Several years ago, while a seminary student but not yet a pastor, I was walking towards the sanctuary of my home church. Passing by a senior adult Sunday School class, I heard two of the members talking about that day’s guest teacher. One man said, “Did you know what he was talking about?” The other said, “Nope, didn’t have a clue.
I’ve never forgotten that moment. It helped me to realize that if I am not clear, then I have wasted people’s time.
I’ve been describing the development of three sentences to discover a sermon’s point or main idea. My previous two posts discussed the Historical Theme Sentence (HTS) and the Contextual Theme Sentence (CTS).
The final sentence, the Sermonic Theme Sentence (STS), is the point of a message. It simplifies and makes memorable the Contextual Theme Sentence (CTS). You will present this statement to the congregation as you preach. Instead of three points and a poem, you will have one point that drives home the preaching text’s main idea.
Below are examples of Sermonic Theme Sentences (STS) with their accompanying historical and contextual phrases.
John 1:1-5 (STS): Who is Jesus?
John 1:1-5 (CTS): Creation and salvation declare the deity of Christ.
John 1:1-5 (HTS): John wrote that Jesus, being God, is the eternal creator and the light of men.
John 3:16-21 (STS): What do we need to understand about Jesus?
John 3:16-21 (CTS): Because God loves the world, He sent Jesus to rescue us from judgment.
John 3:16-21 (HTS): John wrote that because the Father loved the world, He sent the Son into the world to rescue anyone who believes in Jesus from judgment.
Romans 1:1-6 (STS): Because He lives, anyone can have eternal life.
Romans 1:1-6 (CTS): Since Jesus was raised from the dead, we are to take the message of salvation to the world.
Romans 1:1-6 (HTS): Paul attributed his mission and apostleship to the resurrection of Jesus, which declared Christ to be the Son of God.
James 1:1-4 (STS): Tough times build strong Christians.
James 1:1-4 (CTS): Our trials, if we view them correctly, will build our spiritual endurance.
James 1:1-4 (HTS): James encouraged the Jewish believers to view their trials as joyous because they would increase their spiritual endurance.
2 Kings 5 (STS): Faith brings salvation.
2 Kings 5 (CTS): Faith brings salvation.
2 Kings 5 (HTS): Naaman, because of his healing by faith, became a follower of the true God.
Notice that these five examples vary between questions and didactic points.
I enjoy using a question as my main point when it fits with the text. As I preach, I revisit the question and build the answer as I explain the preaching paragraph. I may present the answer with a formal statement, much like a didactic STS, or I may offer the conclusion conversationally.
When I use a statement rather than a question, I attempt to repeat that statement as I transition through the major sections of the text.
The temptation is to become cute with this phrase. Pithy statements are okay if infrequent, but I believe that a memorable, yet simple, phrase works just as well without risking corniness. The test of your communication effectiveness isn’t whether the congregation remembers your statement. Instead, the goal is to be clearly understood. If your people know what you were talking about, does it really matter if they don’t remember your STS?
My typical pattern is to introduce the statement or question towards the end of my sermon introduction. I then refer to it during the sermon’s body. Finally, I like for it to be the final thought in my sermon’s conclusion as I extend the invitation. In future blogs about these sermon elements, I will include advice about using the STS during sermon delivery.
I developed the method I’ve described in this and the previous two blogs over the course of ten years. In my early preaching, I often forced texts into a three point alliterated structure. If you enjoy and are gifted at alliteration, please use it sparingly. I fear that many sermons are outlined to impress the congregation rather than to express the text’s meaning.
Using these three sentences can be hard work. I assure you, the work is worth it.