Resources for your Ministry: Capturing Sermon Ideas

Wallace Hartsfield, IIICapturing Sermon Ideas
By Wallace S. Hartsfield II, Ph.D.
Fred E. Young Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible


Capturing sermon ideas can prove to be an elusive exercise for any preacher.  Without a method that clearly focuses, samples, and locates theological impressions; preachers often find themselves unable to articulate preaching inspirations and stimulations.  This inability to successfully bring to fruition sermon ideas tends to impair the subsequent sermon preparation and delivery process.  It is with this challenge in mind that I offer a resource for capturing sermon ideas that is based upon personal reflection and experience as professor and preacher.

Defining a Sermon Idea

A sermon idea is the by-product of a creative theological encounter between a preacher and a text (biblical or any communication event) in a particular time and space. It is the sermon impetus generated as a result of this encounter that needs to be captured and utilized as the foundation for hermeneutical and homiletical development of the sermon.

More simply stated, a sermon idea is the seed from which the sermon burgeons.  It is not to be confused with the sermon itself but rather the governing impetus for a sermon.  Encapsulated within the sermon idea is the potential for development of a theological claim(s), which lies at the heart of the preaching task.  While the task of capturing a sermon idea is often taken for granted or relegated to that of an unconscious activity, an understanding and articulation of this preaching motivation gives precision to the overall process of sermon preparation and delivery.

Components of a Sermon Idea

Textual Focus – the inspiration behind the sermon.   I am meditating on…

 This is captured with an accurate determination of the text with which the preacher is fascinated.  Setting aside a moment to meditate on this matter provides an opportunity for the preacher to sift between the many texts she or he may be engaging and zeroing in on the one, or combination of, text(s) that is the actual source of inspiration.  Failure to capture this textual source of inspiration may be misleading to the hearer

Textual Inquiry – specific questioning of the content of the focal text.  …because I want to know…

The textual inquiry articulates the preacher’s theological engagement with the text.  The positing of this particular question helps to delimit and focus interpretive explorations of the preacher during the sermon preparation phase.  With this question in mind, the preacher will not just engage in a general examination of the text, but rather an investigation based upon a particular inquiry.

Textual Relevance – the stimulation behind the sermon.  …in order to understand…

This is captured with a theological rationale that sets forth contemporary implications of responding to the textual inquiry of the focal text.   Understanding and articulating textual relevance of the focal text is necessary for the development of a theological claim.  The theological claim is a theologically relevant response to the textual inquiry.

How It Comes Together

Formulating a statement with the three phrases above forces the preacher to clearly and succinctly state the motivation behind any given sermon. 

Focus I am meditating on……….

Inquiry because I want to know………..

Rationale in order to understand……… .

A couple of examples of sermon ideas are:

Focus               I am meditating on Psalm 23:4

Inquiry             because I want to know why the rod, in addition to the staff, of the shepherd is

                         depicted as comforting

Rationale        in order to understand possible connections between discipline and comfort.


Focus               I am meditating on Mark 1:9-15

Inquiry             because I want to know what, if any, is the Gospel’s significance of Jesus’

temptation following his baptism and preceding his ministry.

Rationale        in order to understand the pivotal role of testing between that of discipleship

                       and ministry.

Capturing sermon ideas does require effort and practice; however, it can prove to be meaningful in the ongoing development of a preacher.  It is a helpful way of planning and projecting a variety of sermons.  While not the definitive method, this resource a way to challenge you as a preacher not to take for granted the preparation and delivery of a sermon without first capturing the sermon idea behind the sermon.