Teaching No Greater Call: Writing a Spirit-Filled Sermon
“Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.”
I go to church hungry every week. No, I’m not talking about fasting, but spirit and soul hungry with longing to “feast upon the words of Christ” and desires to be “nourished by the good word of God.”
Some weeks I leave with my cup running over, others drained out lower than when I came. We need powerful, spirit-filled speakers with Christ-centered sermons to feed the souls of everyone in our worship service. Be that person! Accept the invitation to speak and then deliver a message that will invigorate hearts and minds…..to those who have ears to hear, let them hear!
What’s in a talk?
A message that is Christ-centered, scripturally based, doctrinally sound, with words from modern-day prophets and leaders, and including personal experience and testimony is sure to have something that can appeal to everyone and bring the spirit of God into the hearts of those listening.The Church Handbook 2 gives this direction:
[Speakers should]…”teach the doctrines of the gospel, relate faith-promoting experiences, bear witness of divinely revealed truths, and use the scriptures. Speakers should teach in a spirit of love after prayerful preparation. They should not speak on subjects that are speculative, controversial, or out of harmony with Church doctrine.”
Please don’t: give watered down book-reports of Conference talks, express political opinions, speculate doctrine, meander through personal experiences without structure (that’s what Fast & Testimony meeting is for), or fail to tie your remarks back to Jesus Christ.
Let’s break it down.
Center your message on Jesus Christ
While keeping the original theme or topic the Bishop has asked for, work your main thesis statement until you can tie your topic directly back to Jesus Christ, especially if it was not given to you in that format. Ward Councils are now working together to coordinate Sacrament meetings, including themes, speakers and music, so unless you’ve been given a wild card to pick your own topic, try to go with what they gave you. Even the most obscure topics must find their way to Christ, or it’s not a message worth sharing from our pulpits! If the Bishop is in a hurry to give you the topic, muttering two words while thrusting a copy of a General Conference talk in your hands, it will be up to you to finesse your “theme.”
These might be a good place to start:
- Examples of [topic] from the life of Jesus Christ
- Come unto Christ by _________
- Understanding the Savior’s Atonement through _________
- How [topic] helps me feel the love of Christ in my life
Make the scriptures your primary source
Studying scriptures should be the bulk of your preparation. Start with the first scriptures that come to your mind. Write down the references. Follow the footnotes to coordinating scriptures. Write down the references. Look up a few words in the Topical Guide. Write down the references you like. Amass a list of scriptures that ring out to you, in no particular order. Spread this process over days/weeks if you wish. Looking up scriptures and following footnotes is a bit like unraveling your knitting: it takes you new places, opens your eyes to verses you didn’t think could coordinate.
Teach the doctrine
Using your stash of scripture references, order them in a way that teaches the doctrine, adding nuance and insight as you feel inspired. Too many horrible folk doctrines are perpetuated without scriptural backing, and it makes the audience feel uneasy. By all means, add your own insight that stretch the members’ understanding, but save political opinions and speculations for spicing up those home teaching visits instead. Leave spaces between scriptures to embellish with your own insight, explanations and ideas, fill with quotes, testimony, story or personal experiences.
Using words from today’s leaders
By now you should have a loose structure for how you’ll order content through your talk. This is a good place to add a few well-placed, illustrative quotes from a general authority or leader. Remember to include the voices of female leaders! We’ve got the Words of Wisdom from LDSWave that everyone should have ready at their fingertips. A new catalogue that draws quotes from GC talks given by a Sisters and organized by topic is here at GCSisters. Wonderful labors of love, both of these resources — use their work to your advantage! Their quotes will break up the sound of scripture text and your own words, giving a new “voice” and some variety to your remarks. Find a quote that jives with what you’re saying and it’s like you brought your own “second witness” to the sermon — you give credibility to each other.
The power of a personal witness
As you research and organize, a personal experience or memory will come to your mind that wants to be included. Perhaps a powerful learning moment where the Spirit taught you truth, or a time when you realized how you could improve yourself. Allow yourself to be a little vulnerable here, show your humanity and illustrate how the grace and power of God worked in your life. Sister Marriott makes an excellent example of how sharing personal stories and experiences can engage the audience and help them to relate to the speaker.
Sometimes your powerful personal experience makes a good opener, but we also see these used very effectively about 2/3 through the talk, just before the conclusion. The Golden ratio is a real thing!
Bearing testimony of the truths you teach can be interlaced throughout, not just in one lump at the end. Choose words like, “I believe____. I have faith _____. I’ve seen the truth of this principle in my own life by_____. I don’t have much experience with ______ so I’m going to try ____ this week.”
Sometimes the language of testimony can set us on edge “I know. With every fiber of my being. I guarantee.” While we assume sincere intent for those who use these words, it can make a less-sure expression of testimony feel “not good enough.” Be authentic to yourself and your beliefs. It’s okay to say, “I’m not really sure about _____ yet, but I want to experiment upon the word and find out for myself.” and “I feel comfort in _____ teaching and I’m praying for the truth of the principle to sink deeply into my heart.” Such refreshing honesty from the pulpit can be so motivating for members, each one in different places on their own faith journeys.
By centering your comments on the Savior, Jesus Christ, the content of your message is relevant to every person in attendance. By using scriptures, you bring validity, familiarity and broad appeal to your remarks. Words of today’s leaders add color and variety. Personal experiences and testimony bring it all together to illustrate real-life application. Too much of any category is tiresome, too little of any category feels incomplete.
Your ward members need you! Your ideas, your perspectives and insights. Bring a sermon to their worship service that will touch their hearts and open their eyes. If you haven’t been invited to speak recently, volunteer!