Friends: My new booklet is entitled “Ten Specific Steps You Can Take To Make Your Sermons and Preaching Better!” It will be done soon and I will be giving it away on this blog. It will be a pdf or ebook that you can download and share with your pastor or preacher. Chapter one was entitled “Step One: Do the Work!” Chapter two was entitled “Step Two: Develop a Clear Outline!” Chapter Three was entitled “Expository Versus Topical Messages!” Here’s Chapter Four:
STEP FOUR: Begin with a Great Introduction!
In his excellent book, Introducing the Sermon: The Art of Compelling Beginnings, Michael Hostetler says that in football the two minute warning is at the end of the game. For preachers, he says, it is at the beginning! We can win or lose a congregation within the first two minutes of our sermon. So we had better start out well!
Hostetler discusses four contact points that he says ought to begin each sermon. These four contact points are: the secular, the biblical, the personal, and the structural. Here’s what he means by each:
By the secular contact point, he means that we begin our sermon with something in real life, a need, an issue, a situation that cries out for the biblical truth we are wanting to present. Many preachers begin their sermon with words like “Let us turn in our Bibles to . . .” That is beginning the sermon with the answer before we’ve even raised the question! Start with where people are. What are their challenges, their dreams, their catastrophes? Begin with something “secular,” something of this world, before you jump into the biblical world.
By the biblical contact point, Hostetler is referring to the Scriptures. “The Bible has a great deal to say about this issue of worry . . .”, the preacher might say. “Let’s take a serious look at Luke 12.”
By the personal contact point, he is referring to how the truth of the Scriptures applies to my daily life. The preacher might say, “We will see in Luke 12 some truth that will help you and me conquer the waste of worry!”
By the structural contact point, one introduces the keyword which will steer the sermon from one main point to the next. The preacher might say, “We will see in Luke 12 five wastes of worry . . .”
We preachers assume that we should start with the biblical (“Let’s turn in our Bibles to . . .”), but even believers need to know why they are turning to their Bibles. You would agree (I hope) that the Bible is the most practical book in the world. But that conviction is squeezed out of a lot of believers by the maps, the cross-references, the genealogies, and the Shakespearean language in our Bibles. We preachers need to make the case for the Bible’s practicality. But we must first raise the issue for which the Bible provides the truth we need.
A solid, four-contact-point-introduction will take time and effort to compose. And I would recommend that your introduction be written out so that you don’t miss any of the four contact points. Writing out those four contact points helps you ask the right questions: What is the need I’m addressing? What does God’s Word have to say on this topic? How can I personally be helped by the truths of this text? How should I logically think about this subject?
Confession time: I don’t always use this Hostetler-type introduction in my preaching. But, if I took the time to craft a well-thought-out first few sentences, I believe my sermons would be stronger, more practical, and easier to listen to for the congregation.