When I went to seminary, I was taught how to preach using the four page structure as outlined by Paul Scott Wilson in his book, The Four Pages of the Sermon: A Guide to Biblical Preaching. Although a total newbie in preaching, I remember being quite outspoken in preaching classes about problems and limitations I saw with the four pages. I imagine I frustrated my teachers who were incredibly patient and listened to all my criticisms.
After I became a pastor myself, I learned to appreciate the four page structure as it helped me immensely in figuring out how to create new sermons week in and week out. I ended up using this structure at least 50% of the time. But it wasn’t until I moved to Uganda that I really saw just how powerful and helpful this structure is.
For those who are unaware of the four page technique, I can summarize it in this way. The four page sermon has four main sections or movements. Page one looks at the trouble or conflict in the biblical text. Page two looks at a similar trouble that we have in our church or world today. Page three looks at God’s action and grace in the text. And page four looks at God’s action and grace at work in our lives and world today.
In my work with Resonate Global Mission in Uganda, I spend my time teaching and training pastors, most of whom have had no formal theological training and very little informal training. While these pastors have an incredible passion and love for God, and we can learn so much from their lives and faith and practice, unfortunately some of their sermons are difficult to listen to and can be biblically unsound.
I have spent a lot of time training various groups of pastors in Uganda using a curriculum called Timothy Leadership Training. A few years ago, TLTI (Timothy Leadership Training Institute) integrated the four pages into its manual on preaching. The Ugandan pastors I taught took great joy in learning this four page structure, and I’ve seen it dramatically change their understanding of the Bible and their preaching after only four days of training. And what’s most telling is that their church members testify of the changes and comment about how much the preaching of their pastors has improved.
Tom Engolu, an elder in PAG (Pentecostal Assemblies of God) who preaches said, "Four page preaching has helped me to hear clearly what God is speaking in the text and in the present day. The four page technique encourages you to read a whole passage and not only a verse. People in the church and even pastors who hear me preach now think I've been to theological school even though I have no formal theological training. Thank you TLT.”
Here are some of the reasons that the four pages are so powerful, especially for pastors who have not had much biblical or theological training:
- Many pastors in Uganda use a Bible passage only as a launching pad for their sermon which ends up being more like a speech of their opinions and stories. In contrast, when they learn and use the four pages, the technique itself keeps driving the pastors back to the biblical text, and helps them to get their sermon’s main points from the text itself.
- Many sermons in Uganda tend to focus on how we as people need to perform good works. When you are untrained, it’s much easier to say, “don’t drink alcohol and get drunk” but much more difficult to articulate theological principles about God’s grace. This focus on works-righteousness has led to a great degree of fear in churches. Christians often doubt their salvation. Many think they need to be absolutely perfect without any sin in order to be saved. In contrast, when preachers learn and use the four pages, their sermons become focused on God’s grace. It’s all about God and what he has done for us through Christ. Our good works are only a response to his grace.
- Many pastors in Uganda struggle to make scripture passages relevant to today. They often end up telling people to follow the example of biblical characters, but as students of hermeneutics know, sometimes we should follow the examples of biblical characters and sometimes we shouldn’t. They didn’t always make the right choices! In contrast, the four page technique helps these pastors create sermons that are very relevant and practical to the lives of their Christians today. Page 2, the trouble in the world, covers challenges that we as people go through or sins that we struggle with, and page four, God’s grace in the world, helps us to see what God is up to in our lives today and encourages us to respond in thanksgiving and obedience.
- Many pastors in Uganda find it difficult to know how to structure a sermon. Their sermons can end up being 1 to 2 hours in length as a rambling speech or as a list of 15 points. In contrast, this structure helps them to preach concisely, straight to the main points. Regularly, I see pastors who have learned this structure begin to preach sermons that are 50-70% shorter, simply because they are planning and structuring their sermons differently than before.
The only problem I’ve seen in Uganda with the four pages is that the pastors get so tremendously excited with the ease of finding their sermon points that they can rush to make a sermon after simply reading a passage, without taking the time to study it carefully first. But in the TLT preaching manual, the four pages are integrated into a whole set of helpful steps to study Bible passages carefully. As I heartily recommend the four page preaching technique, I also recommend TLT as a powerful tool to train pastors.
In conclusion, I repent of my somewhat bad attitude in my preaching classes and now believe that preaching sermons with the four page structure is dramatically helpful to new pastors who are yet to be theologically trained. And even for those of us with more experience, the four page structure keeps us focused on God’s actions and the good news of the Gospel.