say the Word.


Session 3 (1/24):          Discuss Just Say the Word book in class  
Lecture:  "Moves I:  Units of Meaning and Development"
Lecture:  "Moves II:  Point of View and Style"

                                    For future class:  Prepare Assignment #2


Session 4 (1/31):          MOVIE!


Session 5 (2/7):            Hand in Assignment #2, Read and Respond to Moves in Class
Lecture:   "Preaching and Exegetical Methods"
In-Class Workshop:  Exegeting a Text for Preaching

begin reading article on 3-hour library reserve: “Interpretation and Preaching"  to prepare for Assignment #3


Session 6 (2/14):          Hand in Assignment #3, In-Class Exegetical Debriefing
Lecture:  "Preaching and Structure:  Conversational Logic"
Lecture:  "Preaching in the Modes of Immediacy and Reflection"

Read chapter in A Captive Voice, “Preaching and Method", on reserve


February 18-22:           Reading Week, no class, yeaahhh!


Session 7 (2/28):          Bring drafts of Assignment #4 to class for debriefing
In-class workshop and mutual resourcing


Session 8:  (3/6)           Hand in final version of Assignment #4
Lecture:  "Introductions and Conclusions"
Delivery and other final questions for discussion


Session 9:  (3/13)         Assignment #5:  Practice Sermons on New Testament Texts.



Session 10 (3/20):                                                          

                                    Lecture:  "Hebrew Bible texts in Christian Proclamation"


Session 11 (3/27):        Bring outline drafts and/or questions for HB sermon assignment:  In-class workshop and mutual resourcing.       


Session 12 (4/3):          Assignment #6:  Practice Sermons on HB Texts.



Session 13 (4/10):                                                                   

                                    Evaluations and eschatological Fudge Pie



The percentage of the final grade goes up with each assignment.  One goal of this course is to set a trajectory for learning.  It values especially students' improvement over time.  Students need not fret that a difficult first paper or sermon dooms them to homiletical purgatory.  In fact, as the semester progresses, the opportunities for growth and improvement only increase. 


Nonetheless, since pastors almost always have to produce weekly (not weakly) sermons regardless of circumstances, late papers of any sort will result in an automatic reduction of grade by one letter.  The lecturer also reserves the right to sigh, grumble, and/or harrumph when late papers are submitted. 


1.  In-class Conversation:  Hearing the Word of God (5% of grade).  What do you think the Word of God is? What is preaching and what does it "do?"  The class will be graded by the theological and imagistic quality of its discussion.
Due during class, Session 1 (January 10)


2.  1 p.:  Sample Sermon Move (5% of grade).  With your hearers in mind, construct one "move" using one of these sentences as its beginning:
"Truth is, we are all sinners."  [in an attitude of a kind of sober realization--no finger pointing!]
"Sometimes we sense judgment is on the horizon."  [in a kind of distant foreboding]
"God's love surrounds us from day one."  [try a sort of cozy, providential nearness]
"In Christ, God forgives the whole, wide world."  [draw a wide-scope, overwhelming picture of God's mercy]

Whichever of the four you choose, be sure your choice is a perspective with which you can identify.  When you write, try for an oral style, as if you are speaking to an average congregation.  You may want to say it aloud to yourself a few times to be sure it fits into your natural speaking patterns.  All in all, it should be about three hundred words in length.  Remember to start and stop the move strongly, maintain "point of view" throughout, develop the move idea in no more than three different ways (e.g., illustration, analogy, examples, etc.) and anticipate roadblocks with contrapuntals, if needed.

Due at Session 5 (February 7)


3.  3 pp.:  Homiletic Exegesis (10% of grade)   Again, with your hearers in mind, exegete a text.  Choose a text together with your instructor (failure to communicate will involve a loss of one letter grade and a stint in the penalty box), and be sure it is one you have not preached before.  These papers need to include the following components:
A.  One brief paragraph on your first impressions of the text.  Do not yet consult a commentary.  Simply react and free associate as you read it.  What is your impression of what the text is trying to do?  How does it feel to you in your gut?  Who's talking and who's listening?  What senses it is appealing to:  hearing, sight, touch, taste, smell?
B.  The bulk of your exegesis (about 2 pp.) should be devoted to answering whichever relevant questions are posed for you in Buttrick's "Interpretation and Preaching" article:  (1) What is the form; (2) What is the "plot," structure, or shape; (3) What is the "Field of Concern"; (4) What is the "logic" of movement; (5) What is the addressed "world"; and (6) What is the text doing?
C.  One page should be devoted to dialoguing with commentaries on your text.  How does your exegesis compare?  Do their critical interpretations alter your opinion in any way?  Do they miss something that you catch?  Do they catch something you miss?  Explain why you think so.
Due at the beginning of class, Session 6 (February 14)


