“Well, I don’t think a sermon must have one main point.” That was the response of a well-respected senior pastor in our denomination. It immediately undercut all I had just said. We were speakers in a conference on sermon preparation and preaching. My first session reviewed a series of preachers and professors, emphasizing that sermons should have one central point. But now, I had just been blown out of the water. Why is the one point sermon such a hard sell? We think the concept is unnecessary and foolish.
We can say the same thing about sequential sentence outlines. We think they are also foolish and unnecessary. Why? We believe that writing a sermon is just like writing a paper. Not so! We prepare sermons for people to hear. We write articles for individuals to read. Writing and speaking are different media. Reading and listening are very different activities. One Sabbath morning after worship, I said to my wife, “Pastor has begun another book.” Looking at me quizzically, she responded, “How do you know?” My answer was simple. “We just got the opening chapter in this morning’s sermon.” Our pastor composed the sermon for later reading as part of a book.
“‘There is little doubt,’ Scottish preacher Eric J. Alexander writes, ‘that Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was the greatest preacher the English-speaking world has seen in the twentieth century'”(Lawson, 2016, p. 2). What were the foundation stones upon which this great expositor built his preaching? “Lloyd-Jones realized the expositor must capture the central thrust of his text. He called the main idea of the sermon the ‘doctrine'”(Lawson 91). What did Lloyd-Jones think about finding the main point of a text and determining his sermons’ central point? “He conceded this [process] is sometimes the most difficult and time-consuming work of sermon preparation”(Lawson, 2016, p. 91). This great preacher understood the importance of sermons having one central idea.
What about the need for a logical sequence of thought? “Lloyd-Jones was explicit that the sermon divisions are not to be placed in random order. To the contrary, these headings must be arranged in a logical sequence that best presents the particular doctrine that the text teaches”(Lawson, 2016, p. 88). In other words, individual sermon points ought not to point back to a central point like spokes on a wheel. Lloyd-Jones described sermon points as follows, “Each one should lead to the next, and ultimately lead to a definite conclusion” (Lawson, 2016, p. 89). Dr. Lloyd-Jones also understood the power of a sequential outline.
My favorite quote on this subject comes from W. J. T. Shedd. “Sermons are more defective in respect to unity of structure, and a constant progress toward a single end, than in any other respect”(Shedd, 1877, p 147). Sermons can be bushel baskets of facts tossed out to members of a congregation to grab what they may. However, a sermon arrow striking a human heart with God’s truth will yield much more fruit.
Lawson, S. J. (2016). The Passionate Preaching of Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Sanford, FL: Reformation Trust.
Shed, W. G. T. (1877). Homiletics and Pastoral Theology. New York: Scribners.