In preparation for speaking at one of our Northwest University chapel services in a few weeks, I’ve been reflecting a bit upon my message. Among other things it has reminded me of one of my personal rules for sermon construction. In light of this, a short reflection:
A sermon needs to be about one thing.
I’m not the only one that has said this, and there will be many who say it after me. But its lack of creative splash doesn’t make it any less true.
When I say a sermon must be about one thing, I mean that it should be able to be summarized, very quickly and coherently, in one complete sentence. With one question. That it can be represented with a unitary image, principle, or call to action. Whatever it is that encapsulates the sermon, it needs to be singular.
This rule isn’t a biblical mandate and is not descended from Mt. Sinai, but I still think that it is an important one. By crafting a focused message, hearers will be able to recall and (hopefully) apply the words shared without having to sort through a complex and multi directional discussion with either too many or no unifying theme(s).
To say that a sermon is about one thing is not, of course, to say that there cannot be multiple points. It is simply to say that at the end of the message, all of your points, illustrations, asides, gestures, Scriptures, etc. are in service to the larger goal.
In topical sermons (common in youth ministry, for instance) keeping focus on that one theme should hopefully be clear. In exegetical preaching (i.e. directly from the message of the text), staying focused can be more difficult, because the passage under consideration might be about a few different things. In that case, I’d simply suggest choosing just one of those themes and sticking with that for the message. Remember that this is not supposed to be a lecture showcasing your scholarly and exhaustive erudition or all of our deep spiritual insights, but an exhortation to the people.
Keeping the sermon about one things means that we need to be careful not to let our interest in various ideas, narrative rabbit trails, humorous anecdotes, or powerful multimedia overtake the one point of the sermon. Sometimes I have really good ideas that I think of when preparing a sermon. Some of these are only tangentially connected to my main point and don’t do much to support it. If I am staying true to my idea of a sermon, a lot if not all of these ideas will have to be jettisoned. Anything preached that doesn’t support the main theme and certainly anything that distracts from it needs to go.
Some worthwhile thoughts as I continue to prepare my sermon. Because, in the end, if this “preaching thing” is the Word of God to God’s people, we ought to take care in how we go about it.