4.  Sermon Sketch (15% of grade).  Develop a sketch of your sermon that includes the
following elements for each move:  (1) a simple, one-sentence statement of the move, (2) a corresponding statement of the move's theological "conceptual," (3) roadblocks to this move in congregational awareness and (4) analogies of experience showing what illustrations, images, metaphors, examples, etc. you would use to help people see each move.  The sermon sketch should be only 1-2 pp. long.  See Buttrick's Homiletic (pp. 337-39, 370-72) for examples.  Bring copies of your first version to class to hand out.  Remember, you are preparing this for preaching to an actual congregation, not some professor type.  The style should be oral, not term-paper-ese.

Draft due (bring copies for everyone) at the beginning of class Session 7 (February 28), Final version due at class Session 8 (March 6)


5.  New Testament Practice Sermon (20% of grade).  Students will develop a brief sermon (10-20 minutes in length) to preach in class based on the exegesis of the Biblical text and the sermon sketch developed out of it.  Whether or not you use a manuscript in the pulpit, I expect one to be handed in one day in advance of preaching sessions.
Due 1 PM the day before your in-class preaching date (Day before Session 9 or 10 = March 12 or 19, respectively)


6.  Hebrew Bible Practice Sermon (40% of grade).  Students will develop a brief sermon (10-20 minutes in length) to preach in class based on the exegesis of a Biblical text from the Hebrew Bible.  I expect a full manuscript and accompanying material to be handed in one day in advance of practice preaching sessions.  For this sermon a full manuscript includes:  (1) a 1 p. exegesis, (2) a 1 p. sermon sketch, (3) the sermon itself and (4) a 2 pp. homiletic rationale for the preaching strategies chosen.
Due 1 PM the day before your in-class preaching date (Day before Session 12 or 13 = April 2 or April 9, respectively)


7.  Lecture Attendance and Small Group Participation (5%).  In order to learn preaching together regular attendance is expected.  We will learn how to preach as part of a community.  We can expect to benefit homiletically by studying and reflecting with our sisters and brothers in the pulpit and out.  By struggling together with our papers and sermons we will also grow together in ways we can hardly imagine.  Our time together will entail voicing different perspectives on Biblical texts and experience.  This is a good thing!  After all, the Gospel comes to us through the voice of An Other, i.e., extra nos.  How did Paul put it?:  faith comes by hearing.



Although, sermons are oral events and rarely footnoted (thank God!), preachers do need to identify in their sermons when they have borrowed from elsewhere.  “There’s a story about....” or “Paul Tillich notes, “yada yada yada” is usually sufficient to identify that the preacher has borrowed material.  In those (hopefully) rare moments when a student uses first-person illustrations, the assumption of course is that the material is indeed from oneself and never borrowed.  Please see your instructor if you have further questions about these or other matters of preaching ethics.


Since Waterloo Lutheran Seminary is a gospel-centred community, the faculty expects that students will not use language which might cause some to feel excluded from the gospel promise.  This is both an important ethical issue and an issue of gospel communication.  Guidelines for language use prepared by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and by Wilfrid Laurier University ( will help the student to avoid inadvertently placing barriers between people and the gospel.  Students should make use of these guidelines.



Handy Dandy Sermon Methodology Guide

With thanks to David L. Barnhart, who wrote most of this stuff on his web page







Remembering: One of the criteria we'll be using to judge the effectiveness of a sermon is what the listeners remember. The logic behind this criteria is that the things that people remember are most likely to change their way of seeing the world.


Of course, there can be subtle influences in the sermon that people don't remember - but our task is too important to fail to make a lasting conscious impression. The idea is to create a change in worldview, to give people a gospel lens through which they see the reality around them. Don't just make the sermon "memorable," make it "rememberable" - give people the ability to recall the way of seeing presented in your sermon so that they can apply it in their real-life situation.


