I appreciate William Shedd’s Homiletics and Pastoral Theology, and have recently reread his section which might be called, “The General Maxims of Sermonizing.” Or, to put it into a question, how should a preacher approach the sermon writing task to which he’s been called? Here they are in edited and summarized form:
1) Cultivate a homiletical habit. By this is meant, such an habitual training of the mind as will impart a sermonizing tendency to it. Preaching is [a pastor’s] business; for this he has been educated; to this he has consecrated his whole life. If it is proper that the poet should transmute everything he touches into poetry, it is proper that the preacher should transmute everything that he touches into sermon. The sermonizer should be an industrious student and a thoughtful reader; in the course of his studies he will meet a great variety of information that he may use in writing sermons.
2) Form a high ideal of a sermon, and constantly aim at its realization. There is little danger of setting a standard too high, provided the preacher is kept earnestly at work in attempts to reach it. The preacher must not be content with an inferior grade of sermonizing, but must aim to make his discourses as excellent in matter, and in manner, as his powers (natural and acquired) will possibly allow.
3) In immediate preparation for the pulpit, make no use of the immediate preparation of other minds, but rely solely upon personal resources. In other words, do not use the outlines and sermons of other preachers when you write a sermon. The preacher should avoid reading books that give sermon outlines; however, it is beneficial to read sermons of other preachers and determine how the sermon was constructed, outlined, illustrated, and applied. The preacher should also be daily acquainted with theological treatises, historical theology, classic literature, philosophy, and, above all, Scripture; in this way the preacher becomes a more discriminating exegete, a more profound theologian, a more natural rhetorician.
4) Maintain a spiritual mind. Cultivate personal piety. Constantly think about eternal realities. This mental temper is of great worth to the preacher. He speaks seriously because he understands the nature of his subject. He speaks clearly and distinctly because this spiritual-mindedness makes him an eye-witness of eternal realities. He speaks convincingly, because he knows what he says, and affirms what he says.
For Shedd’s entire discussion on these general maxims, see chapter 4 of Homiletics and Pastoral Theology.
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)