Ok…It is late and you need a sermon. You look at the text and you only see what you always see. What can you do? A simple tip provided by Charles Koller in the book How to Preach Without Notes might help.
The key is to look at the same text from many different angles. Koller says to approach the text from the reader’s standpoint. Here we find the more obvious points.
Then look at the text from the standpoint of each person or group involved in the text. Koller asks, “What does the passage reveal to each or about each? What does each one say, or do, or think, or purpose, or learn, or discover, or experience.”
Koller uses Acts 7 to illustration the approach. He writes, “From the standpoint of Stephen, he bore the marks of a good witness…From the standpoint of those who stoned Stephen: Different grievous sins are committed by those who have a form of Godliness…From the standpoint of Israel: Neglect of spiritual opportunities…leads to departure from God in 3 stages…From the standpoint of God: There are Obstacles which the grace of God will overcome to bring Salvation.”
As you can see, looking at the text from very different perspectives can open up the text to multiple sermons you may not have considered.
One of the most persistent models of preaching has been termed “Three points and a Poem.” What it means is that the preacher makes three points and then ends with a poem. Some preachers have termed the same sermon method as “Three points and a celebration.”
I have been listening to the sermons of a few preachers and have found that this format is still being used even by some well regarded preachers. Just like any art form, there are variants, but here is one description of the parts of such a sermon.
The main point here is that the preacher is attempting to help the people understand the text. That is the emphasis. Now as the preacher describes the text, often applications will spring forth in the minds of the congregation, that is fine and needed, but that is not the emphasis at this point
So let us assume that your text is Ephesians 6:12-18. You need a basic statement that will be answered by the points. In this case your question may be “How To Defeat the Powers.” The points might be, You gotta 1) Stand, 2)Put on your uniform, and 3)Pray. Your title might be something like, I’m About Business. For further help on sermon titles, you might purchase our ebook on the subject that providing a method of sermon title generation.
The preacher should attempt to make the points of the sermon progressively intense. So the second point is more emotionally intensive than the first and the third is more than the second.
Finally, each point of the sermon should have a few parts. First the preacher should show how the point is derived from the text. Answer the question of where this point is in the text. Second the preacher should illustrate the point with some sort of story or example. Third, the preacher should define the point clearly. Fourth, you should tell the people how to accomplish the point, or make it real in their lives. These four aspects can be mixed up in any order, but should be connected to every point.
If you can’t find such a summary story, then simply go on and celebrate the good news presented in the sermon. In our example, you might celebrate that you are about business. You have done all three things, and you are ready to battle the forces. You also might celebrate that God wages war for you when you enlist in God’s army.
In Conclusion, three points and a poem is still a very vibrant sermonic form that is used by many and can be a vehicle for faithful proclamation of the Good News. Some homiletics professors look down on the form, but it will probably outlast us all.
I make a habit of listening to Dr. Frederick D. Haynes III of Friendship West Baptist Church in Dallas Texas. Dr. Haynes incorporates stories into his preaching very effectively. These stories are gleaned from various sources.
These stories come from various locations. Some of Dr. Haynes’ stories are from his life. Sometimes he tells stories from books that he has read. Some of the stories are from history, especially African American history. I have heard him quote stories from Readers Digest. In addition, Haynes has told stories from television, songs, arts, and other sources. Basically, Dr. Haynes can tell a story from just about anywhere.
One of Dr. Haynes more innovative storytelling tactics is the personification of inanimate objects. In these narratives, Dr. Haynes speaks to the object and the object talks back. The discussion is always to illustrate the gospel in the sermon.
For example, I remember one sermon where Dr. Haynes describes a conversation between himself and a slice of pound cake. Here Haynes discussed with the pound cake the steps that the pound cake had to go through to become sweet and good for eating. These steps included the mixing, pounding, and the heating in the oven of the ingredients of the pound cake. This conversation provided an illustration of what God will do to us to turn us into what God wants us to be.
In a recent sermon, Dr. Haynes had a conversation with a pair of pants. He was going to iron the pair of pants and the pants didn’t want to experience the heat. The conversation demonstrated how Haynes would provide just enough heat to get rid of the wrinkles but not too much to destroy the pants. This was an illustration of God only allowing just enough heat on us to get rid of our imperfections.
These conversations are effective ways to help the people experience the good news. In a way it is the “rock’s crying out” and preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.
More than these conversations, but Dr. Haynes also tells stories about common occurrences. He sees gospel in even these stories. For example, Dr. Haynes can talk about how a cab driver got him to the airport on time for a flight. This illustrated God’s ability to navigate our life just as the cab driver was able to get around the traffic.
In all of these cases, the stories help the people experience the gospel. In stead of just hearing the gospel, we must experience it, and we do that by seeing it in real life.
Dr. Haynes goes through great pains to make the points in his sermons practical. This is one of the reasons why his sermons are so effective.
We as preachers can apply this to our own preaching by recognizing that people have not come to hear “theory.” If you want to preach theory, then you must make that theory real with a good story.
In the end, don’t tell people “God knows how to navigate your future.” Tell a story about how a human knows how to navigate to the airport. Then people can experience the Gospel.
The next pattern in Ronald Allen’s book entitled Preaching Patterns is the Moving from First Naivete’ through Critical Reflection to Second Naivete’. The idea comes from the hermeneutical theorist Paul Ricoeur. Here the sermon takes three steps.
