Editor’s Note: This article is part of a preaching series from Southwestern Dean of Theology David Allen. To view the series, click here.
A text-driven sermon is a sermon that expresses the main and subordinate information of a given text so that modern day hearers understand the meaning that the original audience would have understood. One does not necessarily have to package this information in a traditional deductive outline in order to accomplish this! However, the preacher must undertake careful exegetical work in grammatical, syntactical and semantic structure of the text in order to determine what the author has encoded as main and subordinate information in the text. The sermon should stay true to the substance, structure, sense, and spirit of the text. Only when this is done right and done well can valid application be given in a sermon. Application without exposition is groundless. Exposition without application is pedantic. Both must be coupled together with clear, pungent, illustration.
Time should also be given to thinking through not only what you will say in the sermon, but how you will say it. Delivery issues are critical to great preaching. Remember, it is not a song until it is sung; it is not a bell until it is rung, and it is not a sermon until it is preached. The distance between the pitcher’s mound and home plate is identical in high school baseball and the major leagues: sixty feet and six inches. What separates the high school pitcher from the pros is delivery. A mere 20 miles per hour makes all the difference between an average high school pitcher and a multi-million dollar contract in the major leagues. What separates preaching from great preaching is often delivery. Certainly content is more important than delivery in the long run. Better to have something to say and not say it well than to say nothing well. Better still to have something to say and to say it well. Content coupled with great delivery will make for great preaching.
Here is my 12-Step Method I have followed for years both in the classroom and in my own preaching.
12 Steps in Preparing a Text-Driven Sermon
I. Begin at the paragraph level, and then move to the sentence, clause, phrase, and word level.
1. Determine to preach on at least a paragraph unit of meaning
2. Determine the boundary of the paragraph(s)
3. Read the paragraph(s) several times in Greek (or Hebrews) and in English.
4. Determine the genre of the paragraph
5. Prepare a rough translation from the Greek or Hebrew text.
6. Analyze how the paragraph is joined to the previous paragraph.
II. Analyze the sentences and clauses within the paragraph.
1. Identify the verbs and verbals (participles and infinitives).
2. Parse all verbs (note especially their tense, voice and mood).
3. Identify the sentences in the paragraph of the Greek or Hebrew text.
4. Identify independent clauses and subordinate clauses.
5. Determine the grammatical relationships of clauses to one another (subordinate, etc.)
6. Identify how the sentences relate to one another. Which convey primary information
and which convey secondary (subordinate) information? This step allows you to
determine the nuclear part of the paragraph along with its supportive (subordinate) material.
III. Analyze the key phrases in the paragraph
1. Identify phrases in the paragraph, especially prepositional phrases.
2. Determine the syntax and proper translation of the phrases (genitive use, etc.)
IV. Do word studies of significant words in the text.
1. Note things like lexical repetition; words in the same semantic domain (different
words that have similar meanings; antonyms, etc.)
V. Do comparative translation work. Look at several translations to see how they handle the text.
VI. Consult commentaries.
VII. Diagram the paragraph – (syntactical or block diagram)
VIII. Develop an exegetical outline from the above data.
IX. Develop the sermon (homiletical/communication) outline from the exegetical outline.
X. Write the sermon body with a focus on exposition, illustration, and application.
XI. Write the introduction and conclusion.
XII. Think through delivery issues: how you will say it that reflects the spirit of the text.
In writing a sermon, you should ask the question “What does the biblical author desire to accomplish with his text?” You should then ask yourself: “What do I desire to accomplish with this sermon?” The text-driven preacher is always attempting to accomplish something with every sermon. All verbal or written communication has at least one of three purposes: (1) affect the ideas of people, (2) affect the emotions of people, and (3) affect the behavior of people. Preaching should incorporate all three of these purposes. We should be attempting to affect the mind with the truth of scripture (doctrine). We should be attempting to affect the emotions of people because emotions are often (some would say always) the gateway to the mind. Finally, we should be attempting to affect the behavior of people by moving their will to obey the Word of God.
The method of text-driven preaching will take blood, sweat, toil and tears, but the payoff is immense. Once you get the hang of it, you can conflate many of the steps and shorten the process. It is not as daunting as it may seem at the moment. God has spoken. His written Word is His speech. May we preachers pay the price to be His accurate spokesmen, rightly dividing the Word of truth.
For every hundred people who can talk, there is one who can think. For the thousand who can think, there is one who can see. Before you preach, think. While you are thinking, learn to see. Then make it your aim to help your hearers see what you see. If you do this, you will do great preaching.
Few have ever said it any better than Roy Harrisville and Wayne Grudem, so I conclude with quotes from these two theologians.
… in all that confused prattle of an entire guild of interpreters, amnesiac, and reading only themselves, in a frenzy to tell or hear something new, but emerging only with “the same song, second verse, a little louder, and a little worse.” …Whoever you are, if you do not repent and believe the testimony laid down in this book [the Bible] concerning God and his Christ, it will judge you to inconsequence, render your reading of it, your interpretation of it, your preaching on it a comic spectacle to the world to which you believed you had to adjust it, and your church will die. As well it should.
Throughout the history of the church the greatest preachers have been those who have recognized that they have no authority in themselves and have seen their task as being to explain the words of Scripture and apply them clearly to the lives of their hearers. Their preaching has drawn its power not from the proclamation of their own Christian experiences or the experiences of others, nor from their own opinions, creative ideas, or rhetorical skills, but from God’s powerful words. Essentially they stood in the pulpit, pointed to the biblical texts and said in effect to the congregation, ‘This is what this verse means. Do you see the meaning here as well? Then you must believe it and obey it with all your heart, for God himself is saying this to you today!’ Only the written words of Scripture can give this kind of authority to preaching.
And only text-driven preaching can adequately communicate God’s meaning to His people. Preach the Word!
 This method is further explained using 1 John 2:15-17 as a test passage in my chapter “The Method of Text-Driven Preaching” in Akin, Allen and Mathews, Text-Driven Preaching: The Word of God at the Heart of Every Sermon (Nashville: B&H, 2010).
 Roy Harrisville, “The Loss of Biblical Authority and Its Recovery,” in Reclaiming the Bible for the Church (ed. by Braaten & Jenson; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995) 60-61.
 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 82.