Sermon Titles: Tricky Little Things

I don’t find it easy to write a title for a sermon. Actually, I do . . . a bad one! I don’t find it easy to write a good title for a sermon. So what makes a title tick?

A bad title illicits a yawn, an expectation that the message will be boring, irrelevant or distant. “Joseph’s Journey to Egypt.” Can’t imagine people purring with anticipation for that one. There have been times when I’ve sat through an introduction in which the preacher posed a question, “So what must be present in your ministry if it is to count for anything?” But I sat there unmoved by the “tension” because the bulletin had already told me the title – “Love – 1Cor.13:1-3.” I like the title Alexander Strauch used for an article on that text (and I believe, a message), “5-1=0.”

A good title stirs interest and piques curiosity. A good title gets the listener on your side. They already want to hear what you have to say before you start your introduction – what a bonus! So the big idea in a deductive sermon might make a good title, as long as it is going to be stated in the introduction and it leaves people wanting to know more. “I wonder what that is supposed to mean? The preacher will need to explain that!” But if the sermon is inductive, then don’t give away any tension in your title. That would be like your uncle who always gives away the punch line in the introduction to a joke, “Did you hear the one that ends with her saying, ‘no, but that’s a really nice ski mask!’… ?”

Be great to hear some creative sermon titles . . .

9 Comments

Filed under Homiletics, How to . . . ?, Preaching, Stage 8 - Message Detail

9 responses to “Sermon Titles: Tricky Little Things

  1. Ahh…This is a topic that is not often touched in the homiletic literature. I actually have a 5 page document up on my website about titling a sermon at: http://www.soulpreaching.com/sermon-titles-important-or-not/.

    I like your point of not resolving all the sermonic tension in an inductive sermon. My 3 final points from my article are:

    1. If one has a title, it should relate to the sermon in some way. Whether it is from the text, the major illustration, or some other hook, one should see the connection when the sermon is completed.

    2. If one has a title, it should not overpower the sermon by either promising too much or giving the whole sermon away. Perhaps this is a little induction in me, but I agree totally with Long’s and Webb’s idea that the sermon title should only fully be understood at the end of the sermon.

    3. A good title can help to orient the people before they get to the church.

    The title is very important in my estimation, and I thank you for bringing it up….

  2. My sermon title from Sunday was “How to Kill Your Kids” (Prov. 19:18) …it was a catchier title than I usually use.

    …but this brings up a question I’ve thought about before. If we are committed to preaching expository sermons, why do we title them, as if they were something other? As if the sermon were a product, an essay, a lecture? I appreciate your thoughts about what a title can accomplish, but is it really proper?

    I suppose I’m confessing that I’ve had the desire several times to scrap the whole “title” thing and just have in the bulletin: Sermon – Proverbs 19:18.

  3. Pingback: Name Your Sermon - Or Someone Else Will | SoulPreaching.Com

  4. Kevin Mathewson

    Thanks for the post on sermon titles. I always like to have (or see) a good sermon title in print. I think it can hook your listener before you even get up to preach. You don’t want to give away too much so your sermon is anticlimatic but enough to draw them in before the sermon begins. My favorite that I’ve used (although I can’t take credit for it–credit goes to my brother Steve Mathewson) is “The Bee, The Mountain Goat and the Lightning Bolt that Fizzled” from Judges 4. I’ve also used “The Biggest Loser” from Judges 13-16 and I borrowed the title of Robert Hubbard’s book “Ordinary, Faithful People” for a message from the book of Ruth.

    The more one preaches inductively as opposed to deductively the more one is likely to spend time and come up with a creative title as it (the title) can be part of the inductiveness of the sermon.

    For example a pastor in my area recently preached a sermon title “God Opens Doors” from Acts 16. That leaves nothing to the imagination, but then again his sermon probably didn’t either. Why not hook people with a title such as “What Are You Going To Do When The World Slams the Door in Your Face?” or “Everyone Needs a Good Locksmith” (of course I don’t know what his big idea is so neither may work. . . )

  5. Jared,

    Well you didn’t ask me, but since I am a proponent of using titles, I think I must at least give the outline of an answer. By the way, nice title….;-)

    I wish to ask, What do you mean as if it were a product? I don’t really understand that question. It seems as though the sermon is a product. It is derived from the text, but it is not the text. It is a word on the text, but certainly not the final word on the text. It is a combination or product of text, spirit, preacher, and congregation.

    Giving a title, I think, is no different than to go to the text and pull out the points to preach them. The title simply is a handle for the people to carry away the sermon.

    I guess my main problem is to seek to understand why you think it is improper. In addition I would be interested in whether the position that you are espousing when taken to a logical conclusion would mean that we don’t preach a sermon at all…we simply read the text.

    This is a good question that forces us to think about our theology of preaching…God bless and keep on preaching…

  6. Sherman, thanks for your answer. It is very helpful.

    When I say “production”, I’m thinking of things like essays and lectures and songs and movies and books…other things which receive “titles.” In my view, a sermon is quite unlike all those other things.

    I’m not at all ready to just read the text, as God has clearly commanded and equipped men for preaching, but I want the focus of the saints to be on the Word of God, not my cleverness, or not even this *sermon*. I would guess the answer is the title can serve that purpose as well. If it does, then glory be to God!

    Perhaps my focus on propriety was out of bounds. I have no way to argue a sermon title is improper, but I’m still wrestling with what it says about our sermons that we title them, rather than simply giving chapter and verse.

    Thanks again for your help!

  7. This is perhaps my greatest weakness homiletically.

    When I was the associate pastor I used to just let the senior pastor come up with whatever felt good to him based on the text I had chosen and the general direction I was headed.

    I could probably come up with a better title after the sermon has been preached, or at least in its finished state prior to preaching. But coming up with something at the time of bulletin printing is a challenge.

  8. Lin @ Rock Haven Church

    Well here’s my three cents worth. (inflation) Try naming a new church!!! everything is so tired First this mt. this Oh never mind you get the picture. I do not like the nomenclature sermon. I prefer to prepare a message. sermon feels more to me like an address. but a message from God. Oh, now you have my attention. See, I know the sermon on the mount blah blah blah. I’m not discounting it. I just prefer message. (same concept as title)
    Now message title thing. I love the handle to carry it away thought. I’m big on message title. Most of the time I can’t put it together until I have settled on the title. It must grab you. Your interest peaked by it, flare. I remember titles to the past messages that sparks the remembering of the context of it. I remember messages I’ve heard because of there title, so that’s how I judge it. thanks, Lin

    some of mine

    Would you please pass the salt. we are the salt!

    The problem with high cholesterol
    Sin creeps in (youth rally)

    Bad to the Bone
    Ezekiel valley of dry bones

    Shut up and fish
    soul winning , being pre occupied with everything else

    american idol the final season
    putting things before God

    The stones live in concert
    if you don’t praise me the rocks will cry out!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    When the voice in your head dosent match the one of your Heart.
    Well you know…

  9. A Heart-Attack Waiting To Happen (Ps 119:70)

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