3D Sermon Matrix

by Lim Soon Hock, Empowering Churches


I’m sure you’ve discovered for yourself that sermons come in different forms. To help you recognise the different types of sermons I’ve put together a three-dimensional sermon matrix. When you view a sermon through the matrix you will be able to determine its type.


The first dimension looks at whether a sermon is (1) topical, (2) textual or (3) narrative. A topical sermon is centred around a subject matter such as Integrity, The End Times, or a Bible character like Abraham. The topic then determines the Bible texts to be used. They may be taken from any part of Scripture as long as they are relevant to the subject. On the other hand, a textual sermon starts with the Bible text. The text may be a verse, a passage or even a whole book, which then determines the contents of the sermon.

The narrative sermon is not so easily defined as there are varied views about what it is. One important view is that the narrative sermon is not just a sermon based on a Bible story. For that matter, it may not even have any stories in it. Rather, what the narrative sermon employs are the elements found in stories; such as tension, resolution, and plot, which shape the sermon.

You may have noticed that I’ve not included “expository” in the list. I believe all sermons should be expository. By “expository” I mean the message must be derived from and be faithful to the Bible text. In other words, a topical sermon must be no less faithful to the Bible texts that it is based on as much as a textual sermon. A topical or narrative sermon is to be just as expository as a textual sermon.


The second dimension is about whether a sermon is (1) deductive, or (2) inductive. In plain terms, a deductive sermon begins with a thesis or a proposition. The rest of the sermon is an elaboration of the thesis or a presentation of the points that support the proposition. The inductive sermon is the exact opposite. The preacher takes the listener with him (or her) along the journey of detection until both arrive at the conclusion or message together. Simply put, the deductive sermon is declarative while the inductive sermon is discovery.


The third dimension concerns how the speaker perceives his role in the pulpit. Does he see himself as a (1) teacher, (2) preacher, (3) evangelist, or (4) counsellor? A speaker can assume any one of the four role-types depending on his gifting and his philosophy of preaching, which might be modified depending on the crowd he is addressing and the purpose of the sermon.

What I’m going to say next is certainly an oversimplification, but it will give you an idea of how a speaker might present his sermon if he were inclined to be one of the above types. A teacher would spend more time explaining the Bible text so that his listeners understand the truth of the Scripture he is addressing. A preacher would be more focussed on bringing home the sermon’s message and moving the people to act on it. An evangelist’s prime objective is get the Gospel message to the unbelievers in the crowd. While a counsellor is concerned about giving good biblical and Christian counsel through his sermon to help and encourage his listeners.

viewing through the 3D sermon matrix

A sermon then, can be a combination of any of the elements from the three dimensions. Some elements come together much more naturally. For example, teachers tend to be more textual and deductive. A narrative sermon by definition would be inductive. On the other hand, a topical or evangelistic sermon may be approached deductively or inductively.

I appreciate that many sermons may not be so easily classified as one type or another. Nonetheless, analysing sermon types using this 3D sermon matrix is helpful to understand a preacher’s approach to his sermon presentation. And if you are a preacher, the matrix will help you understand your default mode of sermon presentation. Maybe, now that you’ve learnt something from the 3D sermon matrix it will help you venture to try out other types of sermon presentations.

Preaching and Teaching are Not the Same Thing

Preach the WordI believe that the failure to make a distinction between preaching and teaching is one of the key reasons for poor sermons. Sermons that are more teaching in content and style of presentation but attempt to pass off as preaching is a serious cause of disconnect between the preacher and the people in the congregation. The what and the why of preaching and teaching are different, and hence, when  a speaker employs them depends on whether he is preaching or teaching.

To understand the difference between the two we must first look at their respective purpose. The purpose of teaching is to help people understand the Bible and it’s truths; to help the listeners know about God and what He has said. Broadly speaking, teaching addresses the mind more than the heart. This does not mean that the teacher does not challenge his students to apply the Word into their lives. He does, and he must, as teaching of the Bible has to lead to life-change.

On the other hand, the purpose of preaching is to help people hear what the Word of God is saying to them now. It targets the heart; to inspire, challenge and cause the listeners to apply God’s Word in their lives—leading to life-change.

The sermon at a worship service is where preaching ought to take place. However, in many churches (across all denominations, but especially among conservative evangelical churches) teaching makes up the bulk of the sermon. Explanation is given by the preacher about how he had arrived at his interpretation. He may go into the original language, provide the historical context of the Bible text, take the listeners on a tour of the geography, give the different possible interpretations as he quotes this and that scholar, and refers to other Bible references to underscore his interpretation, but he never gets to the address the question, So what?

What? is what teaching focuses on. So what? is what preaching should focus on. It is the message of the passage; the big point of the sermon. It cannot be left to the last five minutes of the sermon; the preacher would have lost his listeners to the message because he had lost them with his elaborate explanation of the text. The message may be hinted at early in the sermon;  certainly it must be developed as the sermon is preached, with plenty of time for amplification and application after the thrust has been stated. For a sermon to have been effective, the listeners must go away knowing clearly what the message was about and be impacted by it.

Is teaching not important in a sermon? It certainly is—very important, because the message is based on the Bible. In other words, teaching must be the basis of the preaching; teaching must inform the preaching. However, in a sermon the teaching content cannot take a disproportionate amount of time. The preacher does not do his exegesis at the pulpit; he does that in his study. At the pulpit he preaches the message that he has distilled from his study, having sought the Lord in prayer, and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

The pulpit at the weekly worship service is not the place to do teaching (I should qualify that with the word “elaborate”). Bible classes and special seminars are the places where more in-depth Bible teaching happens. And that, we must have in our churches. Christians must be know the Word of God; they must be taught the Bible. But not through the sermon at the weekly worship service (don’t take this sentence out of context!). The purpose of preaching is to bring a message from the Lord based on the Word of God to the listeners that they need to hear now.