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Catechism Preaching Ė How I prepare Catechism sermons 

For some years now the Catechism sermons Iíve prepared for the pulpit in Kelmscott have been uploaded to this website.  Some time ago I received a letter from an overseas preacher lamenting that he had not been taught at Seminary how to preach Catechism sermons (nor was he familiar with it from youth).  Because of a lack of doctrinal awareness in his church, he had come to see the need for Catechism preaching.  He wrote:

Meanwhile, some day I found your Church Home Page through Internet and there I saw your catechism sermon practiced Church of Kelmscott.  How great my pleasure is!
From that day on, I began to translate your sermons.  At same time I preached catechism sermon in our second worship.
I, though, consider that I do not simply copy and transcript the sermon which made by others but study and learn by others and through their sermons.  That is the why I am not ashamed of translating your sermons because I didn't learn that in the seminary, as I already told you.  Now I have translated from LD 1 to LD 32 that you preached maybe 1997Ö.

But I and my some companions study hard to learn and to preach catechism sermon somehow.  So we made studying club of sermon so long, from then on meet together once a week.

Let me ask you one thing.  Please I want to you teach us how to catechism sermon, how to decide the topic of sermon, how to fix lower topics and points, how to find the text of Bible according to LD. etc. 

In reply to this request, I wrote the following paper.  As it may be that others have a similar struggle, I take the liberty to make this paper publicly available. 

Clarence Bouwman  

Dear John and friends, 

Itís some time ago that I received your request about how to prepare Catechism sermons.  Now that I am back to work, with travel commitments out of the way, I hasten to prepare an answer to your question. 

Allow me first to introduce myself.  By the grace of God I was born and raised in a God-fearing family.  My parents took me faithfully to church from as long back as I can remember, for both the morning service and the afternoon.  One service (generally the afternoon service) was characterized as ĎCatechism preachingí.  That is to say: the minister opened the word of God using the Heidelberg Catechism.  I mention this to put you in the picture of where I come from as I speak about Catechism preaching: I was raised with it, so that for me Catechism preaching is Ďsecond natureí.  Further, the pleasant result has been that I have been immersed in reformed doctrine from childhood.  For this I thank the Lord sincerely. 

Possibly it would be helpful, before I come to the Ďhowí of preparing Catechism sermons, to consider briefly what Catechism preaching is.  (I trust I donít have to explain the Ďwhyí of Catechism preaching.)  The Church Order of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia includes this article:

ďThe Consistory shall ensure that as a rule once every Sunday the doctrine of Godís Word as summarized in the Heidelberg Catechism is proclaimed, preferably in the afternoon service.Ē

Here we encounter a working definition of Catechism preaching that goes back to the time of the Great Reformation in the sixteenth century.  Catechism preaching is the ďproclamationĒ of ďthe doctrine of Godís WordĒ.  What the Lord has revealed about creation, incarnation, regeneration and so many other doctrines is laid systematically before the congregation using the Lordís Days of the Catechism as a guide. 

But how is it done?  There are various approaches one can take to preparing a Catechism sermon.  I personally use the following method. 

On Wednesday I teach three catechism classes to the youth of the congregation (Class 1: ages 12 & 13; Class 2: ages 14 & 15; Class 3: ages 16 and older).  I make a new lesson each time (ie, I do not reuse the lesson I used the previous time I taught that particular Lordís Day).  The material I taught three consecutive times on Wednesday grows in my mind through the process of teaching so that on Thursday I type up a complete Catechism sermon.  Friday I edit that sermon, and Sunday I preach it.  The text of the sermon is subsequently uploaded to our homepage, where you have been able to access it. 

You will notice: here is a didactic element for the children.  I cover a particular Lordís Day with them on Wednesday in teaching, and cover it again on Sunday in the preaching Ė where the same youth are in attendance, together with their parents (and others).  Admittedly, the sermon goes to greater depth than the Catechism classes did, but the outline and basic content are nevertheless the same.  My purpose in doing it this way is twofold.  It saves me studying up on two Lordís Days (and, as you will realize, time is always at a premium in the ministry).  More importantly, the young people hear the material a second time, this time with their parents, and so can follow the sermon better as well as talk at home with their parents (and their parents with them) about the catechism instruction of the week.  For the growth of the next generation (and so of the church) I find this a very positive element.  My experience is that youth and parents alike very much appreciate this linking of catechism teaching with catechism preaching. 

