It’s amazing, isn’t it? For all the folks who line up at the door, shaking your hand, happily congratulating you on the message you just preached, how many of them really remember it? “Well! I should hope they ALL do – they just heard it!” Yes, but try asking them: what was my message about? Do they know? Can they sum it up in one sentence? A paragraph? Will they know this week, as they go about their daily lives? Will they know next week, after it’s long gone?
I’ll admit upfront I don’t think pedagogy is the point of preaching; I think preaching does a work of its own, even when folks don’t remember the point. But I also know that preaching can have a long-lasting, residual impact on people when its burned into their brains. The prophets, Jesus and the apostles all used pedagogical technique to burn their message into the hearts of their listeners; and we gladly have permission to do the same! The truth is, if our congregation can’t sum up our preaching in a sentence, it’s not going to impact life the way it ought to; and if preaching doesn’t change lives, it’s not good preaching.
This is where our friend Haddon Robinson comes in, most famous for his emphasis on “Big Idea” preaching. Here’s what he says: “Ideally, each sermon is the explanation, interpretation, or application of a single dominant idea supported by other ideas, all drawn from one passage or several passages of Scripture.” How many points was that? Three? Five? No. One point. One single point. So here’s our principle: Preach with a pin, not with a hammer. A pin is a narrow, focused point designed to penetrate through surfaces. A hammer has a wide, flat surface, and its designed to bat around and flatten the outer layers. If we want preaching that penetrates the heart, we must preach with a pin. See what I mean below:
1. A single point forces good editing. If nothing else, preaching a single point is a brilliant help in editing content. The single most important question the preacher can ask himself when creating a final manuscript is: “How does this information contribute to my single homiletical idea?” If the preacher is honest, most of the interesting things we find in exegesis – the stuff that is fascinating, interesting, or relatively relevant – has to be thrown out. We don’t like to do that, because the course of the week digs up so much gold its tempting to put it ALL on display. This is where character comes into play – am I preaching for me, or am I preaching for them? Do I want to show off how much I know, or be funny and entertaining, or do I want to change lives? Lectures delve into details; preaching gets to the point. This is a painful process. At the end of the week, we know so much about the text that we’re often tempted to lump it all into one gigantic, vague “point” of the sermon. Sharpening and defining our point helps us resist this temptation, and limits our preaching to only what people need to hear in order to understand and receive the main point.
2. A single point guides listeners through the sermon. When digging deep into a text, we really do find a lot of great, fascinating information. WE know how it all fits together. But the law of the “curse of knowledge” tells us that we often impose our assumptions on our audience – THEY don’t know how it all fits together. In order to help them follow along, we need a single hook to hang all the points we’re making on. We need a single stake to which the congregation can be drawn back, again and again, so we can say – “See? This is how it all relates.” Even if you don’t give your main point away until the end (inductive preaching – that’s what I prefer), the audience can sense the difference between a focused message and scrambled eggs.
3. A single point makes a better argument. When we lay out several different points in a sermon, we don’t have time to argue well for any of them. When we come up with a boatload of applications, we don’t have time to flesh them out. But when we pick a single point, we have the time we need to make a solid argument for that point, and to flesh out in detail exactly how it looks to live it out.
4. A single point is memorable. Finally, preaching a single point is memorable. A couple of months ago I preached a sermon in which I asked several questions, then answered them. That was fine, but I never heard about it again. The next sermon I preached, I picked one single point, and was amazed at the result. WEEKS later, people were still mentioning that sermon, thinking of specific applications, still chewing on the truth presented that morning. Did I say everything I wanted to say? No. But I said everything I needed to say, and that’s enough. Preaching one point allows us to feed the sheep throughout the week. That is a beautiful, satisfying feeling for any Shepherd.