Every journey begins and ends somewhere. The same should be said for every sermon. Unfortunately, what most of us grew up hearing were messages built around several points rather than one clear destination. Andy Stanley and Lane Jones explain that the point of having points is to move people systematically through an outline of information; but if life change is your goal, point by point preaching is by far the most effective approach.
I haven’t written a hundred sermons. But I know that when I write, I have a dangerous tendency to structure a sermon too much like another one of my seminary papers; and that becomes obvious the moment its read aloud. Communicating for a Change contains so many implications, insights, imperatives, and instructions (one of them is that alliterations are much less effective than you think!) for how to carefully craft a sermon that will not only engage your audience, but actually take them on a journey that they want to remain on all the way to the end.
My wife isn’t a seminary graduate. But her Dad is, and after many years as a Pastor’s Kid she’s been on the receiving end of her fair share of sermons. Plus, she’s an articulate communicator on her own, and I know she shares the sentiment that forms Stanley & Jones’ main premise: Pick a Point! There are plenty of Sundays to go around, and they aren’t going to stop any time soon. So rather than seeing that 30 minutes on Sunday as an opportunity to display your exegetical prowess and vast knowledge of church history as you build towards application, why not simply determine your goal and reduce your sermon to a short, simple statement that summarises the whole message. “But, what if there are several great things I want them to know?” These authors simply say “save it”.
The second danger in my seminary-brained construction of sermons is that when I read aloud what’s been written it can sound like information transfer, and generally speaking that’s about as personally convicting as a Quit Smoking TV commercial. “You weren’t talking to people, Chris. You were talking at people”. the always straight-shooting voice of my wife’s observation isn’t without sting (as though I wasn’t trying to connect) but it certainly contains truth. An outline that came straight from your research degree or an exegetical commentary has the potential to be dry as dust to an audience who don’t move in the same circles as you do during the week. On the other hand, an outline built around your relationship with the members of audience (rather than the content) best matches what they feel, and because of your conversational style with this familiar crowd, it will come across the way they naturally process information.
Andy Stanley & Lane Jones have taught me to ask the right questions to assemble a message designed to stick. I’ve found both Communicating for a Change and Saving Eutychus (read my review) to be immensely helpful as I develop my craft in the pulpit by observing these principles from the pew. The reality is that my own style will no doubt be a hybrid of these two excellent resources, and in any case I highly recommend a read and a re-read for any preacher, teacher, or communicator who desires to be engaging while cultivating positive change in their people.