Ever so often in a movie when the bad guy is chasing a good guy, the good guy confuses the bad guy or creates a diversion by doing something like throwing sand at the bad guy; or maybe the good guy uses a fire extinguisher on the bad guy. You may not have realized it at the time, but those scenes were trying to teach you something about preaching: if you want to confuse listeners, toss sand at them. If you want to make your sermon clear and compelling, giving them a single object to catch.
Multiple tools must be employed to create unified sermons that are delivered to listeners in a clear, laser-focused way. Here we'd like to offer one simple, but not always so easy way to unify your sermons from beginning to end. We call it sermon weaving. Sermon weaving is the art of weaving throughout your sermon, from the introduction to the close, similar terminology. Sermon weaving is about using key words and/or phrases throughout your sermon for two reasons. First, it will keep you focused. Secondly, it will make your sermon a single object for listeners to grasp.
Sermon weaving is one of those final touches on a sermon. When you have done your exegetical work in your text and structured the delivery of your sermon, it is time to get into the nuts and bolts of the language you use. It is time to sermon weave, if it has not already naturally happened. Here is what sermon weaving can look like.
Let's say your sermon can be summarized as, "Jesus lived a perfect life to give us His perfect record." That is a concise, simple summary statement that an entire sermon can revolve around. Key terminology would be "perfect life," "give us," and "perfect record". The preacher has two options: intentionally uses words/phrases that make up that sentence throughout his sermon or uses whatever words/phrases come to mind to explain that big idea.
Let's say no intentional sermon weaving occurred in preparation. So, throughout the sermon the preacher used "righteous living," "sinless lifestyle," "life without rebellion," and "obeyed completely" to describe "perfect life." He used "gift us with," "bless us with," and "hand over to us" for "give us". And so on and so forth. Get the idea? Different terms and phrases are used throughout the sermon to describe a single idea. These different phrases are used at different times when explaining the biblical texts or using illustration.
Now imagine a preacher realized his summary statement for his sermon. Then he realized he could use the key terminology multiple times so that listeners could easily see that the entire sermon was preaching a single, main idea from the main text. Instead of describing "perfect life" in multiple ways he intentionally used the phrase "perfect life". This does not mean at some point he can't use multiple words and phrases to initially define "perfect life". It means that he does not continually describe that truth in multiple, random ways. Once a definition is given, a single phrase is used to unify the sermon.
Practically, this can mean that when a story is used as an illustration, the preacher intentionally uses key terminology, to keep building the single, main idea. Continuing with the sermon-in-a-sentence we used above, let's say the preacher tells a story of a U.S. marine who jumped on a live grenade to save the other marines around him. The preacher could say:
"The marine sacrificed himself for his brothers around him."
But to weave key terminology he could say:
"The marine gave his life for his brothers around him."
The first sentence leaves it up to the listeners to make the connections, which sometimes may be really easy and other times difficult. The second sentence, which intentionally weaves key terminology from the sermon, ensures every single listener is shown the point of the illustration. They hear it explicitly. It is clear. No extra work on the part of a listener is needed.
Sermon weaving is about seeing your craft of preaching, down to the details, as invaluable. It is about taking the time, even if it takes only 15 minutes, to make sure everything in your sermon is unified and clear for listeners. Sermon weaving can make the difference in most people understanding the point of the sermon and most people having to figure it out on their own.
Here is a practical tip: when you have your final sermon notes, whether that is a transcript or outline or something in between, color-code your summary sentence's key terminology. Then, go through your notes and highlight in the appropriate color each time key terminology pops up. You will be able to see, literally, if key terminology weaves throughout your sermon. If they don't, you may want to go back through and change how you say things for the purpose of clarity and unity .
Happy sermon weaving!