At the end of one of my sermons, someone told me that the sermon eliminated the distance between the Bible world and today’s world. When this happens, you have done your job in a very real way. To do this, the preacher must help the people to understand and experience the Bible world. And to push it a little further, the people must understand and experience the implications of the Bible world in today’s world.
If the people are to know and experience the Bible world in today’s world, then they must first of all know the Bible world. It is our job as preachers to give people enough knowledge of the Bible world so that they can understand it. This is more difficult job today than in the past. In the past, we could assume that people knew the great stories of the Bible. They knew who Moses was. They knew who Adam Was. They knew about the great fish that ate Jonah. They knew about the Valley of Dry Bones. They knew about John the Baptist. In short, they knew a lot of these stories that provided a backdrop for our preaching.
The sermon is not a Biblical lecture designed merely to inform the hearer of some interesting facts. It is not merely a place where you can learn different stories from the Bible. Certainly it includes that, but no it is more than that. The sermon is a vehicle for an encounter with the Most High God. This encounter does “inform,” but it also provides hope, healing, direction, salvation, etc. Because of this, preachers should embed in the sermon an expectation of a response from the congregation.
In the last week or so, I have had a couple of conversations regarding the Black Preaching Tradition and using it to improve sermonic construction, delivery, and reception. One Black Preacher, when he found out that I was the primary contributor to SoulPreaching.Com, told me that he was seeking to implement elements of the tradition. He then began to talk about some of the media preachers. This preacher even called one of these media preachers a genius in Black Preaching. I asked him what was so appealing about the preacher. He then talked mostly about stylistic concerns.
My preacher friend fell into the trap of thinking that the Black Preaching Tradition is only about style. He wanted to “preach black” and thus he attempted to incorporate the style of the popular preacher. Certainly there is nothing wrong with learning from others, but we must not fall into the trap of thinking that this is all there is to the tradition. Certainly there are stylistic concerns. But there is also the tendency of the Black Preacher to address certain themes. The tendency to look from the angle of the underdog and those who live “with their back against the wall.” There is a tendency, in Black Preaching, to see the practical rather than a theoretical angle. There is a tendency, in sermons according to the tradition, to see God on the side of humanity in real ways. These concerns, and many other important ones, were lost on this preacher as he was attempting to just emulate the style, a style that can be used to preach anything, including things antithetical to the Gospel as well as what God has traditionally used the African American Preacher to preach.
In the seminar that I just presented, we talked about the Black Preaching Tradition in terms of Style, Sermonic Structure, Bible Interpretive Approach, and Common Folk Theology. These dimensions are all aspects of the tradition. To diminish or ignore one is to not address the full counsel. Someone may shout. Someone may whoop, but that don’t make them stand in the line of the great tradition that gave us birth. Let’s be true to the whole tradition and not abuse it for a “cheap shout.”
Last night while listening to sermons on youtube and other places, I found a preacher who was “whooping.” As we know, the whoop is one type of sermonic close used by some preachers in the African American preaching tradition. The preacher was summarizing and celebrating the truth of the message. The call and the response, which is an important component of the African American Preaching tradition was in full effect. Then the sermon almost came to a standstill and never fully recovered. The preacher broke the call and response by encroaching on the “response” time by changing the length of the phrases. Once the preacher has come to the close and has established a set number of syllables in his or her phrases, the preacher should not break this with a particularly long, or particularly short phrase.
The Call and Response requires that there is give and take in the close of the sermon. If the people are to celebrate the message, they need to experience it. And to experience it, we must foster it with the call and response.
However, this preacher was in a form where he would preach 5-8 syllable phrases and then allow the people to respond. Then 5-8 more syllables and allow the people to respond. But then he attempted something close to 16 syllables. And the moment dissapated. The number of syllables is immaterial. The important point is that once the number of syllables are established in the close that you do not deviate drastically from that number.
Two things went wrong here. First the preacher attempted to introduce something that should have been introduced in the body of the sermon. The whooping celebrative close requires that there should not be an introduction of new material. We are simply celebrating the truth that was revealed in the sermon.
Next, the preacher did not keep the phrases of generally the same length. Let us assume that you are at the very end of a sermon and you are using phrases of 3-4 syllables like this:
Preacher: And God Said,
P: Let there be Light,
P: is in darkness
P: and needs light
P: is there anybody in here
Now let us say that you want to add a longer sentence you can do a few things. One thing you can do is simply split up the sentence.
And somebody might know of a problem they are fighting with.”
P: somebody knows
P: of a problem
P: that they are fighting
Sometimes repetition is used to tie these short phrases together like:
P: Somebody knows
P: you got a problem
P: unsolved problem
Now if your phrase is too short, you might add in some fillers. I have heard preachers use words like “yeah” or “Hear me?”
In short, once the call and response has been set up in the close of the sermon, then we do not break that give and take by adding phrases that are either too long or too short
Perhaps one of the most common errors in sermonic structure is to have too many competing points. Sometimes preachers exhibit this error when they go on tangents or on asides that are only marginally related to the main point.
In any case, a sermon should have one major point or theme. Grady Davis calls it an idea that grows, Haddon Robinson calls it the big idea, Thomas Long calls it a focus statement, Paul Scott Wilson calls it the Major Concern of the text, Bryan Chapell calls it the Fallen Condition Focus, Brad Braxton calls it the Gospel Claim, and Henry Mitchell calls it the Controlling Idea.
Whatever you call it, your sermon needs a driving idea that is behind it that helps you determine what to add in and what to leave out. Too many sermons have no one major idea. Sometimes the “three points and a poem” turn into three sermons and a whoop with little reference to any of the other points.
To fix this problem in your sermon, ask simply what one thing are you trying to teach in the sermon? All of the “points” or “moves” should support that one point. If it does not then drop it.