Sweat Your Sermon Intro
The first pastor who really taught me about preaching once told me, “If you open strong, close strong, and hit your transitions, your sermon will take care of itself.” While it’s a bit more complicated than that, he was largely correct. Many sermons fall apart before they even start, crash and burn because of an inability to “land the plane”, or lack clarity due to confusion in transition.
While I hope to write on each of these sermon elements, I want to start with the importance of a strong sermon introduction. So what makes for an effective sermon illustration? In a sentence:
Good intros grab attention.
People come into our worship services each week having already been inundated with information. They come into church weighed down by the stress of their own lives. They may be distracted by something they heard on the news. They have most likely already been listening to music, checking Twitter, Facebook, posting to Instagram…it’s endless!
The goal of the introduction is to grab listeners by the face (figuratively I hope) and tell them why they should listen to what you have to say - and I would argue that if you don’t accomplish this in the first five minutes, you’ve largely lost the battle already.
It’s not easy and requires thoughtful and prayerful intentionality. The good news is, there are proven tools for productive intros at our disposal. I keep my list to five…
One thing I try to make clear in every introduction is the particular problem this sermon is the solution to. Help people see a specific pain point they may not even be aware of and then lean into the reality of the tension it causes. Tension is, by definition, uncomfortable but people pay attention to what makes them uncomfortable.
Few things are more disarming then humor. Everyone loves to laugh. Sadly, many approach preaching as though laughter were at odds with the serious nature of the subject matter we preach. Humor is not always appropriate, but it's not always inappropriate either. One word of caution: the ability to wield humor as a tool is not a skill every preacher possesses and thus should not be used by everyone. Know yourself and play to your strengths.
I’m not talking about being a “shock jock.” I’m not talking about controversy for the sake of controversy. The Bible is increasingly controversial in our culture. The exclusivity of Christ, marriage between a man and woman, sex reserved for marriage, loving your enemies, gender roles…the Bible is filled with content that runs contrary to the opinions of our culture. Controversy is engaging. What better way to grab people’s attention than to lean into the controversy in the text?
Everyone enjoys a good story. Stories draw us in. People will often remember the good stories we tell more than the carefully crafted sentences we write. This means we should grow in our understanding of how to tell stories well. We should be collectors of quality stories to be used for the purpose of engagement down the road.
People tend to pay attention when confronted, agreed? I’m not arguing for yelling, bullying, or the use of harsh language. What I am arguing for is to love God’s people enough to say hard things to them. Love that remains silent on issues that may cause listeners pain if unaddressed is no love at all. True love tells the truth - even when it’s confrontational.
Pastor, sweat your intro this Sunday! It really matters. Your intro gets everyone on the bus and in the right seat for the journey God’s called you to take them on. Write something that will grab people’s attention and then labor to hold onto it for the remainder of the sermon.