it gives a kick. But how do you make one?

During her last sermon, Annemarie Roding-Schilt could have heard a pin drop. She saw that some church members were touched, she noticed that what she said touched her hearing.

“I was happy with what I wanted to say and how I did it,” she says. “I always take the text from the church’s reading schedule. It was a difficult theme, life after death, the end times. There were many hooks in the sermon that connected to people’s ordinary lives. They could connect with it. You feel it.”

Behind a sermon

Roding-Schilt (42) wrote it together with Theo Hettema (57). Basic Cookbook for Sermonsa handbook that, as the subtitle reads, teaches readers to “bake a sermon that leaves you wanting more.”

These readers could be anyone who occasionally speaks in a church or gathering of a Christian nature. Priests, pastors, pastoral workers, lay preachers, students or elders who do a weekly closing in a nursing home.

“I feel that there is a lot of wear and tear on the sermon,” says Hettema. “The sermon is an important part of a service, and therefore you have to spend time on it. But you should try to separate the depth of content from your own struggles with the writing. It only creates noise on the line.”

“It’s not that churches preach very badly,” Roding-Schilt says of the motivation for the book. “But we can see how things can be improved. It is a great gift if we can share our joy of preaching with more people.”

Theological and practical

Both authors do not have a fixed congregation. Hettema works in the headquarters of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands (PKN) and in the pastoral training of the Association of Free Evangelical Congregations, and he is a supervisor and coach. Roding-Schilt is a priest-spiritual caregiver in elderly care and a visiting priest.

In the many publications about the sermon, they missed a book with both a reflection on what gives a sermon meaning, as well as tips on how to write a sermon and how to ensure that the inspiration from the sermon reaches the public.

And it is not a sales pitch, confirms Ciska Stark, lecturer in preaching at the Protestant Theological University in Amsterdam. She has ‘three shelves full’ of books on the preaching process, one of her own by the way.

According to the scientist, most of them are either theologically oriented or practical. Although the title of Basisbakboek sounds like a recipe book, it still pretends to be a combination of both.

Stark hasn’t read it yet, but is very curious about what’s new in it. “Communication patterns are changing, so it’s not surprising that they come out with a new book.”

45 minute podcast

With these changing ways of communicating and in a culture determined by images, the spoken word still works well, Hettema and Roding-Schilt conclude. A Ted talk can easily take twenty minutes, maybe just a little longer than an average sermon. With a podcast, you are only 45 minutes away.

And then a sermon can only last ten minutes, as the Pope once said? Hettema would like to explain to him that content is more decisive than time – that is why the theologians refrain from giving specific advice about the length of their book. “Time doesn’t matter,” says Hettema. “Listening to a podcast for 45 minutes with your headphones in is apparently not too long, although I wouldn’t argue that a sermon should last that long.”

The difference, of course, is that the listener can turn off a podcast and resume it at any time. With a sermon that annoys, running away from church is an option, but a very flashy one. “You can’t turn off the sermon, and that requires a certain sensitivity on the part of the pastor,” says Roding-Schilt.

The sermon now has a far less good reputation as a means of communication than the podcast. Also in common parlance, a sermon is easily associated with moralism, with a person, be it a minister or a politician, who will occasionally say what is right and wrong.

“Yes, there is that danger,” says Hettema. “There is nothing inherently wrong with saying something about people’s actions. But it often happens at the wrong time or by the wrong person. Moralism is a message that lands at the wrong time.”

Craft page

Honesty on the part of the priest can make moralism acceptable, he believes. When he recently preached about becoming like a child as Jesus preaches, he also said something about how he himself is trying to do that. And when he calls on his audience to show solidarity with the poor, he also says that he can easily say that with his fixed income.

“You must pay attention to how your story is expressed”, Hettema summarizes the core message. “I meet pastors who do not want to do anything by reflecting on their communication and who believe that God’s word must do the work. No, we want to be open to the traditional side of the sermon. And if you do well, it gives you a kick.”

Recipe for a good sermon, from Basisbakboek

Preparation time and writing: 8 to 12 hours. The length of the sermon to your own taste.

1. Choose a text from the Bible
2. Think through the text yourself, consult other people’s explanations, meditate on it, pray and open up
3. Empathize with your audience
4. See what emotions the text evokes in you
5. Immerse yourself in the collective experiences of your audience
6. Formulate a concise message

Make the sermon
1. Choose a shape
2. Give inspiration, contact your source of faith
3. Use clear language appropriate to the audience
4. Formulate a good start and a good end
5. Build in rest to make the sermon your own

On the day itself

1. Pay attention to your body language
2. Take care of your voice

Theo Hettema and Annemarie Roding-Schilt
Basic Cookbook for Sermons
Publisher Ekklesia; 196 pp. €19.90

Also read:

A good sermon shows how we can act

What makes a sermon good? ‘No Bible study please’, readers say when asked by Monic Slingerland.

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