Over three years ago, when this blog was first beginning, I wrote a post about sermon titles. I called it “Tricky Little Things” and for some reason it was the post that consistently got the highest level of hits in the couple of years that followed. So I thought I’d revisit it today with some tweaks. Let’s think about sermon titles:
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? Even before we get to that question, let’s consider a preliminary question – what is the point of the title?
Defining purpose for sermon titles is a worthwhile endeavour. You have to consider your own situation. Will the title be advertised publically? Will it be announced to the church? Will they only see it as they browse the notice sheet at the start of the service? Some situations will demand more of the title than others! Nevertheless, 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 – 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!’… ?”
Titles are little things, but they’re not easy to write. The keywords to keep in mind are intrigue, interest and relevance.