Sermon Organization: Eating a Whole Cow!

Patrick Melson on March 22, 2012

In the preaching class I taught the other day, we were discussing the need for organization in the sermon, how it was important to have structure, variety, order and even short breaks in your message.  The Scriptures themselves have order and structure, the authors followed conventional rules of language and writing; thoughts were written in sentences, extended into paragraphs, organized in minor and major headings, bound together in individual books.  Not to mention the obvious "The mind can only absorb what the seat can endure."  The sermon has parts, I explained, so that its thoughts, one at a time, can be understood and absorbed.  No one can listen to another speak on and on and on without a mental break.  I felt I was not getting through, here in the Papua New Guinea culture of oral tradition that prides itself on stories and the ability to sit on the ground for hours, or a rough-cut beam (pew) suspended eight inches off the ground.  I know they can sit for hours, but that does not mean the people are listening, it only means they have mastered the art of sleeping with their eyes open!

"I know you guys are not always listening when someone is speaking, especially when they continue repeating what they have already said or have no illustrations or transitions or breaks or applications and the speaker goes on and on about the same thing, as though you did not hear him the first or second or third time, he has to keep going and will not stop, because, after all, what he has to say is so important, it is the word of God, and I have to keep telling you about it and can't waste a minute of time being purposeful or intentional as long as I can keep telling you what the Bible says..."

You may have prepared a sermon with a lot of "meat" to satisfy the spiritual hunger of God's people, but that meat becomes worthless if it is not properly prepared and delivered to the hungry guests.  Their blank stares were asking "HOW could a deep or meaty sermon be worthless?"  If you do not have organization and "parts" to your sermon it is like you are giving them the whole sermon, the whole cow at once.  "Look people, I have prepared a feast for you from God's Word, I have done my part now you have to do yours and swallow it!  Here it comes..." in one uninterrupted barrage of Grade-A verbiage.  I mimicked lifting a large unwieldy cow overhead, "Here," grunt-grunt, with strain in my voice, "Have some meat!"  And I mimicked flinging the cow from the pulpit, following it slowly through the air as it flew towards the congregation.  "Open wide," I said as it neared a wide-eyed and frightened attendee, "almost there."   I acted out the cow's landing, milking it for all it was worth.  "Somewhere underneath this blessed bovine lies a Christian brother, I am certain of it, because I can see his arm sticking out, and over there, a twisted foot.  God bless the preaching of His word!"

Gentleman, how do you eat a whole cow?  The only way we can eat it, one bite at a time.  And so we must organize and write and re-write the sermon into various manageable parts, that each thought, each spiritual truth may be taken, chewed on, savored and swallowed, before the next bite is given.