I’m fairly new to this whole preaching thing. Don’t get me wrong, I have preached and taught for several years–I served with Campus Crusade and as a pastoral intern at our last church. But I have not preached on a regular basis week-in and week-out for several years in a row. Even now in my new role at Grace Chapel, I’m not our primary Sunday preacher. This week, I will have preached four times. That’s nothing. I’ve heard it takes about preaching about 100 times to really feel like you are in a groove. Yikes.
Since I’m preaching this Sunday, I spent time today thinking through how to organize my sermon. Now, when it comes to sermon organization, there’s no shortage of opinion. Whether you are a preacher who preachers or the faithful member who listens each week, you probably have a preference of how a message should be structured. On second thought, I should not say “everyone” has an opinion. After my first sermon, a man in our church, named Joe, said that his wife particularly enjoyed my message. He said, “She was so happy that you were well organized! She told me, ‘It was great! He had three points!’ She said she followed along easily. I said to her, ‘Three points? I didn’t notice no three points.’ But, you know, she’s an English teacher, and I coach wrestling.” Obviously, Joe does not have an opinion about sermon structure!
Yet, whether people realize it or not, the way a pastor structures his message is of utmost importance. Good structure may not always help a sermon (content may be bad, may lack passion, etc.), but it will never hurt a sermon. My structured helped Joe, even though he didn’t notice.
I’m still trying to find my own particularly way of structuring messages, and while no message should be structured the exact same way, I’m learning how to keep my messages simple, and, yes, tethered together by points. I realize that some passages, particularly narratives, may not lend themselves to this approach, but in general, I’m more convinced of “point preaching” as I learn to preach and as I talk to the people who actually listen to the sermons. Call it three–or two or four or twelve–points and a cloud of dust, if you want. It may sound boring and cliche, but when a sermon is road-mapped with points, people can track easily. And when people track easily, they are much more likely to be helped by what the preacher says.
WIth that in mind, here’s two personal reasons, as a preacher, why I lean toward using points and two things to keep in mind when preaching with points (you see what I did there?):
- Why #1: Preaching with points helps me make sure I know what I’m going to say and then forces me to say it. Preaching with points focuses my attention more narrowly. I am less likely to go on tangents and just blabber if I have points that I want to make sure to communicate.
- Why #2: Preaching with points can help draw out the heart in a passage. I am more likely to sound like a running commentary if I just “move through” the text verse-by-verse.
- Keep in mind #1: Let the text determine your points’ substance and the number of your points. The Scripture text drives the way a sermon is structured. Do not force the text into your structure, or else you have undermined the whole point of faithfully preaching the word of God.
- Keep in mind #2: If you use points, make sure to make them clear to your hearers. One of the reasons (not the main one!) people forget what they hear in sermons is due to the fact that they do not participate in any other activity like it in our culture. Don’t burden your audience. Be helpful by clearly telling and reminding them what you want them to hear.
This isn’t the only way to do it. You can certainly do all of these with narrative preaching–I just find it harder for myself (go ahead and call me a Westerner, I can take it).
What’s most helpful for you when it comes to structure as you preach or as you listen to sermons?