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Shaping up the sermon

Over the past three days there has been an ongoing discussion about the shape of different sermons. It has not been an exhaustive list, and the descriptions of each shape have been deliberately pithy, with just enough detail to provoke a response. However,that has not put people off contributing to the discussion. Comments have pointed out the limitations of each shape and the amendments which might improve them.

Now is your chance to ‘come clean’ on what shape your sermons tend to be. The aim is to indicate the shape you do preach, rather than the shape you feel you ought to. There is space at the box to add your own suggested shape.  Please use the comments box if you would like to explain more about what you have put.

The broken arrow

Although there are dozens more shapes, and some have been suggested by you already, this is the last in this little series. The broken arrow draws people in from a wide angle, and focusses their thoughts on a particular insight. You will notice, though, that it doesn’t go all the way in terms of interpreting what that point means in people’s lives. The second line is incomplete, and people are left to make up their own minds about where to take the interpretation next. Is this a dereliction of the preacher’s duty, or a positive gain?

A poll to follow in the next post…

The splotch

Rather like a clown, this shape is zany, quirky, and liable to keep you entertained.  Firing off in several directions as it does, there is no time to get bored, and it is almost certain to ‘hit’ everyone at some point.  What it gains in attraction, though, it loses in focus. Where is it heading and what is it for?

Look out for shape #5, the broken arrow, at lunchtime…

The snub nose

This sermon shape starts from as broad a base as possible.  From a variety of sources, both biblical and contemporary, it draws people in. As it progresses, it appears to draw towards a challenging and incisive conclusion. However, just before that happens, it loses its nerve, and flattens out into a harmless and blunt end.  It has the advantage of capturing people along the way, and avoids the pitfall of leaving people smarting from a sharp conclusion. However, it never quite reaches its point. What do you think?

Look out for the splotch and the broken arrow later today.

The flying V

This sermon shape starts from a point of current interest, such as a news story, and widens out to incorporate Biblical input and further reflection. As it progresses its scope widens ever further.  It has the advantage that it piques the interest straight away. However, its disadvantage is that it never returns to a focussed point. What do you think?

The shape of things to come

We’ve already had a fish , a heffalump and a magpie in the pulpit – now it is the turn of the camel. The phrase “a camel is a horse designed by committee” has been variously attributed to Alec Issignois and Lester Hunt in a Vogue magazine in 1957. Whoever it was, though, I think they got it profoundly wrong.



The design of the camel – so perfectly suited to its environment, speaks of one gifted and driven individual, rather than a committee, surely? Its wide feet are perfect to prevent it sinking into the soft sand. Its shaggy coat keeps it warm on cold desert nights, its long eyelashes keep out the sandstorms, and its hump keeps it supplied with water. In short – it is the perfect shape for its purpose.

What shape would the ideal sermon be? Over a few posts I want to introduce some suggested ‘shapes’ for sermons and see how they play with you. I will insert a poll on the last one in the series.

Shape#1 : the tableau

In this shape of sermon a vast sweep of biblical material is set out before you. By the time you have looked at it in earnest, you will have heard something about the given subject from many eras and writers. A bit like Monet’s vast water lily paintings, it can be a little overwhelming. Stand too close, and you can only appreciate a little at a time. Stand too far away, and you can’t appreciate the workmanship. This may be a good shape for addressing Biblical illiteracy, but not so hot on keeping attention levels.

What do you think?


Richard Littledale

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