The life of evangelical churches and their spiritual leaders has been portrayed in some recent films and series. Can they help us start conversations?
There is no one-size fits all introduction.
There are lots of ways to introduce a sermon. Here are a few common approaches:
1. The Bible reading – Some like to announce the text and read the text before saying anything about the text. I understand the desire to put the Word of God in a pre-eminent position, but there is a downside.
With this approach people may or may not, in fact, probably won’t be ready for the text. If you have had a genuinely stirring time of worship and the mood is absolutely focused, then maybe it might work for some. Generally, although well-intentioned, this is not an ideal launch to a sermon.
2. The interesting or amusing anecdote – Some view the first couple of minutes of a sermon as the opportunity to tell a great story, after which there is a crunching of the gears as the preacher jerks the steering wheel and changes course to start the message proper.
This time could be used so much more effectively, so generally let’s not see this as a good approach.
3. The context of the passage – Perfect if your congregation have been pestering you all week to tell them about the reign of Zedekiah or the troublesome deceivers on Crete.
Not so many phone calls about that? Probably shouldn’t start there then.
4. The hesitant run-up – Like a child preparing to do a daring leap, the preacher seems to try and get going several times before daring to actually do it. It’s exciting for the preacher.
5. The meandering round about approach – Like a hesitant tour guide going around the houses before eventually starting into the house you came to see.
It may be reassuring for the preacher, but it will be tedious for the listeners.
None of these approaches are very effective. Here are three things to keep in mind when planning a sermon introduction:
A. Make it as long as necessary and as short as possible – A great introduction does its job, no less and no more.
B. Stir motivation in the listener to hear you preach this message from this passage – Ask yourself, does this introduction motivate the listener to hear me, this message and this passage?
C. Make sure they want you to continue – Once you are done, they should want you to continue.
There is no one-size fits all introduction. Sometimes a story is perfect, sometimes you need to ask a question, or describe a problem, or engage the imagination, or read a headline, or share a struggle.
Whatever you do, keep these three guidelines at the forefront of your preparation.