Every athlete wants to start strong: why should your work be any different?
The takeoff is arguably the most important part of the flight. Sprinters work to get a strong jump from the blocks to win the race. And the introduction is key to preaching a strong message.
I typically introduce my sermons in a traditional manner. I read the text first. I give the title of the sermon. Then I formally introduce the message. Others give the introduction before they read the text and state their title. Whichever way you begin your message, a strong introduction is essential, necessary, and beneficial.
Here are nine ways to get your sermon off to a good start.
Introduce something. Many homileticians encourage preachers to write the introduction last. I am not legalistic about things like this. I think you should write as it comes to you. Yet there is wisdom in not beginning with your introduction. Write out a complete sermon skeleton first. Establish the point, structure, and objectives of the message. Know what you are introducing before you write your introduction. Then make sure your introduction to the message actually introduces the message.
Place the text in its context. A text without a context is a pretext. So make sure to help listeners understand how your text fits into the progression of thought. Don’t drag them through a survey of the entire book. But help them to see how the text fits into the theme of the section. Explain the historical background and literary context. Avoid the temptation to blitz the congregation with exegetical data. But use the introduction to show how your text correlates with the larger theme of the related scriptures.
State the point of the message. There is an increasing popular style of preaching that holds the point of the message until the conclusion. But preachers should view this is a novelty that should not be regularly employed. If you are striving for faithful exposition, find the point of the text. Craft that point into a clear, direct, present tense statement. And state it in the introduction. Let the congregation know where you are going up front, even if you don’t tell them how you are going to get there.
Give an accurate forecast. Some preachers transition from the introduction by summarizing the body of the message. This is a good practice, even thought it can also be good to build suspense by revealing ideas as you go. Either way, the introduction should be an accurate forecast of where the sermon is headed. Don’t misrepresent the message. Don’t contradict yourself. And don’t oversell what you will deliver. It if is not on the shelves do not put it on the showcase.
Write it out. It is best to write out a complete sermon manuscript, whether you use it in the pulpit or not. But if you do not write out anything else, write your introduction. Word-for-word. Untangle your thoughts by writing them out. Strive for clarity. Know where you are going. Find the clearest way to the point and body of the message. Map out your way through the opening moments of the sermon. Establish the sermon is moving toward a purposeful destination with a clear and compelling introduction.
No dumping allowed. If you take your study seriously, you will inevitably have more material than you can preach in one sermon. What should you do with that additional material? Save it for another message. Do not stick it in the introduction. The introduction is not the place to dump information you cannot find a place for anywhere else. You want you’re introduction to be clean and tight and strong. Don’t undermine it by stuffing it with too much material. The body of the message should be filled with good meat. The introduction should be fat-free. So make sure everything in the introduction has a real purpose. Know why every sentence is there. Ruthlessly edit out whatever does not fit.
Know your audience. Effective preaching requires that you exegete your audience, as well as your text. Identify whom you will be preaching to. Then craft your introduction for your listeners. This is easier if you preach to the same congregation each week. If you are consistent, your congregation will give you the benefit of the doubt. But don’t take them for granted. Keep them on their toes by engaging them in the introduction. If you are preaching in an unfamiliar setting, it is all the most important to make a connection. Appeal to commonalities. And avoid unnecessary offense. Let the text offend, not your introduction.
Practice variety. Don’t start every sermon the same way. Be creative. Use different doors to get into the house. Tell a story. Raise a question. State a problem. Use a strong quote. Describe the background of the text. Do an object lesson. Try multimedia. Mix it up. Practice diversity. Change the way you come at them, especially if you preach to the same congregation each week. Practicing variety in the introduction is a simple but effective way to stay fresh in the pulpit
Keep it brief. This is key advice for preachers who strive to do exposition. You want to spend the bulk of your time explaining and applying the text. So get to the point quickly. Don’t ramble. Don’t waste words. Don’t loiter on the front porch. You can give a wrong signal by taking your time to tell a story, build suspense, or make an application, leaving limited time to deal with the text. Don’t cruise through the introduction and then rush through the body of the message. We are prone to say, “I wish I had more time to deal with this.” Give yourself more time by keeping your introduction brief.