Why Not Use the Main Idea for the Message Title?

Just following up on yesterday’s post, I thought I’d clarify why I don’t think it is usually a good idea to simply use the main idea of the message as a title.

1. You don’t want to give away any sermonic tension. Obviously if you are preaching an inductive message, then you need to withhold the main idea until the end of the message.  But if you’re preaching a deductive message, wouldn’t it be okay to advertise the main idea?  Occasionally it could be effective to do so, but I would generally choose not to do so.  Even in a deductive message, you typically will begin with an engaging and interesting introduction that leads to the presentation of the main idea of the message.  Within that short space of time, you may create some tension in the listener as they wonder how you’ll address this message to the need you are surfacing in the introduction.  But there are other factors to consider as well, before you give away your main idea to the advertising committee!

2. Length. Your main idea must needs be a complete sentence.  While it is generally better to be pithy than pedantic, it still may stretch for 10 to 15 words.  To put it simply, this will be too long to be an effective title for the message.

3. Care of Delivery. Hopefully your main idea is a well-crafted piece of precision communication, perhaps and probably taking longer to craft than significantly longer chunks of the message.  This is a precious piece of sentencry (new term, you saw it here first!) that will carry the weight of the message on its shoulders, yet penetrate deep into the hearts and minds of your listeners.  It is strong, yet precious.  Personally, when I have the fruit of significant labour, or something that should be of significance to the recipients, I would rather deliver it myself than just leaving it out in public.  I may be overplaying this since often our main ideas are just good and clear (on a good day), but I think my point stands.  If it is thrown around publically on leaflets, posters, adverts, or even just in the notice sheet, then I am not in control of how it is stated, how it is packaged, how it is heard.  Even just in the notice sheet . . . let’s be honest, do you really trust the guy who is sharing the notices earlier in the service not to mis-emphasise (or worse) your title if he chooses to mention it?

4. Contrasting Goals. I’ve gone over my word limit, so let me be brief for the last two.  The main idea is intended to be, above all, clear.  It should stir a definite nod of the head in recognition that it is exactly what the passage is saying, in summary, to us today.  Not so the title.  The title is intended to intrigue, to interest, to promise more, to suggest relevance and interest will follow for all who choose to attend and listen.

5. When the title is needed. If you’re not convinced already, this should do the job.  When is the title needed?  Probably more than a week in advance.  When is your main idea usually in a fit state for public presentation?  Probably not then.

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4 thoughts on “Why Not Use the Main Idea for the Message Title?

  1. I suppose it depends on when the title is needed. In some cases the title really isn’t needed. I’ve heard some preachers begin by announcing their title, but that seems to be a throw back to classroom presentations in secondary school. I suppose, if nothing else, the title can go on the CD or MP3 if your church records the messages (and again, it should intrigue to motivate people to listen).

  2. Being new to preaching a problem I have encountered on more than one occasion is being ask to speak on a passage when the invitation comes together with a title. Although the title fits nicely into the theme of the series and has come from the passage but, again on more than one occasion, I have not thought that it accurately reflected the main message. The obvious response, is to seek an alternative but if there is reluctance to change the available options seem to be to build a sermon around the title despite my own views of the main message or to somehow ‘sideline’ the title – maybe giving it a cameo part. Is this something you have encountered and do you have any other suggestions.

    • I’ve faced this a few times. Since I don’t tend to get invited to speak at events with major publicity, I tend not to worry about the title too much. A cameo appearance is probably stronger than I would put it. In these situations I have preached the text, recognizing the goal of the series, but seeking to honour the text as my priority in that particular message, and never mentioning the title. I’ve never had anybody complain that the title didn’t really fit (since, after all, the title is usually bordering on unnecessary!) If it would be uncomfortable to preach the text with the title sidelined, then I would approach the people in authority who have invited me to preach. What I have found is that titles, and sometimes even section breaks, are put together by a group of people with many other things on their plates. To adjust these as necessary is almost never an issue, but courtesy is important, of course.

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