Have you ever really analyzed your illustrations? I suspect most preachers don’t. I did it one time and found that the vast majority of my illustrations were largely about men. They were mostly american stories. The ethnicity of the people were mostly either African American or not stated. They were largely about middle class people and their struggles…etc
Now when you look at who I preach to, does it correlate? Well some pieces do and some pieces do not. Now don’t get me wrong, a good story will transcend ethnicity, gender, age, and these other things and cause us to think about our humanity in relationship to the divine.
The other day I was listening to a preacher close a sermon about pain. The preacher preached about the very real struggle with pain and suffering that we all have to go encounter in this life. In typical African American style, the preacher closed the sermon with a “celebration.” Here the preacher resolved the pain by pointing to being “hooked-up.”
The preacher then looked through the congregation and talked about someone who lost a child, but now had another one. Someone lost a job, but now that one had a better job. There was someone who got diagnosed with a disease, but there was a misdiagnoses. And then the close came with “weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”
In the African American Preaching Tradition the ability to “tell the story” is highly prized. It is also helpful when preaching to any ethnic group. There is something about stories that captures the imagination of the hearer in ways that no other method can. Stories grab the people and place them in the Bible story as they recognize parts of the story playing out in their own lives. Stories are powerful. However, how do we make the points of our sermon while keeping the integrity of the Bible story that we are preaching?
I was critiquing a sermon for a client the other day who demonstrated a very common and real problem in his sermon construction. The preacher told me that he just couldn’t get his mind around how to tighten the sermon up. He had worked on the sermon for a while and was not moving it forward to completion.
One of the first things I recognized while reading his sermon is that the introduction was far removed from the sermon itself. The introduction spoke about four characteristics of X (topic hidden to protect the client’s unpreached sermon). This seemed to be a natural outline to follow. However, then the sermon veered into parts that had limited relevance to the topic. Then the preacher brought in the cross before coming back to another characteristic of the topic X that he had not even spoken of before. Certainly inductive sermons are ordered differently than deductive sermons, but this sermon felt like a deductive sermon.
So this sermon introduced a number of characteristics in the introduction. Then it started to veer into unrelated topics. We have spoken at length about that problem and will not address it here, but remember to ruthlessly cut out irrelevant points. After that he had another major point related to the points introduced in the subject. No wonder it was hard to bring that sermon together.
I suggested that the preacher cut out the irrelevant points and use his own sermon outline that his introduction implied. This gives an important thought. If you are having problems with your sermon, ask yourself, what what is God trying to say through me in this sermon? Your main points will fall out of that. Then follow that outline.
I wanted to talk a little bit more about a thought described earlier. One of the biggest ways we preach more than one sermon is to attempt to bring a great point into our sermon that is not related to our main point. There are a few fundamental questions that you must ask of your sermon. You must ask if your main point is true, important, and needed by your particular congregation. If that is the case, then your point should help you decide what parts of the scripture to illuminate and which parts you must set aside for another occasion.
I was speaking to a preacher who had two or three powerful points derived from the text that he was trying to shoehorn into his sermon. But every attempt to put these points into the sermon took away from the larger point of the sermon. In those cases, we either must change our sermon’s point to this new emerging point, or set aside these true, valid, and even powerful points.
My point is that all of our points must be true, but truth is not enough. It must be both relevant and related to the point of your sermon. If you give three unrelated points to your people, some may remember one, most will remember none as they try to piece these “multiple sermons” into a whole when there is no whole.
So preachers, this means that some of your good material will have to wait until later. It mans that some of your shouting material won’t fit. It means that preaching one solid sermon elucidating one solid point that the people can take with them in their daily lives and that will foster change and transformation to ultimately make us better citizens of the in-breaking Kingdom of God takes precedence over other things.
In short, find your point. Make sure everything illuminates that point. And then preach that point. Use that great piece of exegesis when it is relevant to your main sermonic point.