How To Title the Black Sermon

Sermon Titling is something that some consider to be irrelevant while others consider it to be very important. Sermons in the Black Preaching Tradition are often known to be titled well. Sometimes a great title will evoke praise or contemplation from the congregation before the sermon even begins. Because of this I have spent a little time thinking about titles.

I was looking in my old class papers and found a paper I wrote entitled “The Sermon Concealed: How to Create a Sermon Title.” First, one should have an idea of what the sermon is going to be about. The theme and the text should already be chosen. After that one should follow these steps.

Step 1 – Flash of Brilliance

Here you simply choose the sermon title that you might otherwise choose. What would you normally call the sermon?

Step 2 – J. Alfred Smith’s Sermon Title Categories

Now J. Alfred Smith, in the book Preach On! gave some categories for artistic sermon title creation. I wish to create a sermon title that corresponds to each of his categories. Thus when we have our text and our sermon in mind we then attempt to create a title that corresponds to the balance category. After that we try to create one that corresponds to the simple sentence. Then exclamation, label,word play,rhyme, and finally question. I believe that some of these categories will be difficult to come up with and sometimes we will not be able to
come up with one that corresponds to each one, but an attempt would be made to get as many as possible. So now we should have 5-7 possible titles. In addition, one should add the sermon title that comes from the “flash of brilliance” described above.

Step 3 – Evaluate the Titles

At this point we are ready to evaluate the sermon titles. The first criteria for evaluating our sermon titles is variety. The preacher should not use the same category from Smith or titles that sound too much alike every sermon. In addition, the preacher should take care to not create sermon titles in such a way that they give away the sermon. For example, one might use Smith’s exclamation for only a certain kind of sermon. Thus when one hears the title one knows the kind of sermon to be preached.

Another important consideration is that the sermon title encapsulate the whole sermon including the celebration. Next, as noted above the sermon does the sermon title not give away the sermon.

Following these three steps will provide a list of possible sermon titles. I would encourage you to try this method when you are against a wall or are suffering from “preachers-block” when trying to name your sermons.

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Sherman Haywood Cox II

Vanderbilt Trained Minister (MDiv), Univ. of Alabama Trained Software Developer (MS), Author, Blogger (, Husband, Son, Brother, Father.

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