3 Points and a Poem

"3 points and a poem" has become a satirical way to refer to the typical way many sermons are structured. The preacher introduces a sermon, tells listeners he has 3 points, and then closes that sermon with a nice poem. We like to poke fun at that style of preaching because it seems overused and outdated. That may be true. It can be predictable. 

With that being said, it is possible that using the structure of 3 points and a poem could greatly benefit many preachers, maybe even you. Before you think this blog is worthless for such advice, consider this. Many preachers would be taking a huge step forward, not backward, by using a basic format such as having 3 explicit points to structure their sermons. Many congregations might find 3 explicit points and a closing poem (or story) to be a huge relief. 

Having 3 points and a poem is a huge step forward for some preachers and a huge relief to some congregations because many use no explicit structure at all when preaching. This does not mean they do not have a structure in their own mind and pulpit notes to follow. It means listeners are not given any road map to arrange the sermon, a road map such as, "First point...second point...last point." When no structure or map is given to follow, listeners have to arrange content themselves, determine a main theme, and guess where the sermon is going.

It may sound odd, but preachers with communication skills may be more tempted to preach sermons with no clear structure for listeners to follow. The temptation is common to preachers: once you know how to understand a biblical text, grasp how to talk about it, and plug in a few illustrations, you think your sermon is ready to be preached. Clear communicators know they will not come up short for words, so a few main talking points with illustrations will suffice. The problem is listeners will be lost without some kind of structure to track.    

Movie directors cannot begin shooting even if they have a plot, great actors, state of the art equipment and a shooting location. They need a detailed script, a word-for-word script. They need a scene-by-scene story board. They need to know exactly where cameras will be placed, where actors will move, what they will say, and what the scenery around them will be. This does not mean preachers need a manuscript. It means a sermon needs to be thought through in detail, down to how a transition will be stated.

One of the easiest ways a preacher can begin detailing his delivery is by creating a point-based structure (3 points is a good start). Let's say you study your biblical text for your sermon. You find that the text's main theme is that God's love is unconditional. Within that text there are about 7 ideas that build the main theme. On the one hand, you could just blow through the text, hit the 7 truths, and hope listeners connected it all in their minds to get to the big idea. This method can make a sermon frustrating to listen to and leaves listeners no way to arrange content mentally.

Consider this instead: could those 7 ideas be turned into structured points? Maybe 4 of them are really 3 main-points and the other 3 ideas are really supporting sub-points. If there is too much there for one clear sermon, could you break it all into 2 sermons? Arranging a sermon's delivery to have a clear structure and movement means listeners will track the sermon, beginning to end. Listeners will be thinking, "I get where the preacher is going and I get why he is going there."

There is more than one way to structure a sermon. 3 points and a poem is not the only way, but it could be a great improvement to your preaching. We will cover different ways to structure sermons in the future. For now, start helping listeners understand what you understand, where your sermon is going and why. 3 points and a poem might not be so bad for your church after all.


When Sermons (Don't) Make Sense

If you have ever sat on a beach in front of a calm ocean, you have maybe felt the soothing effect of the rhythm of the waves. They build, crash, wash up on shore, and return, over and over. This pattern of the ocean is peaceful. It is perfect for clearing your mind or thinking about a future sermon series. 

If you've experienced the rhythm of the ocean on a clear day, you know the difference a storm makes. When a storm brews the coast loses its rhythm. The pattern of waves building, crashing, washing, and returning turns into a barrage of waves moving different directions, white water clouding the ocean, and waves even moving backwards. The ocean is just a barrage of random waves. 

Sermons should be similar to the coast on a calm day. They should have a rhythm for listeners to track, arrange, and understand as a whole. Sermons are not meant to be made up of a barrage of ideas with little connection. "If a preacher does not provide a unifying concept for a message, listeners will. They instinctively will supply a thought peg on which to hang the preacher's ideas, knowing that if they do not, they will retain nothing" (Bryan Chapell). Listeners need to be given a way to arrange all the thoughts and ideas of a sermon to know what the sermon is about as a whole.

Most sermons contain multiple main- and sub-ideas. Whether these ideas are main-points or main-steps in an argument, they can often be understood on their own. But when they are put together to create a sermon they must be understood together; they must have a clear connection.

"God is gracious."

"Adam and Eve sinned."

"Jesus rose from death."

"We are sinful."

"Jesus died." 

"Jesus loves you."

When a preacher does not structure his sermon to make sense as a whole, it feels like that. Each of the above points makes sense on its own. But as you were reading you were automatically trying to find a rhythm and connection. You maybe saw a general idea, but you wanted more. Why are the above 6 ideas addressed as a whole? If this were a sermon, there would be no clear way for listeners to arrange the 6 points to create a particular message. 

When a preacher feels confident in his ability to stand in front of a congregation and explain the Bible, he may have a tendency to preach a barrage of ideas. This is because it is easy to feel the sermon is complete once you know how to talk about the biblical content. The problem is that without structure, from beginning to end, not much is remembered. "In the course of an hour (if you're lucky) facts are delivered, but no one remembers them or why they are worth remembering" (Byron Yawn).

Imagine rearranging your favorite movie to be completely random. Each scene could be understood by itself. You might learn characters' names and even pieces of what could be a plot. But when watched in random sequence the movie is frustrating and makes no sense. With each passing minute things get more confusing, not less. Movie-goers break a sweat figuring out the director's plot.

Structure your sermon so that listeners understand not only what you are saying but why you are saying it. Make it clear, from the macro perspective of your sermon, why you moved from talking about single moms having a tough job to talking about teaching your kids the Bible. Ask questions like, "Will a listener understand why I started with this story? Will a listener understand why I am covering these 3 points?" When you can answer those kinds of questions with "Yes", you might be read to preach that sermon!

We will address specific ways to structure a sermon so that listeners can follow it in the near future.