Planting a church takes more than preaching well. But it can’t handle less than that.
One of the perennial challenges of preaching well is getting your sermon off to a good start. The effect of a sermon introduction is disproportionate to its size. The two or three minute introduction (yes, less is more) will determine how hard your listeners listen to you.
A good sermon introduction accomplishes three goals. It creates interest, raises a need, and orients listeners to the biblical text you’re going to preach. These goals work together. At least they should. So what does it take to craft an introduction which fulfills these goals?
A Helpful Conversation
I read an interesting conversation recently on Twitter about Tim Keller’s sermon introductions. Bethany Jenkins, a member of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, began the conversation. I have reproduced it below with slight style edits (writing out abbreviations and adding obvious words that get left out to stay within the space limitations of a tweet).
BETHANY JENKINS: Sitting under Tim Keller’s teaching for thirteen years has taught me a lot, especially how to introduce a talk or sermon. Start by anticipating the listeners’ main question: “Why should I care about what you’re about to say? How does it connect to my everyday life?” Then comes the exposition.
SAM ALLBERRY: This is vital. My instinctive question as I hear a preacher start (including myself) is” “Why is this worth getting out of bed for?”
BETHANY JENKINS: The biggest mistake I see is when pastors assume listeners care because something is in the Bible. The introduction has to make me think, “Yes! I have those common-to-all questions and struggles, too. And, yes, the ‘secular’ and ‘religious’ mindsets are letting me down.” Then the gospel comes in power.
JEREMY LINNAMAN: This is so true. It’s remarkable that Tim Keller often does that all in just two or three sentences. A short, effective introduction is so difficult. There are no wasted words in his introductions.
Simple but Effective
Sermon introductions don’t have to be big and bombastic to keep your listeners listening. In fact, a powerful story or quote may work better at the end of the sermon—as a kind of crescendo to the big idea of the biblical text—rather than at the beginning. Simply raise a question or concern which resonates with your listeners and leads them into the biblical text.
You might want to try and identify what question someone would ask you that would prompt you to answer with Psalm 121 or Romans 3:21-26 or Revelation 2:1- 7 or Judges 18 or whatever text you plan to preach this Sunday. Identifying that question will help you get your sermon off to a good start.
Steve Mathewson is the Senior Pastor at Cross Life Evangelical Free Church in Libertyville, Illinois. Steve started in his position on May 7, 2006. Steve came to Libertyville from Belgrade, Montana, where he was the senior pastor of Dry Creek Bible Church. He received a Master of Arts Degree in Old Testament in 1986 from Western Conservative Baptist Seminary in Portland, Ore. Most recently, he received his Doctor of Ministry in 2000 from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass., where he studied preaching under Dr. Haddon Robinson. He and his wife, Priscilla, have four adult children and grandchildren.