In doing so, we will be fulfilling an important homiletical imperative:  neighbor love.  We will love our neighbors in the pew enough to preach well.  The goal is not the preacher’s comfort or need to be loved, but the impression and experience of the listeners.  We do not preach to "actualize ourselves," but so that hearers may hear the Gospel.  And when that happens,  it doesn't get better than that!





Move is a sermon unit, usually about 3 to 3 1/2 minutes in length.  A move speaks of one theological claim (see below), and one only.  It begins with a three-sentence move start and ends with three, brief sentences called a move stop, which "closes off" the unit in the awareness of the congregation.  In between, you may image or illustrate your theological claim in up to three ways.  Ultimately, it is the concrete imagery which impacts your hearers leaving them with a sense of what the move is about.  Throughout a move, language should be simple, concrete, and ultimately, visual and sensory.


Perspective or Point of View: Key to creating a rememberable sermon is using perspective. Although we may be able to jump around visually while watching a music video or TV commercial, oral communication requires a firm sense of place. Even if you read a screenplay, the writer will often note the "POV" (point of view) of the camera and character. Good cinematographers know how to use POV to their advantage.  How you use point of view will determine (1) whether people remember what you preach and (2) impact how they hear it.


Unintentional perspective shifts don't just happen when introducing characters. Sometimes when we are trying hard to make the connection between an analogy and the theological claim we are trying to illustrate, we change perspective. Check your analogies and illustrations to make that the perspective matches the perspective of the claim you are trying to illustrate.


Theological Claim or Conceptual: As we have discussed in class, a theological claim is not necessarily an explicit statement about God. But I do think that the phrase is appropriate in describing what you are doing in a move.  Even if the primary task of your move is to impart some image and not necessarily make a proposition, you are making a theological claim through your metaphor - "love is like a rose," or something.


It would be a mistake to think that every theological claim has to be explicitly about God. Most of the important things we say about God we say indirectly, and we communicate those things through the images we choose and the metaphors we use. Statements about human beings are also theological claims. If I say "human beings abuse each other," is a theological claim when it is in the context of a sermon - because it is probably part of a larger rhetorical argument which may deal with the nature of sin, salvation, community, incarnation, etc.


Perspective of Illustrations: A common mistake in choosing illustrations is the theology/anthropology perspective problem.  Frequently people will want to make a theological claim about God, yet wind up illustrating something about us. For example, if you want to say God is merciful," be sure that your illustration shows someone demonstrating mercy (God's POV), not someone being thankful at receiving mercy (human POV).



Fit of Illustrations or Positive/Negative alignment: Another common mistake with illustrations is illustrating the opposite of your theological claim. People often make this mistake when they attempt to satirize the idea against which they are arguing. For example, if my theological claim is that God is merciful, I would want to use an illustration that shows someone demonstrating mercy, not someone begging for mercy.


Isolating claims and images while linking move starts, a.k.a., One Move at a Time, Sweet Jesus: I know it does not seem intuitive to do so, but in crafting the sermon's moves it is important to see each of the moves as an independent unit. They should not "contaminate" each other with foreshadowing, recurring images, or similar illustrations. Though the moves are linked rhetorically, they remain separate statements.


In working the "good Samaritan" story, I (David Barnhart) come up with the following move starts:

         1. We've been robbed and beaten up (we humans keep victimizing each other - ex. insurance

            failing to cover surgery, discrimination in the work place, being bullied as a kid).


         2. People pass us by (we can't seem to find the help we need, people

         offer lame advice, pass by on the other side).


         3. Oddly enough, when help arrives, it's not someone we want to see

         (God comes to us as the Samaritan, foreigner, unwanted guest)


         4. But we are saved any way (God's grace lifts us up, heals wounds of oppression)


         5. God leaves the job unfinished and in our hands - (Jesus leaves us

         among a caring community until he returns - the church is the innkeeper,

         to take care of those who have been mistreated).


All of these claims are isolated, in that the images and examples will be unique to that move. But they are linked by rhetorical structure. The way you can tell that they are linked is that when you put the move starts in order, they make an intelligible argument.


In doing so, you will have developed your sermon out of a "theological structure" and not by simply choosing a theme or topic.  In Biblical preaching, texts should not be "distilled."  In that case, we will have ended up boiling off most of the text and, as Fred Craddock says, "preaching from the stain on the bottom of the cup."  Instead, we will preach from a "structured field of meaning," a series of "theological claims," or a "theological structure," that emerges from a careful reading of a Biblical text.