The One Secret That Will Improve Your Preaching: Part 1

 |  March 20, 2018

Creating a Purpose Statement for Your Message

A seminarian was invited to preach at a small church one Sunday. All week long, he labored over his sermon, studying the text, constructing an outline, and developing his material.

Finally, Sunday morning rolled around. The novice preacher walked into church feeling nervous, but well-prepared. He mentally rehearsed his content as the congregation worshipped. Then, as he walked across the platform to preach, he saw attached to the pulpit a small, white card in a black frame. On the card was this question: “What are you trying to do to these people?”

The question startled him so badly that he barely could begin his sermon. Up until that moment, he had been absorbed with what he was going to say. He wasn’t thinking at all about what his sermon might do.

That small card offered big lessons: An effective preacher must move beyond thinking about the message’s content and instead focus on the message’s intent.

Here’s one secret I’ve discovered that has helped me preach sermons designed to accomplish something:

Transform your sermon proposition into a sermon purpose statement.

Somewhere along the way in your development as a preacher, you probably learned that your sermon must have a clear proposition. The proposition goes by different names in various homiletics books, including the “big idea,” the “sermon idea,” the “essence of the sermon in a sentence,” or some other term. All the names refer to the same thing: a single sentence that expresses the thrust of the sermon.

In The Preacher: His Life and Work, J. H. Jowett wrote almost poetically about the proposition: “I do not think any sermon ought to be preached … until that sentence has emerged, clear and lucid as a cloudless moon.”[1]J. H. Jowett, The Preacher: His Life and Work (New York: Doran, 1912), 133. Jowett’s assertion holds: The preacher must have a clear grasp of the main idea of the Bible passage and the sermon.

However, stating the main idea is not enough. For the message to accomplish something, the preacher must clarify his goal for preaching this message. Jay Adams notes that without a clear statement of purpose, the preacher’s thinking gets deflected into wrong channels and the sermon becomes “little more than a lecture instead of the life-transforming experience that God intended it to be.”[2]Jay E. Adams, Preaching with Purpose: The Urgent Task of Homiletics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982) 22.

Why is stating the sermon’s purpose so crucial? Because preaching is about transformation. Preaching is, at its heart, persuasive speech.

Consider three of the commands Paul gave Timothy after charging him to preach the Word in 2 Tim. 4:1-2: “Convince rebuke, exhort.” Each command requires persuasive preaching. To “convince” means to call for decision. To “rebuke” means to demand sinful behavior or thinking to stop. To “exhort” means to encourage and comfort.

The persuasive nature of preaching makes application a must. J. I. Packer observed, “Preaching is essentially teaching plus application … where the plus is lacking something less than preaching takes place.”[3]J. I. Packer in Dick Lucas, et. al. Preaching the Living Word: Addresses from the Evangelical Ministry Assembly (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 1999), 31. If you don’t have application, you may have exposition, you may have Bible teaching, but you don’t really have preaching. The same thing can be said of having a purpose for your message. If your expository sermon has no clear purpose, it’s something less than a Bible sermon.

Transforming the proposition into a purpose statement is pretty simple. I’ve found that completing the following sentence gets the job done efficiently: “I’m preaching this message so that …”

For instance, in a recent message on Acts 3:11-26, my sermon proposition was:

Jesus can use you to change lives.

My purpose statement was closely related to the proposition, but it focused on the listener’s response:

I’m preaching this message so that you will let Jesus use you to change lives.

My proposition for a sermon on Hebrews 10:19-25 was:

Jesus gives believers access to God.

The purpose statement was:

I’m preaching this message so that you will draw near to God as a follower of Jesus.

For some messages, the purpose statement may seem very obvious. For other sermons, taking the time to articulate what you are trying to accomplish to apply truth and persuade the listeners can keep the message from being purely focused on relaying biblical information.

Creating a purpose statement helps build application into the entire message, from the very beginning of the sermon. Then, throughout the message, you will return to the purpose statement each time you call for faith and obedience to the Bible truth you are preaching. You may not necessarily state the purpose out loud in the pulpit, but in your own mind you must firmly grasp the message’s purpose and keep it at the front of your thinking as you preach.

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