All

The List Sermon: Dos and Don’ts

This morning I’m working on the sermon I will preach in three weeks–that is Sunday, July 30. It is a part of my Nehemiah series for the summer. The text for the sermon is based upon Nehemiah 6:15-7:4 when Nehemiah proclaims that the wall, his great magnum opus, was complete.

I originally wanted this sermon to be a narrative sandwich style, but a funny thing happened as I was working through the material. A list emerged. First it was three things, then it was five, and by the time I had finished it was seven.

Am I really going to preach a list sermon? You betcha! list

List sermons have a fine pedigree as a communicative style. The early Puritans loved them. Speeches are often nothing more than political secular list sermons. Think about the State of the Union addresses–just a giant list of stuff. And blogs, the best blogs are always lists. You know its true.

The problem is list sermons have a terrible reputation. This terrible reputation comes from being abused by sloppy speakers serving up half-baked homiletics. Here are some lists on the dos and don’ts of a list sermon.

DO

  1. Tell your audience that a list is coming. Don’t try to hide it. Come right out and say “I’ve got five things I want you to think about . . .” Doing this creates built-in momentum toward the exciting last point.
  2. Make the last point exciting. Even if it is not chronological, make certain the last thing you list is a real zinger that will either make them laugh, cry, or form a pulpit committee to replace you. Whatever it is, make it memorable.
  3. Keep the list tied to the text. Oftentimes list sermons turn into elongated word studies that have little to do the text. Or opinions. Or someone else’s sermon you’re just copying.
  4. Use lists when the text is a narrative. It provides balance, because you already have the story in the Bible, and the list can help process it.
  5. Work hard to ensure all your listed points serve one big point which is the one point sermon. I am a big believer in the one point sermon–so my Nehemiah sermon has seven things, but they all point to the big point, which is “Nehemiah built the wall as a part of a process to secure the people from their enemies.”

DON’T

  1. Use clever acrostics with your list. Everyone hates those, and they are so 1980s. It only proves you know how to use a thesaurus.
  2. Spend too much time on the first one or two of your items and then cram the other six in the last paragraph of text or the last minute of speaking. Give equal time to all of your points.
  3. ¬†Develop a list sermon when the biblical text is a proposition or . . . a list. Yeah, don’t use that list sermon, I don’t care how clever your acrostic spells out the name of your church, just don’t use that list sermon to preach the fruit of the Spirit, which in case you missed it, is a list! You need a narrative to preach a list or proposition.
  4. Proclaim that your list is exhaustive or declare “These are the six things you need to know . . .” because seriously, there might be eight. And, there really might only be two, and you just like the other four.
  5. Make your list too long. I once heard a sermon that was a twenty-seven (27!) point explanation or something. Actually, I didn’t hear that sermon, because I walked out on it.

There is probably a lot more I could list here, but I’ll just leave it at this, because I need to go write some more sermony things.