One interesting question came up a little while ago. “Elder Cox, how do you advocate ‘three points and a poem’ while at the same time you advocate ‘one point in a sermon.'”
How Do You End The Sermon When You Want To Have A Challenge?
Preachers who preach from a full manuscript have no choice but to answer yes to the question. However what about those of us who preach from an outline or from even fewer notes? Must we prepare a full manuscript? This is a good question. I think that the benefits of preparing a full manuscript whether you use it or not far outweigh the liabilities. I want to describe a few of the benefits.
When you prepare a manuscript, you have a tendency to spend more time thinking about the “words” that will be used in the sermon. When I preach from a sparse outline, I often spend less time thinking about the words I will use. I think about the concepts that I will attempt to convey. Now some would argue that this is the point. When we spend less time brooding on the words that will be used, we have a tendency to exhibit more passion in the sermon. However, rhetoric is important and I think that the preacher should spend some time thinking about what words are best to convey the concepts of the sermon.
Theoretically, if you are not preparing the manuscript, you can spend more time thinking about your theology and perhaps the theology in the sermon. However, what often happens is that certain areas of “conventional wisdom” can more easily seep into our sermon when we don’t truly think through the implications of our theology for our sermon. When you prepare a manuscript you are sitting there looking at your theology in the sermon and thus it requires you to more fully engage it. This is important for we don’t want to say anything about God or truth that is not true.
Instead of only focusing on certain aspects of the sermon, you must be exposed to the whole thing when you prepare a full manuscript. There are times I will simply write down something like “Going to Sunnydale Story” in my notes for preaching. Because I know the story so well, I can simply write that down and save time. However, when you do that, you spend less time thinking about how the story fits into your sermon. You spend less time thinking about what aspects of the story to emphasize and what parts to leave out. Solid preaching requires adequate thought about every portion of the sermon.
This is a biggie. When you want to know what you preached last year, do you go to a piece of paper with three lines scribbled on it, or a full manuscript? A full manuscript allows you to really look at your text choices. You can look at what stories are commonly used in your sermons. You can analyze your sermons in a much deeper way. Finally, one can easily take each sermon and turn them into a chapter for a future book.
Yes this is one of its liabilities, but it is really a great benefit. I have gone back and forth on this, but let us assume that you are preaching to 100 people for 30 minutes. That is 50 hours of all of your congregante’s time. Are you spending enough time on your preparation? Are those 50 hours being wasted in your church? Preparing a manuscript will help to push you towards answering this question in the negative. Preparing a manuscript takes time, but the benefits are too great to ignore.
When people ask me about preaching without notes, many assume that you must write out the whole sermon and then memorize the sermon. These preachers are looking for a method that will help them memorize such a large amount of material. However, preachers should recognize that many, if not most, preachers who preach without notes actually memorize something that looks like an outline rather than memorizing a large amount of material.
The key to keep in mind is that these preachers are largely memorizing “what” they will say rather than “how” they will say what they will say. By that I mean they have a number of concepts in mind that they have memorized. They then articulate those concepts in the sermon. The key is that the words of the sermon are not memorized ahead of time, only the concepts of the sermon.
Now the “outline” that is memorized can be in a number of forms. The first of these is your common “deductive” approach. Here you take the main sermon concept and break it down into pieces. Each piece is a part of your sermon. If those pieces are big, then you must break those down into pieces. This approach is taught in the very helpful book by Charles Koller entitled How to Preach Without Notes. I think this is a very effective method, but I would be careful not to make your outline too complex. The three points and a poem outline form probably belongs here. Many people who preach such sermons have simple points that are easily remembered.
Another way to “outline” the sermon is a inductive method. Here you are not attempting to start with the main point of the sermon and break it down, but you are attempting to slowly build up to the main point of the sermon. OFten this is done with a number of pieces and/or images that slowly reveal the main truth in the sermon. Joseph Webb’s book entitled Preaching Without Notes is a very helpful book that seeks to teach this method. Another way to outline a sermon like this is the “sequence of images” approach that Hugh Litchfield presents in his work Visualizing the Sermon: A Guide to Preaching Without Notes. The key behind this type of outline is that it is usually simply a series of images or stories that the preacher presents while slowly revealing the reason behind the sermon.
