Preaching is one of the more difficult tasks you can choose to undertake. Add to it the theological burden of attempting to proclaim God's word, and you have a recipe for nerves. That is part of the reason the three-point sermon has endured for so long. It is a simple structure that is sturdy and takes some of the anguish out of writing a good sermon. There are some practical tips to follow if you wish to write a good three-point sermon that is convicting and inspiring.
Begin, continue and end your preparation in prayer. Ask for guidance, prayerfully meditate on the text and ask God to reveal your own struggles and faults in the text. Make each of these next steps a matter of prayer as well.
Make sure your sermon has one big point. Every sermon needs to be unified and focused. Thomas G. Long in "The Witness of Preaching" calls it the "focus" and Haddon Robinson, former interim president at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, calls it "The Big Idea." Each of your three points should unpack, explain, expand and/or apply your focus statement/big idea.
Make one point per point. That is really the first rule of points. That sounds easier than it really is. If you have the word "and" in your point be careful -- it might be two points. This isn't a question, a paragraph or a heading for a section of material. It is a point. You are saying one thing to the congregation.
Make your point directed to your listener in order to connect with the listener. "The Pharisees were self-righteous" doesn't connect with the listener. "Love is never self-righteous" or even "Root out your self-righteous thoughts" does. Don't give a history lesson, but connect it to how the person lives his or her life and what it means to them. This doesn't mean your message can't be general or about God. You just need to tailor your words to make a connection with the listener.
Make brief points. Brevity adds to memorability. Your listeners don't carry your outline around with them.They need memorable handles to hold onto. In a point-based sermon, that means brevity is a virtue.
Use simple language. This is true for all preaching. Never use a dollar word when a nickel word will do.
Consider making every point an application. There are certainly times when the passage doesn't fit this sort of movement. But in general, centuries of preaching theorists have pointed to application as the key for a sermon hitting home. Don't wait to the end to give a final application. Humans have three zones for application: thinking, acting, feeling. Use imperative verbs to communicate to those three dimensions. "Change judging for understanding" or "Remember God as much as possible" or "See Christ in the face of the poor."
Structure the points to have movement between them. Have the most impactful part at the end. Alternatively, move between conflict and resolution. Consider using the first two points as false solutions, with the third point being the best solution. Points should go somewhere. And they should go together.
As Eugene Lowry says in his book "Homiletical Plot," learn to focus on the mortar and not just the bricks. What holds the sermon together? How does one point (brick) transition into the next (mortar)? Is there a logical flow? Is there a question, problem, issue, or logical direction that guides the entire sermon?
Make sure your points preach to you. This is the best test of a sermon: does it move, convict and inspire you? If you haven't preached to yourself yet, your preaching may completely miss your audience as well.
Carefully choose illustrations, anecdotes, visual aids and experiential items that will further the message. These are best if they organically arise from the passage and your thoughts on the passage. Ask yourself, "What is the best way I can put this point on my street?" "How does this look in my world and my listener's world?"
Practice it before you present it. Preach it to an empty room. Drive to a lonely cemetery and preach in the car. A sermon is never written (even if it is in a manuscript). A sermon is always spoken. Until you speak and hear it, you are not fully prepared to preach. But there is another element to the word "practice." Be sure you try to apply this sermon in a new way to your life this week. Ask "how can this change the way I live today?" Until it does, you are not ready to preach with conviction and inspiration.
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Always derive your points from the thoughts of the passage from which you are preaching. It is helpful to consider the flow of the passage as the flow of your outline, but not necessary.
Avoid cliches and bumper sticker points like "It's not about you." Like any sermon form, this one gets old after a while. Variety is key.
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