Preaching Essentials

Preaching (part 6)

As noted in a previous blog, “sermons are not propelled by powerful beginnings but are evoked by significant ends.” What is that significant end? What is the living theology found in the biblical text that transforms the congregation and will make a difference in the lives of the listeners on Monday? What is the theological live wire? Exegesis uncovers the text’s significant end.

The sermon writing process begins by stating the theological claim of the text you discovered through exegetical analysis. The preacher will want to say and do in the present tense what the text said and did in the past tense. The theological claim of the text informs the sermon about where the sermon is going and what the sermon is doing. What the theological claim is saying is often called the sermon’s focus. What the theological claim is doing theologically is often called the sermon’s function.

While not intuitive, the focus and function of the sermon are precise statements that indicate the destination of the sermon, the denouement of the plot, or the sermon’s conclusion. Write those two statements in bold print in the concluding paragraph of your sermon. You may rephrase them to fit the rhetorical needs of the conclusion, but their presence must remain clear.

The sermon is sequenced to lead the audience from an introduction to that conclusion. [Sequence is described in part 7 of this series.] The conclusion of a sermon is proof that the focus is maintained and the function realized.1

Focus Statement of the Sermon: The format of the function statement includes a theologically oriented subject, an active verb, and the predicate that states what the sermon is addressing. Be clear and concise. If you are not sure what the theological subject is you can always start with God as your subject followed by an active verb. “God blesses…” “God gives…” “God invites…” For example, “God’s love embraces all people.” The focus statement is your locutionary act.

Function Statement of the Sermon: The function statement names the sermon’s intent— names the “hoped for change.” Format: “To [strong behavioral or affective verb] [identify the audience] to [second active verb]…” Be clear and concise. For example, “To encourage the congregation to embrace loving enemies.” The function statement performs your illocutionary and perlocutionary acts.

Core Affirmations: [An alternative to the Focus and Function Statements] A Core Affirmation is a single, declarative sentence that announces what God has done, is doing, or promises yet to do and then names the difference this makes in the world of our hearers. What difference does the divine action of God make in our world of experience? Once the divine action is named, then Core Affirmations move to the difference this divine action makes for the human situation. This is where the call to action comes into play. And this is where the emphasis on invitation and participation comes into play – by starting with what God has done, is doing, or will do, the call for action made in the sermon becomes one of joining the work of God.Format: “Because God has acted [is acting/promises to act] in the following way – [therefore] – we are able to do the following…(the sentence finishes with a brief description of some faithful action now made possible for us in the word opened up by God’s action).”3 [Note: Core Affirmations are missing the function verb found above in Function Statements].

So, if the statement is true, “Sermons are not propelled by powerful beginnings but are evoked by significant ends,” then the following statements are also true:

  1. Conclusions are formed by your focus and function statements (or the Core Affirmation). In the conclusion of the sermon, did you say and do what you set out to say and do? Does the conclusion cohere with the theological aim/claim of the sermon?
  2. Conclusions conclude. If your meaning has not yet been heard before now [the conclusion], it is too late for it to be heard now. Know your conclusion before you write the sermon. Know your destination before you begin your journey.
  3. Conclusions fulfill purpose. Does the sermon do what it intends to do? Conclusions cohere with focus and function. Conclusions achieve the anticipated climax. Conclusions are governed by your intentions.
  4. Affect a closure. When you get to the end of your sermon, stop. When you arrive at your destination, park your car. The sermon needs to end! Therefore, use direct, simple, concrete language.
  5. Build connections to response. Be direct and personal. Convince people that the message is related to their lived experiences. Be passionate that the theology of the sermon matters. Be hopeful and expectant. Trust the people to do right.
  6. Responses may vary. There is more than one way and one time to respond to a sermon.
  7. AND, most importantly, the conclusion of the sermon is fully alive when the live wire of theology electrifies the words. The conclusion is formed by the theological claim of the text.

AND, if that is how you write a conclusion, how do you write your introduction? “Light your match on the first strike.” Plato stated the obvious centuries ago. Every piece of written or oral communication must have a beginning, middle, and end. Many sermons flop because many preachers do not know where they are or where they’re going. Introductions, likewise, are dependent on the purpose of the sermon, the theological claim of the text.

  1. Introductions Set the Stage – How will you handle or talk about certain things in certain ways? Introductions need to be interesting, raise issues, and be memorable. In this way, introductions orient the congregation to the theological claim. Give the listener the ability to anticipate what the sermon is about. You can do this fully, or only with a hint, but somehow say, “here is the path.” Anticipate the whole and show the next step. Point toward the focus and function of the sermon. Promise something the hearers want you to keep. It needs to bear on their lives. The promise should be of value to the congregation.
  2. Introductions Communicate a Contract with the Audience – What you can you expect?
  3. Appropriate Language and Tone – The language and tone of the introduction should create a fair expectation of the language and tone of the sermon.
  4. Introductions are Transitions – While the introduction should anticipate the whole sermon, it should also lead directly to the next step of the sermon’s sequence. The value of the introduction is how it functions in the sermon. It is a journey beginning “here” with the concept of “there” in mind. Where will this sermon go? Get on with the mission.
  5. Prepare Introductions Last – Prepare after the body of the sermon and the conclusion.


  1. While my use of focus and function  statements resembles Long’s Witness of Preaching, I am making substantial shifts in his approach.
  2. Lee, Class Presentation. Dr. Sally Brown’s Definition of Preaching… “A Christian sermon is a theo-rhetorical act anchored in Christian scripture that declares to particular listeners in a particular time and place some aspect of what God has done, is doing, and promises yet to do, to make all things new.”
  3. Brown and Powery, The Ways of the Word, 142.