As I prepare myself for the Wednesday catechism teaching, I read a scholarly article or book (or two) on the topic (or aspect of the topic) covered in a given Lordís Day.  I combine this new material with the knowledge that I have learned on the topic over the years to form the outline of what I intend to teach.  In this preparation phase, my ears are open in three directions:

  1. What is going on the lives of the young people (alternatively, congregation)?
  2. What is going on the world in which we live?
  3. What does the Lord say in His word?

As I enter the catechism class on Wednesday, I see before me a group of young people living in a context and therefore asking themselves particular modern questions.  I strive to take them from where they are at (ie, the questions in their minds) to the Scriptures.  The question I draw out in a given lesson is determined by the content of the Lordís Day I want to teach.  I read the Lordís Day with them, then go directly to the Scriptures to those passages upon which the churchís confession in this Lordís Day is based.  I read these passages and explain them to the degree necessary to show that in these passages the Lord reveals this and this (as per the Lordís Day in question) about this particular doctrine.  As I move along in the material, I gradually shift the emphasis from the Bible passages (and learning what this particular doctrine is) to the practical implication of this doctrine in the lives of the young people.  In the process I welcome questions from the students.  Of course, in the process of it all I may also need to expose a heresy (possibly with reference to church history). 

By the time I have taught this material to three increasingly mature classes I have sufficient material in my mind (in logical order) to write up a sermon.  Yet when I sit down Thursday morning to type up the sermon I make a deliberate effort to have the congregation (and not the young people alone) in the eye of my mind.  I go through the same process, using the same material Iíve developed in the three catechism classes, namely: where is the congregation at (this becomes the introduction to the sermon), what does the Lord say to this congregation on this point (ie, on the topic of the Lordís Day), and what the implications might be in their circumstances. 

To help get the last two points across I formulate a theme for the sermon (itís the message of the Lordís Day in a nutshell Ė or at least of the aspect of the Lordís Day Iím dealing with).  I also supply a very brief outline (two points or three) to help the congregation see where Iím going and/or serve as a memory jog to help remember the flow of the sermon afterwards. 

Which aspect of a given Lordís Day do I draw out in the teaching/preaching?  That depends on a number of factors.  It may be that the material I read pushes my thoughts in a certain direction.  It may also be that thereís a particular need in the congregation which I can address using this particular Lordís Day.  In that case, I highlight that aspect of the Lordís Day that allows me to address the need.  Similarly, there may be an event in the world that necessitates a particular angle to the doctrine confessed in a given Lordís Day.  If one has oneís ear open to congregation and world, one will find an angle that speaks loudly to the congregation.  Once that angle becomes clear to me, I dig into the Scriptures, looking for what the Spirit says to the churches on that point.  That digging can involve exegesis of particular passages, or doing a Scriptural word-study on a critical word in a Lordís Day, etc. 

From the above I hope itís clear that catechism preaching is not preaching-on-a-certain-Lordís-Day-as-your-text.  Catechism preaching is preaching the Bible, be it that the focus is not one particular chapter (or paragraph or verse) but the focus is a doctrine as revealed in numerous passages.  So catechism preaching distinctly remains preaching, opening the Scriptures with an authoritative ďthus says the Lord.Ē 

I think the above just about summarizes the way in which I make my catechism sermons.  Others will do it differently.  In my own bond of churches, for example, I am the only minister who links the catechism teaching so directly with the catechism preaching.  That means that other ministers follow a catechism program (teaching the same material on a given Lordís Day year after year as students pass through a given class), and then do separate study in preparation for a catechism sermon for the Sunday.  It be so; different people work in different ways.  But the principle remains the same: research on a given (aspect of) a Lordís Day leads to a line of thought of direct relevance to where the congregation is at.  That doctrine involved with this line of thought must be drawn from Scripture with reference to texts (and possible exegesis), and then its implications laid plainly before the congregation. 

Dear brothers, I hope the above gives at least a beginning in answering your question.  I am no lecturer in catechism preaching, and so my answer to you has been practical as opposed to theoretical.  Nevertheless, I am more than willing to consider any further questions you may have on the topic, and try to help you.   

With Christian greetings
Clarence Bouwman