A Word about Preaching: Whatever Happened to “Points?”

I’ve listened to preaching all my life. My father was a preacher (52 years). Many of my uncles and even some of my aunts were preachers. (The aunts were missionaries but could preach circles around some men when given the opportunity!) I visit many churches and hear numerous sermons by different preachers throughout each year. I listen to and read sermons. I attend chapel (as often as I can) and hear sermons there–often by veteran preachers.

My question is this: Whatever happened to preaching with points?

I’m no homiletician. I don’t even claim to be a good preacher. But this one thing I know from personal experience–sermons with three clear points (with alliteration or not) are easier to understand and remember than sermons without clear points. Apparently, from what I hear and can observe, preaching with points has fallen out of favor. It’s considered “old school.”

Simply put, however, whether it’s “old school” or not, preaching with points works IF your goal as the preacher is for people to understand you and remember what you said.

Just so you know. My homiletics professor was James Montgomery Boice–generally considered a good if not great preacher (pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia and radio preacher who studied theology under Karl Barth was himself conservative Reformed).

When I was a kid and student most sermons I heard had three points–sometimes two or four. That by itself did not guarantee “good preaching.” Some pointed sermons were and are awful. But I remember many sermons I heard many years ago–some from my teen years and student years (college and seminary). They ALL had clear points.

Example: heard about 35 years ago. Text: Psalm 119:11. Three points (expanded on well): 1) A good thing, 2) In a good place, 3) For a good reason. Simple? Yes. Simplistic? Depends on how the points are developed and explained. “Old school?” For sure. Memorable? Absolutely.

Now the favored preaching style is “narrative preaching.” Okay, sometimes I get it. But sometimes I have no idea what the preacher is trying to say. It’s just a good story. Maybe inspiring. But in my opinion, good preaching appeals to the mind and the heart. “Just inspiring” isn’t good enough.

A good sermon informs and challenges as well as inspires. The “information” may not be new, but there should be facts, cognitive content, propositions, truth claims in every sermon. Why? Because otherwise, unless it’s a very sophisticated congregation capable of interpreting narrative for themselves, the narrative sermon along, without some interpretation,will miss the mark. EVEN JESUS condescended to explain his parables to his disciples!

Most of the time for the past twenty-five years or so I walk way from a sermon wondering “What was that all about?” When I am blessed enough to hear one with clear points (not necessarily stated as such by the preacher) I walk away thinking it over and I tend to remember it all week and maybe longer.

 


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