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Are Your Sermons Making A Point? I Hope Not.

One of the great dangers in preaching is making a point! This seems counterintuitive for those who speak publicly, and perhaps it is for some, but it shouldn’t be for preachers. People who preach often ruin their sermons by making a point. Or worse, they make three of them, ruining the sermon by the same factor. Making matters worse, each little point rest in the pitiful, play yard pool of pathetic alliteration. It’s enough to make me need and avalanche of Advil! Which is why I think missionaries, preachers, pastors, teachers, communicators, cultural architects, lead visionaries, communal arbiters and other contemporary silliness titles we use to say “preacher” should be careful about making points.

Why?

Because making points (which I’m about to do, ironically) performs at least 3 bad acts on every homily.

Points Break Form. Scripture doesn’t come to us in points, it comes in narrative; it comes as stories. Do stories have points? Yes. But no one stops in the middle of telling you a story about what their 5-year-old did to make sure you get the point. The point is embedded in the story. What’s more, Jesus tells stories both to reveal His message and conceal it.  Those without ears could not hear it, and our Lord didn’t change His preaching style to make sure they did. Sometimes Jesus wanted people to get the point, other times, He didn’t. There is something – and we may never know what –  divine about storytelling. To reach people the way Jesus did, we might consider following His form; we should embody His method. Points, graphs, charts, and projectors come from the business world. Stories belong to the church.

Points Dictate. We don’t mean for them too, but they do. Having 3 points on a distributed outline or jazzed up in your PowerPoint actually INCREASES the distance between the listener and the text. The preacher has given himself or herself the elevated position of telling the hearers what’s most important in the text. A good Bible student knows that s/he might find three things this week and three more things next week from the same text. Yet, the average church goer  doesn’t know that there is more to be mined in the text than a 30-minute homily can cover. They think what the preacher said is all, or close to all, there is. Points collapse the text by telling people what’s most important, while other means of communication (or just leaving points out) expand the text and, over time, the Biblical imagination of the listener.

Points Tune People Out. When you have 3 points on an overheard, you should simply stand up, read the text, give them the three points and go home. Why? Because that’s all that people KNOW they need to pay attention to. The rest is just filler. I wish I could find it, but I recently saw a survey that said audiences were generally excited before a speaking session and their excitement drastically decreased once the speaker began his/her PowerPoint. What’s more, the way most preachers use points is akin to turning to the back of the math book for the answers to the odd numbered questions. People, pressed for time and short on discipline, flip to the “answers” jot it down and move along. They don’t care how to get there on their own and therefore are unprepared when life’s hardships and reversals come their way. They don’t know God because they never had to engage Him or discern His will.

Preaching should be about expanding who we are, broadening the mind, and enhancing the human experience. Dumbed-down points reduce all of that. Homiletics should be concerned with communal discernment rather than pseudo-apostolic directives, it should call listeners to engage God, not merely look for the quick and easy; short and quick; hope-to-God it’s painless mire of points!

What do you think? What helps you live a sermon you’ve heard?

  • Sean – Well said. I’ve sometimes said that the “point” that a sermon should have is the point of destination. In other words, a sermon takes listeners on a journey, and that journey has a place in mind. But you don’t need “points” to arrive at the point.

  • Michael

    I think that Randy Harris has been the best example for me about how to preach without using mindless points but still taking the audience somewhere. I have to admit It seems counterintuitive to speak in front of a crowd without arguing the points for the purpose of persuasion. Thanks Sean!

  • Trey

    Sean, just one point to quibble with–points don’t work in the business world, either.

  • Bruce w

    I think what you say is both logical and observable. AND I’ve been guilty myself! But I find when I choose a storytelling approach (youth ministry for years) it always is more successful. Besides, I’m an artist by nature already and love to couch a lesson in drama or comedy. Writing or performing sketches often penetrates far deeper than any sermon.

  • Brandon

    I love this post and its a great reminder to us all. When I think back to the most powerful/influential sermons I’ve heard they have been ones that have engaged me to ask big questions, to imagine how God might be speaking to me through the text. Yet all too often when I hear sermons they seek to tell me answers (and usually the answers are small ones that the preacher must think are more digestible). The problem is that spoon-fed answers are not very satisfying.

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  • Bruce w

    After digesting this a little more, I got to thinking that even though I agree with the main sentiment (see previous post), we do see “pointed” sermon making in the new testament. Example: Peter’s sermon on Pentecost. Sites OT scripture, tells the group what means, removes the mystery. And we don’t even know whether that’s all he said.

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