The first move in the sermon is to look at the text, doctrine, or topic under consideration in what is called a “pre-critical” way. By that we mean we simply accept the thing under consideration without question. We assume that what is presented in the doctrine or biblical text is God’s ideal without any question. You simply look at the text on its own terms and seek to understand it on its own terms.
The next step is critical reflection. Here we look for difficult places in the text. We look to see if we have any questions of the text or doctrine or practice. Does the text’s view of the world look like our view of the world? Does the text’s idea of God seem to be true to our understanding of God?
The preacher looks at the text and directly shows how the text’s world view and our common world view agrees in places and disagrees in places. It is during this phase that we seek to look at how the text points to a hermeneutic for interpreting the world.
One might think that normally you should stop there, but let us not forget that there are examples of questioning God in the text. Often these questions push us to a deeper understanding of truth. Look at how Job questioned God and came to a fuller understanding of God, if not God’s reason for allowing these things to happen to him. Look at how Habbakkuk questioned God and as a result we received the gem in the old testament namely “the just shall live by faith.” (Habbakkuk 2:4). The problem is not in the questioning, but in not being willing to listen to God when God gives us the answer.
Finally we reach the second naivete. Here we go back to the text no longer distracted by our questions that we have dealt with in the second phase. Now we can use the text to name God in today’s world just as God was named in the text’s world.
I think that the method is valuable in that it totally sets out the Biblical world. Then it totally sets out our world. We get to understand how the two interact. Often we as preachers don’t deal with the obvious questions that people would have when dealing with a text. This method would force us to not only deal with them, but give them voice.
Finally, we end up going back to the text, after having dealt with the major questions of our contemporary age. We end up still saying that “God exists and works in the world.” But this time we say it after having critically looked at our questions. I think the method can be powerful.
I have a side note on the method. While the original method might have been used to strip away those things in the text that our modern mindset might have problems with. For example miracles. I don’t think that is necessarily required by the method. In the hand of one who accepts miracles one will have to ultimately deal with some big questions like “why do they seemingly not happen today?” But the method doesn’t’ require us to give up these fundamental pillars of our own understanding of contemporary reality. The method just forces us to deal with the questions.
Whooping is one of the components of the Black Preaching Tradition that grabs the attention of many congregates and preachers. While there was a time when whooping was in decline, Martha Simmons, the foremost expert on Whooping, states in her book Preaching with Sacred Fire, that it has simply changed and adapted with the times. Simmons notes four phases of whooping. The first phase is roughly attached to African Traditional Religion and its emphasis on musicality. The second is the era of J. M. Gates who was an early whooper who influenced many by his preaching recordings. The third era is of C. L. Franklin who is probably the most imitated and popular whooper of them all. Finally, we have the Charles Adams era of whooping. In each era the art has adapted. For example under the Charles Adams era, according to Simmons, the whoop became much faster and less melodic.
Although there are differences between eras, Jon Michael Spencer notes in his book Sacred Symphony a commonality between the different eras as well as a commonality with music itself. Among these commonalities with music are melody, rhythm, call and response, harmony (including extensive use of the pentatonic scale as well as moves from sub dominant to dominant), counterpoint, form, and improvisation. Spencer provides an interesting look at the art form from the angle of music which might be of aid to those who would seek to learn how to practice the art form.
Discussion of the art form is very appropriate for Black preachers in that it could almost be a metaphor for the whole of Black religion. According to Simmons, it probably has roots in the musicality of the African mind. Over time, she notes, â€œBlacks were not converted to the white Christian God; they converted their God to English language.â€ Just as in Black American religion in general, this art form embodies an â€œAfrican-nessâ€ that has simply been transferred for use in Christianity. Finally, the art form evolved just as Wimbush notes that the Black approach to the Bible has evolved over the years.
I think that this art form is important for a few reasons. First, it has an appeal to many Black people. Any art form that allows access to the people should at least be critically examined before being set aside. Another important role that the art form plays is its attack on conventional preaching methodologies. It refuses to be constrained by the â€œintellectual-onlyâ€ approaches to preaching. Charles Adams reminds us that one can even be a â€œHarvard Whooperâ€ and thus be very intellectual, but that does not preclude the need to address the emotive dimensions of humanity. Finally, whooping is a channel to our African past. This alone makes it worthy of a second look. When a preacher whoops, she or he is appealing to an explicitly African component of our being. In other words the preacher is keying in to our African past.
One question of importance to any Black preacher is: Must one whoop? I think that the answer is no, one must not whoop to be an effective preacher in the Black tradition, but I would hasten to add that one must not be an â€œanti-whoopâ€ preacher either. By that I mean that one must not be against this important component of the tradition. There is in some circles an anti-whooping climate that seems to be based in the belief that it is â€œa circusâ€ or â€œunnecessary,â€ or it is â€œanti-intellectual.â€
While it is true that this critique of whooping is sometimes valid. Martha Simmons describes this as a â€œdark sideâ€ of whooping where preachers simply use it to make up for sloth in preparation. However, I think that what many anti-whooping brothers and sisters donâ€™t realize is that all Black preaching is subject to these problems in the wrong hands. One will attack whooping but hold on to cadence. One might attack whooping and use other forms of rhythm. One will attack whooping and even hold on to some forms of musicality. In short, if whooping is unnecessary then so is the â€œcelebrationâ€ at the end of a sermon. If whooping is unnecessary then so is raising ones voice at the â€œGoodness of Jesus.â€ I think that whooping is a gift to the church that we should not apologize for or give up, but we should attempt to further refine that part of our tradition.