SERMON WAYPOINTS

I just returned from a ten-day boat trip down the eastern coast from Falmouth, Maine to Norfolk, Virginia in Mark Halfacre’s boat Pegasus. Mark was beginning his trip down the intra-coastal waterway to Florida, and I had the privilege of joining him on the first leg. Each night Mark would get out his navigational charts on the IPad and plot his course for the next day. He had to chart a course that avoided shoals under water and buoys above yet led us to the next marina.
 
Mark would enter the GPS markers on his chart plotter as “waypoints.” Each day we would navigate the boat from waypoint to waypoint. The chart plotter would alert us when we arrived at a waypoint. We would check it off and start for the next waypoint until we arrived at our destination for the night.
 
Sermon waypoints help us navigate our way from text to message each week. I know that I need spiritual GPS markers to plot the course for my sermon preparation. The waypoints help me avoid the shoals, so my message does not end up as a Sunday shipwreck.

TITTLE TEST

Jesus said, For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the law until all is accomplished (Mt. 5:18). The “smallest letter” in Greek was the iota. The word for stroke referred to a part of a letter – a tittle. The tittle refers to the tiny projections on some consonants in the Hebrew alphabet that distinguish them from other consonants. Jesus cared about the details of God’s Word and so should we as preachers.
 
Sunday’s seduction is to gloss over the details to get to the preaching points. I have to preach. Sunday is coming. The people expect me to say something significant for their lives now. In my quest for relevancy, I can ignore the lurking shoals in the text. I can make the text to support my points when I don’t pay attention to the tittles. I use the text to sanctify my ideas instead of emphasizing God’s thoughts. One reason why I diagram the text and study the text in the original languages is that these disciplines force me to slow down and consider all the tittles. The tittle test keeps me honest.

ONE BIG IDEA

Many sermons meander through all the small ideas like a toddler walking through a toy store. It’s not that the small ideas won’t preach. They preach well, maybe too well. The problem is that the listener goes home with foggy thoughts. The big idea unifies the sermon like singular themes unify all great works of art and literary masterpieces. I need one big idea for each sermon and the labor to express that idea is some of the hardest work I do as a preacher. It must be significant to the lives of the people and have an expanding force like yeast in a lump of dough. The big idea must be as clear and memorable as the theme song for the movie Titanic. Above all, the big idea must be so tied to the text that people see the text when they hear the idea.

WHO’S IN THE PEW?

Every sermon has an audience. The purpose of the sermon is to change the people in the pew. Many good sermons fail because we are preaching to people who aren’t there to hear them. Evangelistic sermons with altar calls are great, but if there is no one listening who is a non-Christian, what is the point? A church filled with Christians needs to be fed from the Word. On the flip side sometimes we end up preaching to our peers as we defend a theological position instead of addressing the needs of our church. Impressing people with our Christian jargon is vanity. Young families need messages that relate to young families. Discouraged churches need encouragement. Apathetic congregations need to be provoked! We have to know our audience.

LIFE APPS

The people in the seats come to hear how this verse speaks to their lives. One of my hardest tasks over the years was to wrestle with the contemporary life parallels in the passage being preached. It does no good to explain who the Jebusites are if that has no bearing on life today. Connect the life app to the text so that listeners will remember the verse when they face the issue on Thursday.  One of the easiest places to speak falsehood is in our applications. It is not so much that what we say is false but that what we say is not what the text says. Applications that misuse the text feed the idea that the Bible can mean whatever listeners want it to mean. Cement the app to the text for the people.

P.O.D.

All sermons should lead to the point of decision. The purpose of preaching is not merely to inform. Sermons are a call to action. Preaching is supposed to do something. We want seat sitters to believe a truth, trust in God or implement a task. Sermons should persuade, inspire or energize listeners. We preach for a response. Preachers should close the deal and get done! We should wrap it up and put a bow on the package.

SOUL CHECK

I don’t want to shipwreck my soul on the shoals of hypocrisy. A preacher cannot take his people one iota farther spiritually than he is himself. We can point to greater truths, but we cannot lead people into a deeper experience with Christ than we are ready to go ourselves. The final waypoint before delivery is a check on my own life. Is what I am saying real in my soul? People want authenticity today perhaps as never before. They want to see that we are real. If we wrestle with the truth of a passage, they appreciate our honesty. People don’t want to be preached at. They are experts at discerning fake spirituality in the preacher. Transparency is a mark of good preaching. Integrity preaches!
 
How’s my soul?