I still remember my first one point sermon. It was in the fall of 2006, during a series called Freedom, in a message on forgiveness involving Jacob, Esau, and Joseph. It landed here:
Forgiveness is learned, so teach it well.
I tell you of that sermon from days gone by because a family was sitting
in the Good Shepherd congregation that day—a family full of its
own versions of melodrama and intrigue—who not long thereafter
moved quite literally across the country. As a pastor, I hate it when
that happens! We said our bon voyages and I assumed, sadly, that I’d
never see the family again.
Fast forward to 2010. Unsolicited and unexpected, I received an
email from the father of that family. He shared with me how their
lives had evolved in their new home, and he also spoke of their efforts
to find a church where they felt the same kind of connection they
had felt at Good Shepherd. His concluding thought was this: And
most nights, when we sit around the dinner table, we repeat that thing
you told us once: “Forgiveness is learned, so teach it well.’”
Now: he had no idea that that particular sermon was my first
ever “one pointer.” He did not know it represented both a turning
point and a departure. All he knew is that the phrasing stuck. And
it was something he and those he loved could repeat to each other
over . . . and over . . . and over. And I pray that they knew the wording
so deeply because they were living its truths so intimately.
I can promise you this: in all my years of “point preaching” no
one ever sent me an email (or a letter or a telegram or even smoke signals) saying: “Talbot those four points were brilliant. I’ve been saying HONESTLY EXPECTANTLY TENACIOUSLY VICTORIOUSLY all week long!” Not once.
In 2004, no one grasped the sequential concepts of Re-
Define Success, Relinquish Control, and Receive Real Gain from a series called “When Life Doesn’t Make Sense” (I now realize it was the sermon that didn’t make sense!) in such a way that they repeated them back to me or to anyone else.
That sort of response happens only with a one point sermon.
Now, instead of walking people through a sermon outline, I lead
them on a sermon adventure.
The reason forgiveness is learned, so teach it well resonated years
later with a family living across the country has everything to do with
how communication works in twenty-first-century America.
My point-by-point-by-point sermons filled peoples’ minds and
hearts with clutter.
A one point message, with a theologically accurate yet rhetorically
precise bottom line, gives them clarity.
And in the digital age, clarity always triumphs over clutter.
Think of the difference between Yahoo’s home page and Google’s.
Yahoo’s is full of information, links, and images. It is busy. Cluttered.
Google’s is beautiful in its simplicity. It is there to do one thing, not
many things, and to do that one thing—SEARCH!—better than anyone
else. Care to consider the relative value of the two companies?
Or even the difference between the menu at McDonald’s and
that at Chick-Fil-A. McDonald’s offers burgers, fish, chicken, salads,
desserts—a little of something for everyone. Chick-Fil-A does one
thing—CHICKEN!—and does it brilliantly. It is clarity triumphing
Or consider the hallways at a typical United Methodist Church.
Full of notices, ministry opportunities, initiatives. Anyone with
an idea or a passion gets to post there. Then contrast that with the
breezeways at your local megachurch: the subtle beauty of an art gallery, spotless walls with clean lines, and abundant signage communicating the mission of the church repeatedly and compellingly. Clarity triumphing over clutter.
That’s why I long in my preaching to simplify the message and
multiply the impact. I pray that my messages—and, by extension
yours since you are reading this —will embody Gospel clarity
over cultural clutter. And that approach begins and ends not with
points but with a point. The point of a one point sermon. Perhaps
the reason that the people in the church you serve don’t remember
what you preach is that you give them too much clutter and too little
The preceding post has been a preview excerpt from Simplify The Message; Multiply The Impact, my book that Abingdon Press will release on February 4, 2020. You can buy advance copies here.