Recently I was leading a training session for a group of laymen in Central Vermont. Though no one in the group felt a particular call to ministry, they were all deeply committed to serving the Lord in their local church in whatever way the God opened to them. Part of the training included the possibility that they may be called upon at some point in their lives to preach a sermon. After some discussion, it was clear that many in the group thought there was only one kind of sermon. I shared with them this brief description of the six different types of sermons.
1. Expository Sermons – this is a style of preaching that takes the time to preach through an entire book of the Bible one verse (or passage) at a time. The preacher may teach several verses in a particular week, but he will deal with each verse one at a time. The following week the preacher would then go on to the next section. It may take the preacher several months to get through a book of the Bible. Each sermon is really part of a long series of sermons that gives in depth understanding of that section of scripture.
2. Textual Sermons - this is the style of preaching that focuses on a particular verse, or set of verses. The preacher may give the same type of explanation as one might hear in an expository sermon, but the next week the preacher does not go to the next section of verses. The preacher might go to an entirely different part of the Bible. Each sermon looks at that particular passage in depth but each sermon is a "stand alone" sermon and does not necessarily connect to other passages studied on previous or following weeks.
3. Biographical Sermons - this is the style of preaching that focuses on a particular Bible character. The preacher explains the successes and failures of that biblical character and what we can learn from his or her life. (Example: Lessons from the Life of David.)
4. Historical Incident Sermons - this style of preaching is similar to a biographical sermon except that this type of sermon focuses on a particular incident in the Bible instead of a person in the Bible. (Example: Lessons from the Fall of Jericho.)
5. Topical Sermons - this style of sermon uses many scriptures from different parts of the Bible to give a more complete teaching about a particular topic. (Example: What Does the Bible Says about Debt.)
6. Personal Testimony - this is when the preacher primarily tells the story of his life, or some portion of his life. The preacher uses scriptures to illustrate various moments in life when he learned some specific spiritual truth. Though it is a testimony, it still uses scripture to illustrate the points made. It is very tempting to leave scripture out of a testimonial type sermon. Leaving scripture out is strongly discouraged because even though a person’s story may be very inspiring, there is spiritual power in the Word of God. Therefore, the use of scripture in a testimonial type of sermon is critical to transforming it from an inspiring story into a powerful sermon.
Each type of sermon has its own strengths and weaknesses. Each can be used effectively and each can be abused. Though most preachers will have a particular style that they feel most comfortable using, the effective preacher will learn to use all the types above at the right time and in the right place. The key to creating a powerful sermon is to start with scripture and then build the sermon around that scripture instead of starting with human opinion and then trying to prove that opinion with scripture. Starting with scripture instead of human opinion keeps preachers from inserting too much of themselves into the sermon.
This copyrighted material has been adapted from a chapter in the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church, by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett and should not be used for commercial purposes without the permission of the author. The book contains six easy to use lessons to teach lay people to work as a team with their pastor. Though the book is designed specifically for bivocational pastors, many fully funded pastors and lay leaders are finding it equally helpful.