The Finishing Touches

 |  August 31, 2020

We’ve completed the exegesis of a passage of Scripture and have an exegetical outline developed. In a text-driven fashion, the substance, structure, and spirit of the text have been discovered. From our exegetical labors, we have crafted a preaching outline. Now we have to make the sermon appealing and desirable to the people. We need to add the finishing touches to the material we are to present to the people.

As preachers, we can relate to the metaphor “feed the people” as a description of preaching God’s Word to the people. When we preach, if we intend to feed the people who are listening to the sermon, we will need to ensure that the sermon is presented well. One of the ways in which this presentation is enhanced is with some finishing touches.

I am reminded of some of the cakes that my wife has prepared, especially when we are having guests over for a meal. It is the finishing touches performed on the cake that make those who will partake of it more interested in the substance of the cake. The presentation attracts the participants to the substance. Just as my wife puts the finishing touches on a cake in order to attract people to the substance of the cake, we preachers should put some finishing touches on the sermon in order to attract our listeners to the substance of the sermon.

First, there must be some substance in the sermon to apply the finishing touches. If there is no substance, then the finishing touches will attract the listener to very little. This practice will give the people a false sense of substance. If this is done with some frequency, the people begin to expect no substantial substance and lose interest in the content of the sermon altogether and come for mere entertainment. Produce a solid sermon that the finishing touches can then be applied, and you will be able to effectively feed the people. People will not be fed if there is all décor and no substance. They will only come for the show.

Second, the finishing touches of the sermon must not conflict with the substance of the sermon. The finishing touches added to the sermon must compliment the substance of the sermon. My wife has made some beautiful cakes, but I have never seen her decorate one with ketchup or mustard. Those finishing touches don’t belong and detract from the substance. She adds finishing touches such as her beautiful buttercream icing that supplements the substance underneath. The finishing touches of the sermon must accomplish the same mission. People will be disappointed in the substance if the finishing touches do not enhance the substance. The finishing touches are to draw them into the substance underneath not to dissuade them from the substance.

Lastly, the finishing touches are to bring focus and attention to the substance of the sermon. The point of the finishing touches on the cake is to encourage the one who partakes to eat the cake. You don’t want the people to eat the icing and leave the cake. They will go away unnourished if the finishing touches do not direct them to the substance of the sermon. If my wife makes a cake with strawberries, she will add a few strawberries to the finishing touches to bring a sense of focus to the ingredients that make up the substance of the cake. People will not appreciate the substance of the sermon if there is no effort to bring that substance into focus.

We can add finishing touches to the sermon in order to make the substance of the sermon more appealing and engaging to the listeners. This can be done through explanation, illustration, and application. A skillfully crafted introduction also provides a very pleasing finishing touch to the sermon. And lastly, a clear and succinct conclusion provides the final finishing touch. We understand that the people need the substance of the sermon, but often it is just presented in a bland fashion. Sure, it is good for them, but no one wants it because it is not presented well. There needs to be some finishing touches that draw the listener into the substance being presented in the sermon in order for them to be sustained by it.

If there is nothing but substance presented, the sermon will be boring. If there is nothing but finishing touches presented, the sermon will be empty. There is a tension that exists between engaging the text and engaging the people. In Preaching for the Rest of Us by Robby Gallaty and Steven Smith, they provide some helpful information regarding the balance between substance and finishing touches:

Scripture is not boring. Therefore, if I preach a boring sermon, then the blame is entirely on me. I imposed boredom on the text in the same way those “other” preachers imposed their own ideas on the text. The entertaining preacher excuses his sin because he made the people laugh. The boring preacher excuses his sin because he made the people yawn. Neither one has really preached. I know because I have been both.[1]Robby Gallaty and Steven Smith, Preaching for the Rest of Us: Essentials for Text Driven Preaching (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2018), 101.

As preachers, we must spend the time necessary to engage the text in an effort to present biblical substance to the people. But we must also spend time engaging the people by applying finishing touches to the substance in order to make the message interesting and desirable. Don’t give the people a simple piece of plain dull boring cake when you can give them something far more attractive with some finishing touches. The finishing touches will make them want to come back for more.

Kevin Ulmer is the Pastor of Maplewood Baptist Fellowship in Richland Hills, Texas. He is also a Ph.D. student in Preaching and the Assistant to the Associate Vice President for Institutional Research and Assessment at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.


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