State It-Aim It-Frame It-Nail It-Seal It
(SAFNS) Teaching Videos
by David Christensen

Preaching is disciple-making. Our purpose in preaching is to grow fully developed followers of Jesus Christ. We must not neglect the often forgotten word in the Great Commission given to us by Jesus when he called us to teach the people “to observe ALL that I commanded you” (Mt. 28:20). As Paul told the Ephesian elders, “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27). Expository preaching is the best way to achieve the purpose of disciple-making in corporate worship.
Every preacher follows a method. The SAFNS funnel is mine. It is not unique to me. Nothing we teach or write about is unique. We stand on the shoulders of others in our ministries. I have taught it at the Bible college level, in the seminary classroom and workshops both here and abroad. I have practiced and honed this method beginning with my first sermon 45 years ago. Here, in summary, is the SAFNS method and an eight part video series (attached below) teaching this method in greater depth.
The great temptation we face as preachers is to start our preparation by asking two pragmatic questions. 1) What does this verse mean to me? 2) How can I make it relevant to the audience? In other words, as busy pragmatists, we want to know what will preach. What can I get out of this verse that will make people want to come and hear what I have to say? We are putting the cart before the proverbial horse. The result is often the misuse and even abuse of Scripture in our quest for relevancy. The first question we must ask is not what does this verse mean to us but what did this verse mean to the original author and audience. Our goal is to state it accurately and clearly.
The Bible is full of ideas. There are big ideas and little ideas. Many preachers get caught up in all the little ideas and neglect the big ideas. How do we preach the big ideas in a passage? We ask all the basic questions. Who? What? When? Where? How? Why? The key is what we call “context.” Every passage has many little ideas. The little ideas are interrelated, and we weave them together to preach the big ideas.
Our first step is to weave together the little ideas in our target text. The second step is to weave together the ideas as they relate to the bigger picture of the verses before and after our target text and the overall purpose and plan for the book of the Bible. This is the biblical context. The third step is to weave together the ideas with the purpose and plan for the whole Bible. This is the theological context. We must be able to state the relationship of these ideas to one another clearly before we can move forward in our preparation to preach.
The main idea of the sermon should follow the main idea of the biblical passage. The text should drive the sermon otherwise we are in danger of using the text to support our ideas instead of submitting our ideas to the authority of the text. We must first discover the exegetical big idea before we can frame the homiletical big idea. Once we correctly identify the exegetical big idea (State It), then we can frame our homiletical big idea (Aim It). The exegetical big idea informs the homiletical big idea, but it is not identical to it. The preacher must transform the exegetical big idea into the homiletical big idea to get the sermon big idea.
The big idea for the sermon is shaped not only by the meaning of the passage but by the purpose of the sermon, and the purpose of the sermon is directed by the needs of the people in the congregation. Once again, we must ask questions. So what? What difference does it make? We must exegete our people with the same fervor we exegete the passage. We must understand our purpose for preaching this particular sermon to these particular people. What difference does it make to those who are listening? By answering that question, we go beyond the explanation of information to preaching with purpose. Every sermon should be a rifle shot aimed at a target. The target is the people who are present to hear the sermon.
How can I say it so people remember it? At this point in the process, we are ready to shape the material into a sermon like a sculptor shapes the clay into a figure. The material is the same, but the artistry is dependent on the skill of the artist to shape the raw material. The same is true for preaching. Different preachers can use the same raw material and yet one sermon is dull and the other exhilarating. The shape of the sermon is controlled by 1) the passage; 2) the big idea and 3) the purpose of preaching.
The preacher must learn to summarize all of the detail in key points. This ability to generalize is difficult. Listeners don’t want vague generalizations but rather significant generalizations. In this age of visual learning, we must use picture language for our points. We want to turn ears into eyes. The preacher must capture the listener’s attention by what he/she hears in a way that helps the listener remember the idea so he/she can take it home. We need to learn the technique of stating our points in ways that are relevant to the lives of people today. How can I say it so the point focuses on the listener? State the points applicationally and in the present tense. It is not just that the big idea for the sermon must be stated in contemporary terms, but all our points should be stated in the present tense as well.
Each point is a pointer! Main ideas point to the big idea. Sub ideas point to the main ideas. Keep the outline as simple, clear and memorable as possible. Here is a simple but time-tested model for framing the sermon. 1) Ask a question in the introduction. 2) Answer the question with your big idea. 3) Introduce a keyword that explains your answer (Three solutions, two lessons, etc.). 4) Use your keyword for each main point in the sermon tying it all together.
The preacher must stick it to real life. If all we do is generalize, then the sermon becomes vague and fuzzy. Good preaching climbs up and down the abstraction ladder between the abstract and the concrete. Some preachers remain abstract with no life “apps.” Others are all life “apps” but no big principles to guide life. Good preaching consistently moves back and forth between generals and particulars. Our preaching points are the generals. Illustrations and applications make the abstract truth concrete. They nail it to life.
The best illustrations are the ones that people relate to as part of their lives. We touch their lives in some way so they can nail the abstract principle to the situation they face in life. Imagination helps. Picture language is powerful. To be able to see in your mind what is not there in the physical world is a gift. When we tell a story as if we can see it, then our listeners can see it too. Artists see with their minds and show us what they see with their art. Preachers do the same.
Application without exegesis is like a bowl of plastic fruit. It looks pretty but doesn’t satisfy. Exegesis without application is like a mirage. It looks wonderful but isn’t real. How do we connect the application to the exegesis in a way that communicates a relevant message our listeners today? We start with what it meant to the original listeners. Then we develop a universal principle from that original meaning. A universal truth is something that is true in every age and every culture. These universals form the bridge – the connecting link – between what it meant and what it means.
The universal principle must be nailed down to a current application. Once we have a universal principle, we can look for contemporary life parallels (CLP) between the historical meaning and the current situation. Once we have identified the CLP for our text, we can nail the text to specific situations in life today. One of the key characteristics separating good sermons from poor sermons is the ability of the preacher to identify great CLPs that are true to both life and text. The application chain has six links. 1) Biblical situation; 2) Universal principle; 3) Cement it to the text; 4) CLP; 5) Flavor it with grace; 6) Drive it home.
Every sermon leads to the point of decision. We call it the conclusion. The conclusion is the climax of the message. All roads lead to the conclusion. It is the call to action. We seal the deal! Conclusions should be short, clear and simple. New information must be excluded because we are tying the message together like the wrapper on a gift. We are answering the question “So what?” A good conclusion emphasizes the big idea and completes the purpose. We hit the target we aimed to hit. If we failed to establish a good target, we would never know if we hit the bull’s eye.
The last step in our preparation is always the introduction. Until we know how we are sealing the deal, we cannot know how to introduce the message. A good introduction gets attention, and the best way to get attention is to awaken an awareness of need in the listener. People come to church with all kinds of needs, hurts, and desires. When we touch a need, we strike a chord in the heart. People will listen. Try to touch a need in the introduction and then use the Word of God like a spotlight to highlight the solution for that need in the passage being preached. An effective introduction makes the listener want to go with you into the message and follow you to the end.
Using the SAFNS funnel to guide our sermon preparation will help us make disciples by our preaching.