You make points in every sermon you preach. You try to communicate at least one point. One idea. One bottom line. You may have one major point but a number of supporting points. The point is, you make points. Get the point? So, what do you do with every point you make? Is it enough just to say the words. “My main point is _________. Okay, let’s close in prayer.” Well, we both know that would be insufficient.
We have to do more than just say a point for it to stick. But how do we do this? How do we develop sticky points that land on people in powerful ways? I suggest doing at least three things with every point you make in your sermons. Using these as a base line allows you to do more if you’d like, but make sure you’re at least doing these three things:
1. Teach the point. When you teach the point you are explaining the concept and providing the biblical backing. In other words, you are showing how you derived the principle from the Scripture as you connect it back to the text. This is an important part of making a point. You want to be able to demonstrate that it is not just your musings, but it comes from Scripture.
In this step you teach the concept of the point. In other words, you should answer the question your listeners will have when you introduce an idea: “What do you mean?”
If this is murky, let me use an example of a super simple point you could make in your sermon. Let’s say your point is: God loves you. You may teach this point by referencing John 3:16 and showing your listeners that God loves them so much he gave his one and only son so that they could have eternal life by believing in him. Perhaps you elaborate a bit on this idea and dig into the theological and biblical truths of the doctrine of God’s love for people.
Teaching the point is great, but if you only teach concepts and ideas you’re missing two more important steps that put flesh and blood on your points: illustrating and applying.
2. Illustrate the point. When you illustrate your point you are answering the question, “What does this look like?” You are providing a vivid visual which helps your listeners see it and feel it for themselves. How can you get your listeners to feel the emotions of the truth and not just “know” it? You have to make it come alive with illustration. An illustration could be a story, a metaphor, an analogy, a movie clip, news story or something trending on social media. Really anything that helps you clarify the concept of the point and give people an opportunity to feel the weight of it.
Remember our example point: God loves you? One of the best demonstrations of illustrating this point with a story is actually a set of three parables Jesus told about the love of God for those who are lost or wayward in Luke 15. Side note: Jesus often used stories, or parables, to illustrate his points. In fact, it is rare in Jesus’ teaching to see him merely teach a point without a vivid illustration usually in narrative form. So be careful if you think storytelling is a lower form of teaching and the elites and sophisticated preachers stick to exposition alone. If this is your assumption, you’re missing a powerful tool Jesus used.
Let’s say you decide to focus on the last of the three parables Jesus tells in Luke 15 and you tell the story of the prodigal son. In this story, a son took his inheritance before his father died effectively communicating to him: “You’re dead to me!” Then he went into a foreign land, squandered his wealth on hookers and booze, and desperately came crawling back. There is much to be said about this story, in fact I highly suggest you check out Tim Keller’s book, The Prodigal God as it looks at this story from the perspective of the reckless love of the father and the older brother’s legalism.
But for our purposes of illustrating our simple point that God loves you, we will focus in on the crux of the narrative. The story hits home when we see the prodigal decides to come home hoping to plead with his father for mercy and to be allowed to serve as one of his hired men. Instead, his father ran to him, embraced him, kissed him and threw a massive party for him. How many of us feel the love of the father for us when we consider this story? Your listeners will too if you. This is the power of illustration.
This illustration came straight from the pages of Scripture. As I mentioned above, it’s also helpful to use illustrations from all different aspects of life. So perhaps you could build on the story of the prodigal and personalize it to your own experience of when you strayed from God, but as a loving father he took you back.
For more helpful tips on how to use illustrations including where to place them in the sermon, check out The 4 Must Do’s Of Using Illustrations.
This takes us to our final way to use a point, applying it.
3. Apply the point. When you apply the point you answer the question, “How does it work?” A point in a sermon is just information until it takes on flesh and is lived out. Your listeners need to know how this truth can be activated in their lives. This is also where you take the concept, what you’ve taught and illustrated, and make it useful and practical. In this post, I reveal three tools of giving application in a sermon. Two of those tools are asking questions and extending challenges. Often people can sit through an entire message and not realize it is for them until a question is posed or a challenge is extended.
Revisiting our point one last time: God loves you. You may ask the question, “Do you truly believe God loves you or do you still feel unlovable?” Or “What could you do this week to allow yourself to embrace God’s love for you?”
In addition to questions and challenges, application could also simply be you touching on several life situations and circumstances and acknowledging the various ways your listeners struggle with embracing this truth.
By the way, this is usually best in the order I gave. However, you should avoid approaching this process in a formulaic way of thinking, “First I teach, then I illustrate, then I apply.” You, and your listeners, will eventually tire of such a stilted approach. Instead, sometimes you may decide to begin with application before you ever teach the concept. This is a great way to make your listeners care about it because they feel it before they know fully what the concept is. This is called building tension, and you can read more about it here.
Other times you may begin with a story that will provide as an amazing illustration to clarify your point once you teach it. The point is there is more than one way to make a point. Get the point?
Here’s my point. You want to do everything you can to whimsically and enthusiastically communicate your message because, after all, you have the most important message in the world. If you want more help writing and delivering powerful messages, check out my book: Preaching Killer Sermons: How to Create and Deliver Messages that Captivate and Inspire
One last thing: The three questions I used: What do you mean? What does it look like? and How does it work? are derived and slightly modified from a great book by Howard Hendricks called Living by the Book: The Art and Science of Reading the Bible
What other things can we do with the points we make in a sermon?