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.


A Great Opportunity To Be Missed?

The final moments of a sermon are highly strategic. The last opportunity to emphasize the main idea, drive home the application, stir motivation for response, etc. Then there is one other thing we may be inclined to include – an early advert for next Sunday’s continuation in the series, an early raising of need for what is to follow. I am not saying this should or should not be included, but I’d like to point out a couple of points to ponder before you choose to refer to series sermon today-plus-one:

Finish this sermon. Be sure to resolve the present sermon fully. Your mind may be wandering to the next in the series (or you may want to raise hope that next week will be better than this one), but be sure to preach a complete sermon now. This moment is primarily about today’s sermon, not next Sunday’s. (As you can tell from the site, I don’t recommend preaching through the text until time runs out and then picking up at the same point next time. Preach a complete unit of thought.)

Don’t undermine this sermon. It would be a waste of all that has gone before to end with something along the lines of, “. . . today was alright, but you don’t want to miss next week’s message! That one will really be something!”

Only dangle a carrot with care. Perhaps you are inspired by a well-written TV show that always leaves people at a cliffhanger and longing for next week’s episode. Remember that takes a high level of skill to pull off effectively. It is far easier to leave people disheartened and frustrated by doing this poorly. You may choose to leave some element of the sermon or text hanging in the air, but think it through carefully.

Let the title intrigue. Often all you need to stir interest in next week’s sermon is the title printed in the bulletin. The title is there to stir interest and to intrigue. I wrote a post on titles that may help – Titles: Tricky Little Things.

The end of this sermon may be an opportunity to motivate people to come for the next sermon. But think this through carefully, as it may just be a great way to undo the moment, dissipate focus and lose what you’ve been trying to achieve to this point. What do you think?