Finally, you can think of the sermon as the representation of a Biblical story. Here you simply tell the story of the sermon and intersperse comments in the story. The key is to attempt to eliminate the difference in time between the past and the present. We help to bring the people into Biblical world.
The key to effective preaching without notes is not to have an extremely good memory that can help you to memorize a 45 minute sermon word for word, but to memorize an effective outline and then learn how to enlarge the points without notes by reliance on your preparation and the Holy Spirit.
I feel like starting with the quote from Mark Twain who said: “The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” There are many who think that the three points and a poem deserve to fall off the landscape of possible sermonic choices. They see it as an artifact of a bygone era that much like the horse and buggy needs to be set aside for more “effective” modes of presentation.
Some preachers would promote the dialectic method. Others would promote a narrative form. Still others think that we should not go to the scripture with a set form in mind and should let the text guide the sermonic structural choice.
But what is the three points and a poem method,and what are you attempting to do in each section? First there are three sections to the sermonic form. The first is an introduction. Here you want to give all of your background data that you have found that is relevant to the sermon. You want to talk about when the scripture was written and to who. In addition, you want to apply this to the lives of the people.
I was listening to a sermon on I. Corinthians where the preacher compared the background to the background of the people who he was addressing. He attempted to eliminate the time difference between the Corinthian church and the present church so that they can see that the text was referring to the present context.
Sometimes people are confused when I use the term “Introduction.” I do not mean introduction to the sermon per-se. I mean an introduction to the life and times of the people in the text and an attempt to realize the importance of it. This will definitely include what you traditionally think of as “introduction,” but it includes more as stated above.
After the introduction is the guiding statement of the sermon. Here we take what we have done in the introduction and use it to come up with a compass for the sermon. This is almost always a practical question. You can get at this question by looking at the Seven Interrogators: Who, What, When, Why, Which, How, and Where. Once you come up with the guiding statement, the sermon writes itself. An example is “How to Stand in the Midst of Trouble” based on Ephesians 6:13. Please note that this may or may not be the sermon title. In addition, be sure to state that clearly before moving to the next section of the sermon.
Here, you already have the text, you have the guiding question. Now you simply need three answers to the question that you just presented. A few words here. First, the answer should be explicitly or implicitly in the scripture. People should not wonder how you made the connection. It is possible someone may disagree with your application, but they will at least know the connection you tried to make. Second, you need to illustrate each answer with a biblical, historical, or contemporary story. Here you want to drive the point home by illustrating it. Next, you need to tell people explicitly how to accomplish the point. Finally, you must explicitly define what you mean by the point.
So using the example Ephesians 6:13 and our guiding statement “How to Stand in the midst of Trouble” we have three points. First put on the full armor, second, prepare for the day of evil, and finally, you just stand. Looking at the points, the first one says to put on the full armor. We would explicitly show that it is in the scripture. We might then illustrate and define the point. We might talk about armor in battle and why it is used and why it is important, we might talk about the battle we are in with Satan. We will definitely tell that we are not talking about battling with guns or swords. In addition, we must clearly tell people HOW to put on the full armor. That is the first point.
Then we might look at the second point which is to “prepare for the day of evil.” This is only implicitly in the text so we have to explicitly point to it in this section. Note that the text says: “so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground.” This implies that if you are going to stand in the future, you have to prepare for it in the present. Go ahead and state it that clearly if you have to. Then once again you want to tell people how to do that today. In addition, describe the point fully.
The third point is to just stand. In it we have two sides, “having done all” and “just stand.” You might give a story of perseverance. Remember to tell people how to do this. You may not like these three points, get three more. I don’t think I would preach it as it stands, but I just use it as an example.
By poem, I don’t mean a poem per-se, but a celebration. Here you want to celebrate the answering of the question. In our example, we want to celebrate that we will stand. We want to celebrate that no matter the pain and heartache, that we can make it through it. You do this by gathering materials like poems, hymns, spirituals, gospel songs, and scriptures that are what I call “shouting materials.” These are materials that emphasize God’s power over our circumstances and our ability to persevere.
The point here is that you are ending with a “celebration.” I think it is interesting how many sermons have good beginnings, a solid middle, and then die out in the end. You need to end strong, and you do that by celebrating the Good news that God is on our side.
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