What we feel and how we feel is far more important than what we think and how we think. Feeling is the stuff of which our consciousness is made, the atmosphere in which all our thinking and all our conduct is bathed. All the motives which govern and drive our lives are emotional. Love and hate, anger and fear, curiosity and joy are the springs of all that is most noble and most detestable in the history of men and nations.
The opening sentence of a sermon is an opportunity. A good introduction arrests me. It handcuffs me and drags me before the sermon, where I stand and hear a Word that makes me both tremble and rejoice. The best sermon introductions also engage the listener immediately. It’s a rare sermon, however, that suffers because of a good introduction.
Mysteries beg for answers. People’s natural curiosity will entice them to stay tuned until the puzzle is solved. Any sentence that points out incongruity, contradiction, paradox, or irony will do.
Talk about what people care about. Begin writing an introduction by asking, “Will my listeners care about this?” (Not, “Why should they care about this?”)
Stepping into the pulpit calmly and scanning the congregation to the count of five can have a remarkable effect on preacher and congregation alike. It is as if you are saying, “I’m about to preach the Word of God. I want all of you settled. I’m not going to begin, in fact, until I have your complete attention.”
No sermon is ready for preaching, not ready for writing out, until we can express its theme in a short, pregnant sentence as clear as crystal. The getting of that sentence is the hardest, most exacting, and most fruitful labor of study.
We tend to use generalities for compelling reasons. Specifics often take research and extra thought, precious commodities to a pastor. Generalities are safe. We can’t help but use generalities when we can’t remember details of a story or when we want anonymity for someone. Still, the more specific their language, the better speakers communicate.
I used to balk at spending a large amount of time on a story, because I wanted to get to the point. Now I realize the story gets the point across better than my declarative statements.
Omit needless words. Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell. Limits—that is, form—challenge the mind, forcing creativity.
Needless words weaken our offense. Listening to some speakers, you have to sift hundreds of gallons of water to get one speck of gold.
If the sermon is so complicated that it needs a summary, its problems run deeper than the conclusion. The last sentence of a sermon already has authority; when the last sentence is Scripture, this is even more true.
No matter what our tone or approach, we are wise to craft the conclusion carefully. In fact, given the crisis and opportunity that the conclusion presents—remember, it will likely be people’s lasting memory of the message—it’s probably a good practice to write out the conclusion, regardless of how much of the rest of the sermon is written.
It is you who preaches Christ. And you will preach Christ a little differently than any other preacher. Not to do so is to deny your God-given uniqueness.
Aim for clarity first. Beauty and eloquence should be added to make things even more clear, not more impressive.
I’ll have not praise nor time for those who suppose that writing comes by some divine gift, some madness, some overflow of feeling. I’m especially grim on Christians who enter the field blithely unprepared and literarily innocent of any hard work—as though the substance of their message forgives the failure of its form.
Mark Galli (Preaching That Connects: Using Techniques of Journalists to Add Impact)