The sermonís theme sets the strategy and the goal for the sermon.
The sermonís body executes the strategy for reaching that goal.
The absence of a workable strategy leads to wandering in the wilderness without any hope
of reaching the Promised Land.
A workable strategy requires determining what points to make, the number of points
and sub-points to make, and what materials are chosen to support them.
The sermonís introduction determines whether the hearers will listen.
The body of the sermon determines whether they will remember anything that they hear.
How are main points of a sermon developed?
The preacher should get his purpose or theme firmly in mind, and then brainstorm.
He should think about what the text means, but he must not stop there.
What the passage means is academic unless he goes on to discern the message
of the text for todayís world.
It is a good practice to anticipate the questions that the hearers (not the preacher)
will ask about the passage and attempt to answer them.
ďHow does this passage relate to my work life?Ē
ďWhy should I be interested in sheep herders?Ē
Hearers rarely ask what the Greek or Hebrew means, or even what Daniel Webster says
about a word.
They may even care less about how many times a word is used in the Scripture.
Once all of these thoughts have been gathered, those that relate to the text
but do not relate to the theme or purpose must be eliminated.
Those remaining should be grouped into general subject areas.
Then, that group that best addresses the theme should be selected.
From the selected group, the points should be divided into subject areas.
The subject areas should be placed in natural order, arranged according
to the sermonís purpose.
They should be progressive in movement, e.g., chronological or logical.
Their arrangment should be in steps, one after another, organized according
to the sermonís purpose, leading in the desired direction, toward the selected destination.
As far as possible, the main points should be parallel in form.
This assists the preacher in presentation (easier to remember and helps free him
from notes), and it assists the hearers in listening.
For example, if the main points are parallel in form, the hearers will recognize each of them.
If each of the main points has an anchor clause that is common to each
and related to the theme, the main points will serve as road-signs that lead the hearers
to the theme or goal.
All of the main points should be designed to help the hearers remember the dominate
point or theme.
The preacher who expects his hearers to remember the sermonís details expects the impossible.
If he does not have a theme, and if the main points do not support and drive home the theme,
it is more likely that the hearers will remember nothing.
Each main point should make only one point and it should relate to the theme in content.
The main points develop and support the theme; the sub-points develop
and support the main points.
The subpoints may illustrate (instruct the hearers by comparing the known to the unknown),
persuade (address the hearerís will), analyze (establish the main point by logic),
or teach (provide information).
Care must be taken with the latter or the sermon will deteriorate into mere intellectuallism.
How many main points should the body have?
Although there are differing views, as well as reasonable exceptions for special sermons,
the general rule is usually three, and not more than four.
If there are more, the preacher must either preach too long or develop one point adequately
and give short shrift to the rest.
If the preacher has three main points and spends fifteen minutes on the first one,
it doesnít take a math genius to determine that, if each point is given equal treatment,
the preacher has at least thirty minutes to go when he says, ďMy second point is. . . .Ē
The resulting groan may be inaudible, but it is none-the-less real.
Rapid shifts in subject matter will cause hearers first to wear out and then to tune out.
The truth is that they donít have much choice.
It is like being force fed faster than you can chew and swallow.
It doesnít take long to choke.
There is some evidence that the problem of pace increases with the size of the audience.
The best preacher probably cannot hold group attention longer than four minutes per subject.
This means that not over five or six points can be made in a twenty-five to thirty minute sermon.
The preacher can present more points, but he can make no more points because they will not soak in.
Much like a fast-falling rain, the water (points) runs off the soil (mind) before it can penetrate.
Someone may object that if the sermon moves at a slow pace the hearers will think
that the preacher is not smart, or that the preacher will appear more learned
if he crams as much as possible into the sermon and delivers it as rapid fire as possible.
The objection is not well-taken.
First, it belies the experience of the ages.
More importantly (and more disappointingly), it indicates that the preacher is more interested
in impressing his hearers with himself than with the Christ.
A good test to determine proper organization may be to request some of the hearers to take notes.
Can they detect the introduction, body, and conclusion?
Can they detect the main points and the subpoints under each?
If they canít because of sloppy transitions, merging or camaflouging of points,
or lack of clarity, the sermon fails, and so does the preacher.
Preachers have a weighty responsibility.
Why should they think that God will not hold them accountable
if their lack of preparation hinders the proclamation of the gospel?