Some of the preachers who have purchased my book, Right Texts and Wrong Meanings, would ask how they can use the book to their advantage in terms of preaching. Certainly, the book is not a homiletic book. It is rather a little book that shows how to read a NT text properly. Let me suggest a proven method. I’ve tried this method a bunch of times and it seems to make quite an impression on the audience. Of course, we have to vary it up. We can’t use the same presentation approach and expect to wow them.
I presuppose that the sermon is both to inform and inspire. With many churches doing away with adult Sunday School, you will want to educate and inform from the pulpit or all biblical literacy would be lost. What the audience learn is as important as how they respond. I can think of no better way than to educate the congregation by showing them the misunderstanding of biblical texts. I call my preaching method the upside down pyramid approach. Preachers have used it here and there. I find this method a good innovation off the traditional expositional sermon.
As we know, the pyramid is probably one of the strongest shapes as far as stability is concerned. If you turn it upside down, it will cause every spectator to feel uneasy. Certainly, no one will volunteer to stand under it. If you create an upside down sermon by using the congregation’s misunderstanding and showing them the consequence before you teach them the proper understanding based on contextual reading, everyone of them will thank you for the lesson you teach. In other words, don’t just let your sermon be some rah-rah cheerleading session. Leave the cheerleaders to do cheerleading. We’re preachers, for goodness’ sake. So, how do we do an upside down sermon?
The first step is to find out the biggest misunderstanding as well as misapplication of a text and exposit it as if it’s normal. For example, in the story of the unmerciful servant in Matt 18.21-35, the ending is the unforgiving servant being tortured. The entire responsibility seems to weigh impossibly heavy on the shoulders of victims who listen. An upside down sermon would have a pause in the middle and say, “Is this really humanly possible?” Of course, the answer is, “No.” The fact is, if we read in context of Matt 18.15-20, Jesus was putting the responsibility on the whole faith community justice system to first confront trespasses, facilitate repentance and then finally cultivate forgiveness. Forgiveness is not the first step. It is the last. An upside down sermon would then elaborate enough of 18.15-20 to show that there’s more to forgiveness than forcing a victim to be more spiritual. Forgiveness, as it turns out, is a process cultivated by others besides the victim. Thus, the upside down sermon has a small but very sharp focal point at the end much like the tip of the upside down pyramid. No one would be mistaken on the fact that all the sermon content narrows down to that single focal point.
Many misunderstood texts can be done this way, if you show people the consequence of misreading a text. I do have to sound one note of caution. A seasoned minister of a very large church gave me some helpful feedbacks about this method. Congregations that are not used to this style might mistake the sarcasm for real. There are risks. Thus, the setup is a most important step to ensure no misunderstanding would result. With the upside down format, most people would be woken up from their spiritual slumber into uneasiness until the final truth is presented like the flood gate of truth being opened up on the church building. After that, you can do the closing prayer. Try it and see if it works out for you.