Preachers: you don’t want to walk people through a sermon outline.
You want to take them on a sermon adventure.
Crafting such an adventure requires tension, uncertainty, and intimacy. It also requires avoiding a couple of very common sermon killers. Let’s make sure we don’t commit sermon suicide, shall we?
Sermon Killer Number One
If you want to help people tune out – or if they remained tuned in, it is only in the most mechanical sort of way – make sure you litter your sermon with “First” and then seven minutes later, “Now, Second” and then seven minutes after that “Third” before the denouement of “And in conclusion.” When the sermon takes that form, the proclamation becomes merely one more item on the congregants’ check off list … almost like worship attendance itself. This is particularly the case when, as was my pattern in the early 2000s, the preacher invites the church to fill in the blanks on the prepared sermon outline. Such a presentation is useful if your goal is information; it is, I believe, counterproductive if your aim is transformation.
Information sharing depends on structure, predictability, and linear thinking. In those cases, outline away.
Soul transformation, however, depends on drama, uncertainty, and resolution. In other words, it needs an adventure.
Sermon Killer Number Two
Many of us learned the following rubric in middle school composition class:
Tell them what you’re going to tell them.
Tell them what you told them.
What we learned as an adolescent often got reinforced in our first job that involved any kind of public or persuasive presentation. Dig into logic, remove any possibility of surprise, and you will make the sale / impress the boss / snag the client. Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Tell them. Tell them what you told them.
It worked in middle school. It might work in sales. It will kill your sermons.
If you must begin with an indication of where you are headed, borrow from my friend Andrew Forrest of Munger Place UMC in Dallas:
Tell them you’re going to tell them something.
Tell them that if they get this thing you’re going to tell them, it might well alter the course of their lives.
Tell them that if they don’t get it, they might die.
Then, when they can’t stand the wait anymore, tell them.
That sort of opening will ensure that the people in your church do not sleep in their seats; they are perched firmly on the edge of them.
In crafting a sermon adventure, how you begin is often a make-or-break moment, especially if you are still building trust with the congregation. Here are five possible sermon openers for those of us committed to the Great Adventure.
Wait … to get THOSE FIVE, you’ll need to read the rest of the book.
The above is an excerpt from Simplify The Message; Multiply The Impact released by Abingdon Press and available wherever books are sold online. A whole bunch of folks may have some extra free time for reading over the next few weeks …