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.

Stream of Consciousness Sermon Mullet

First, a little definition. The way I understand a stream of consciousness sermonic form is that the preacher allows his or her mind to wander through the text from one thought to another as the brain does, rather subconsciously, what the brain does, and that is work through issues toward understanding. People do this all the time when they ‘talk out’ a problem. It is what people who have complicated problems are doing when they constantly brainstorm on the white board.

The principle for preaching is the preacher, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit and through prayer, through study of the text and of the issues, allows the mind to wander without trying to enforce any form-no outline, no pattern, no loop, no point even–just let the mind move from one thing to the other until we get back where we started from.

So that is what I did yesterday with Romans 6. The difference, of course, is that I did not do this Sunday morning in front of everyone, I did it about two weeks ago in my study and with my computer as I typed away. Then, when it was finished, I did sculpt it a little, and cut a little, and clean it up a bit, then tidy up some words. But essentially, I just let my mind wander. What happened was truly fascinating to me–my mind did indeed work through it in a way that was interesting, engaging, theological solid, and practically meaningful. I was very pleased with it. After cleaning it up a bit, I delivered it yesterday.

The best line that came out of the endeavor was, “Romans 6:23 is like a bad haircut. It is a mullet. Business up front (wages of sin is death) and party in the back (the gift of God is eternal life).”

mullet-hairstyle
Romans 6:23 Visual Represented    (photo courtesy of the 1980s)
But here are the five things that must guide the process. There are probably more than five, but somewhere in the arcane rules of the internet it states clearly that a blog can really only have five things.

  1. Discipline cannot be completely abandoned. The stream of thought needs to be related to the text. You can’t jump from “The wages of sin is death” to “why does the neighbor’s dog hate me” unless it is somehow relevant. Don’t confuse this with laziness.
  2. You must study ahead of time before you begin. If you try this with nothing in your noggin then you will end up with a sermon that is just a pile of garbage.
  3. The stream of consciousness needs to finish with solid application, not illustration.
  4. You can’t do this every week. I wouldn’t anyway, because I am a big proponent of varying the form of the sermon from week to week. For example, this upcoming week I am using an image driven motif. I haven’t used images in almost two months.
  5. Don’t be in a bad or foul mood when you do this, or your sermon will be depressive and dark. I was in a very good humor when I engaged in this exercise and I think it showed in the delivery. We laughed a lot Sunday. Your mood informs the sermon.

As I said, there were several things that didn’t make the cut. In my original manuscript (and yes, I generally type a word for word manuscript every week, which I leave in the study when I preach, for I preach without notes) I had a long riff on baptism that was slightly more confrontational than I wanted in the finished product, so I axed that out. I still might use that thought in a future sermon, but not on this day. The finishing theme of the sermon is life–or, “Alive” and for two weeks I’ve had Pearl Jam’s song “Alive” in my head. In a different context, I might have played a short clip of the music video as the opening to the sermon and then just took off from there, but given our country musicish church I decided that Pearl Jam might be a little over the top, but boy, that would have worked great. Even the grotesque middle stanza would have worked in a free-style discussion about sin, realizing who you really are, and deciding to live the “alive” life. But I didn’t, yet I’ll leave it here for you to enjoy, if you like. that sort of thing.

 

 

 

 

 

VOTE ON THE MOUSTACHE

Per my summer tradition, I shaved off my glorious beard after DragonFest 2016 (click here for more info about Dragonfest). I did this in stages–first seeing how it looked with no sideburns, then The Balbo, then a Vandyke, and then a Fu Manchu. Don’t worry friends, I will grow it back. Since time immemorial men have shorn themselves in the summer months. It is healthy and good for the skin to see the sun, and for the man to remember how much he needs the beard to cover his ugly mug. Needless to say, I’m no longer sporting a 4 On the Riker scale (Click here to learn about the Riker scale of beards).File Aug 12, 1 15 48 PM

But back to my issue. The last stage of my “what does this look like” experiment was to just go with a moustache. I wore it all the way home yesterday during our epic journey through the heartland to home.

During the journey, a debate erupted amongst the Greenbeans. Should I keep the ‘stache and preach with it on Sunday or go ahead and take it off?

I decided to let anyone who cares have a voice. Please vote yes or no in the poll below. Don’t forget to click the word “vote” to submit your choice. Check back often to see which side is winning.

#FIVEWORDSTORUINASERMON

So #fivewordstoruinadate is trending on the Twitterverse.  I’ve seen a couple come through my timeline and the funniest so far is “I’ve never watched Star Trek?”  That would certainly be a game changer.  Now, since I’ve been happily married to Mrs. Greenbean before the invention of the wheel, I don’t have much experience with dating anymore.  That’s a good thing.

I did, however, come up with a couple of zingers–although I didn’t tweet them because as an old married man who doesn’t date I think it would be creepy.  But here are mine.

Doctor says its a fungus #fivewordstoruinadate

Gotta ask the probation officer #fivewordstoruinadate

Okay, I said it had been awhile since I’ve dated.  However, one thing I do know a lot about is preaching.  In many ways preaching can be like being on a date–every word is closely scrutinized and can be understood differently by the hearer than what the speaker intended.  So, here are some five words to ruin a sermon.

1.  Now for my fifth conclusion #fivewordstoruinasermon

2.  I heard it on FOXnews #fivewordstoruinasermon

3.  Todays sermon will run long #fivewordstoruinasermon

4.  Stop thinking and just listen #fivewordstoruinasermon

5.  We don’t need no hermeneutics #fivewordstoruinasermon

6.  Its all Greek to me #fivewordstoruinasermon

7.  Jesus told me you should #fivewordstoruinasermon

8.  Joel Osteen is the greatest #fivewordstoruinasermon

9.  Here is a denominational video #fivewordstoruinasermon

10.  Now, for my vacation pictures #fivewordstoruinasermon