There are lots of ways to introduce a sermon. Here are a few common approaches:
1. The Bible reading – Some like to announce the text and read the text before saying anything about the text. I understand the desire to put the Word of God in a pre-eminent position, but there is a downside. With this approach people may or may not, in fact, probably won’t be ready for the text. If you have had a genuinely stirring time of worship and the mood is absolutely focused, then maybe it might work for some. Generally, although well-intentioned, this is not an ideal launch to a sermon.
2. The interesting or amusing anecdote – Some view the first couple of minutes of a sermon as the opportunity to tell a great story, after which there is a crunching of the gears as the preacher jerks the steering wheel and changes course to start the message proper. This time could be used so much more effectively, so generally let’s not see this as a good approach.
3. The context of the passage – Perfect if your congregation have been pestering you all week to tell them about the reign of Zedekiah or the troublesome deceivers on Crete. Not so many phone calls about that? Probably shouldn’t start there then.
4. The hesitant run-up – Like a child preparing to do a daring leap, the preacher seems to try and get going several times before daring to actually do it. It’s exciting for the preacher.
5. The meandering round about approach – Like a hesitant tour guide going around the houses before eventually starting into the house you came to see. It may be reassuring for the preacher, but it will be tedious for the listeners.
None of these approaches are very effective. Here are three things to keep in mind when planning a sermon introduction:
A. Make it as long as necessary and as short as possible – A great introduction does its job, no less and no more.
B. Stir motivation in the listener to hear you preach this message from this passage – Ask yourself, does this introduction motivate the listener to hear me, this message and this passage?
C. Make sure they want you to continue – Once you are done, they should want you to continue.
There is no one-size fits all introduction. Sometimes a story is perfect, sometimes you need to ask a question, or describe a problem, or engage the imagination, or read a headline, or share a struggle. Whatever you do, keep these three guidelines at the forefront of your preparation.
10 thoughts on “The Art of the Sermon Introduction”
This is very helpful. I will be preaching this Sunday and I need to rethink my intro after reading this. Thank you!
The Word if God isn’t the way into an exposition of the Word of God? Really? I’d love to see you arguing that with Paul the apostle. It demonstrates to me a lack of faith in the power of the Word of God.
Thanks for reading the post, Dominic. That is one perspective. Another is that the Word of God deserves the most motivated hearers. I suspect we may need to agree to disagree. As far as the apostle Paul is concerned, I am not sure why you are so confident he would be opposed to what I have written here. Have a great New Year!
I disagree… I think #1 is the very best way to start a sermon. It puts the Scripture as the focus, the main thing. It’s perfectly fine that the people aren’t “ready” for the text, even though I am not sure what you mean by that. Let the hard or confusing or weighty things be heard without prep or commentary and then dig into the Word together. I’ve been doing it this way for years, and have found it to be a very effective way to begin a sermon. I can’t think of a single downside to it.
Thanks Mike for your comment. What I mean by “not ready” is that if listeners are distracted thinking about their argument in the car on the way to church, or fear of what the boss wants by requesting a meeting first thing Monday morning, or concern over how to pay forthcoming bills, or whatever, then the Word of God is read, the words resonate through the air, but they do not register with the listeners. I do not feel that this approach honours the Scripture in the way it is intended. My desire is to honour the Scripture as the focus and the main thing, which is why I suggest that a brief and purposeful introduction may be helpful. Most churches will have the singing of hymns and prayer before the sermon, perhaps you do this too? But if the Scripture is focus, the main thing, then Why not start the whole service with the reading?
I think you’re absolutely right. If the Bible text doesn’t precede the Sermon how on Earth can anyone know what you are on about?
Dominic, thank you for engaging so enthusiastically. Sometimes enthusiasm can overstate to the point of confusion.
I have never heard my own thought regarding a good introduction to a sermon so exactly stated. As the daughter, wife, sister, mother of preachers I have heard literally thousands. The Word of God is worthy of a good introduction that prepares and focuses the minds on what is to be shared.