Full Sentence Points

Why do I recommend preachers have full sentence points?  Or to put it another way – what is the problem with single-word points?

After all, a series of three or four single words can be memorable, both during the message and potentially after it.  So why not just give single word “points” as the message progresses?

A single-word may convey a title, but it cannot convey an idea. A single word will tell the listeners something about what is going to be said, but it is not able to convey the idea in a nutshell.  Why waste the opportunity to make a single sentence summary of the message content?

Single-word points tend to push the message toward information summary rather than transformational communication. Not always, but often, a single word will lean toward historical lecture material.  The old idea of masses of explanation before any application is problematic.  Why waste the opportunity to be relevant, targeted, personal at such a key moment in the message?  Putting the points in full sentences that relate to us today can be very powerful.  You can immediately go to the text and “back then” to see the support for the point, but you’re doing so with a sense of its relevance to us before you even get there.

Single-word points encourage a lack of cohesion within each point. If your “point” is a subject, then there is almost no end to what you could (and possibly will try to) say in this section of the message.  If your point is a distilled summary of the applicational point (or the message of the text at that section), then there is automatically a control mechanism to avoid scattered thoughts that don’t cohere.

Preaching is oral communication, which consists of transmitting ideas. When we talk in conversation we make points, assertions, suggestions, encouragements, etc. in full sentences.  We don’t naturally use single-word headings.  This is a written  communication approach.  Whatever notes you may or may not be looking at, when you preach you are speaking.  Why use literary approaches?  Forcing yourself to think yourself clear at the level of the points in your message, making sure you can convey the thought in a clear sentence will only help your message communicate more effectively.

Incidentally, if you are still craving the mnemonic assistance of single word tags, you could always add them (or some shorthand approach) in the transitions and final summary.  Having said that, remember that your goal is not for listeners to remember your outline, but to be transformed by the main idea of the text and its application to their lives.

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2 thoughts on “Full Sentence Points

  1. A very interesting read and one worthy of discussion. I like the point about Oral communication and that made me think.

    I have to ask the question, “does oral communication have(need) to be different from written communication”?

    When I chat with my wife or friends I am not looking for them to take something away from the conversation, just the mere fact of having the conversation is enough. The conversation may (hopefully) leave the person feeling encouraged and that might be the ‘thing’ they take away….. encouragement

    If I leading a group then the purpose of my words are not to ‘chat’ but to lead so they take on a different flow and subtle change.

    When I took my PGCE (albeit in Maths) we were trying to convey information and our aim was to make that information memorable. We had to have little peaks in our teaching (the peaks being the points of note) so that the child could walk out , for example, having remembered what fractions are all about and being able to do Maths with them.

    Putting Evengelistic preaching to one side, isn;t preaching/teaching from the pupit a disemination of both information and theme? I want the listeners to remember what the bible says as well as be inspired by it. I also want them to be able to recall what was taught at later times and therefore be reminded of the life transforming message they recieved (and invoke those feelings again).

    In closing can I say that I have listened to, and been inspired by, many sermons that contain both single and multiple word titles and sermons that have have no titles at all (save perhaps one).

    I think you are right in that we should do our utter most in our preaching and teaching to convey the information and theme as best we can. And Christ will work through our obedience and change the hearts of men.

  2. Hey Alan – thanks for the long comment! Some further thoughts:

    Does oral communication need to be different from written communication? Yes. In written communication the reader has the advantage of being able to re-read complicated sentences, or re-scan headings, titles, indentation, not to mention the effect of highlighting, font change, font size, etc. If you take good oral communication and simply transcribe it, you will often find grammar rules being broken, but to good effect, incomplete sentences, apparently endless repetition and restatement, etc. We are so trained in our education to think they are the same that we so easily fall into attempting to speak written language (and if we manage to get it out, which often doesn’t work – warning sign, then our listeners struggle to take it in). Robert Jacks wrote a very helpful book in 1996 entitled “Just Say the Word: Writing for the Ear” – well worth a read if you are passionate on this matter.

    Is preaching more than, or different than, teaching? Or to push in a related direction, what is it we want people to take away from a sermon? All too often I come across preaching that seeks to offer an outline, but fails to coalesce that outline into a coherent idea. In order to effectively convey the idea of a passage, we will need to both structure our thought and convey information. However, stopping at conveying information and making structure memorable is to stop far short of effectively preaching the message of a passage.

    What is the goal of preaching? Is it to stock memories with outlines? If it is, then most preachers have failed on a massively consistent basis (even if they made this their goal). Surely the goal is for lives to be transformed by encountering God in and through His Word? The ingredients for this kind of goal include understanding the message and flow of a passage, seeing how that message coheres in a single idea, feeling the impact of that idea in applicational transformation of the affections, belief and conduct . . . or to put it in other words – I want listeners to be able to go back to the passage and understand it, but more than that, I want them to be changed by it now, and have a fairly accurate sense of the main message of the passage, as well as some awareness of how that will work out in real life for them.

    It’s interesting in teaching preaching how this works out. When I teach a full beginners class the students know that after they preach, the listeners will be asked three questions, one of which is “what was the main idea of that message?” So the astute students will try to restate and repeat their main idea as many times as they can throughout the message. It is always startling for them to discover how their excessive, over the top, consistent repetition did not result in a room full of people able to remember it just minutes after the message! If people struggle to capture and retain a single sentence for a whole message, I wonder honestly how many people really retain a sequence of stand alone words over the course of several days, let alone weeks. Remember the main idea should be relevant as well as coherent as a sentence, which motivates people to remember. Single words in and of themselves will not be immediately relevant, so motivation will be lower to remember. Having said all that, the goal is not knowledge/memory, but transformation. If memory of main idea and its application will aid in ongoing transformation, then by all means be as memorable as possible (I definitely affirm that), but thinking that an apparently memorable outline equates to either people recalling it, or being transformed by it, is a stretch.

    Don’t misunderstand me, I would much rather hear an organised message with a memorable outline than a disorganised message without an outline. But I also think a sermon can reach much deeper than is possible by a “hooks to hang thoughts on” strategy. I have become convinced by the teaching of some of my mentors that the outline is really and primarily for my benefit, helping me to preach the message effectively.

    Here are a few earlier posts on this issue in case you want to chase it more . . .

    How to not preach like a commentary

    Ten commandments for clarity

    Content differences in preaching and lecturing

    Pointers for points

    What do you want them to remember?

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