When writing your sermon, the introduction is your entrance or your on-ramp. You need to get them on board right away. Rather than assuming their attention, you need to win it quickly and set it on the right thing. Those are the two ingredients to effective introductions.
First, you want to win their attention promptly. You have just a few seconds before they decide, “This is going to be boring.” Too many of us take really long on-ramps stretched out by our apologies for colds or how long this message is going to take or how happy we are to be here today or (heavens no!) announcements… We make really boring on-ramps when we start talking immediately about the historical details of the text or how during that last song we were thinking about something that really doesn’t pertain to preparing us for the text… We need to get right to it.
Criteria #1: Discover the need that your text addresses and open your sermon by immediately exposing that need in your audience.
The next thing the introduction should do is orient the audience to the text carefully. Many preachers begin with a strong intro that exposes the need, but then when they orient us to the passage we get an earful of historical context with no apparent connection to the need we just heard about. So some preachers dump the contextualization piece and get right to the first verse. Don’t do that. We need to provide the orientation. But we need to do it carefully – without dropping the ball so to speak.Some preachers dump contextualization to get right to the text. Don’t do that. Click To Tweet
Criteria #2: Once you have exposed the need for the text, orient the audience to the text by explaining how the author is addressing this same need for his original audience.
For some sermons, these two criteria will require a longer introduction. But it need not be. It can be quite short. Last week I preached on the importance of the Sabbath for today and the set-up was two short paragraphs. It went something like this:
So many of our families are away on vacation that I feel like today we are the few who are just between vacations (said jokingly – laughter). I’m glad to see everyone who made it out today. I want to address the question: ‘Should we be here today?’ I think most of us would probably say, ‘Yeah sure, we should be here.’ But how should is the ‘should?’ For many of us, perhaps if we were pressed, we might alter it on second thought to say something more like ‘good’ – it’s good for us to be gathered here today. But maybe not should. Historically Christians have been divided on this issue, some on one side seeing more freedom maybe almost to the point of Sunday worship being quite optional. Others have stood firmly in the camp that believes it is absolutely required.
To address this question, we need to turn to the Sabbath commands in Exodus. We’re in a series in Exodus and we are in the thick of God’s laws for His people. We’ve learned in recent weeks that not all the laws apply directly to us today, but we understand that all Scripture is God-breathed and profitable to equip us today – all of it. So whether a law is moral or civil or more ceremonial in nature – it still applies in some way. How does the Sabbath requirement apply today? Pretty directly? Almost not at all? Let’s see what was required of Israel, understand what it really was and then unpack the arguments on both sides of the issue. Turn with me to Exodus 23…
Here are links to a couple of sermon introductions that I find to be effective and noteworthy. The first is longer, the second very short.
#1. Abe Kuruvilla (1:32 – 5:35)
Notice how Kuruvilla uses a somewhat familiar joke but revives it by inserting his own humor within it along the way. Then he delivers the real punch when he says, “Even Christian give us a hard time.” That was Abe’s genius twist on the joke even though the audience took a couple of seconds to get it. In doing this, Kuruvilla was not using humor just for the sake of attention. His punchline about Christian-on-Christian antagonism connects exactly to his sermon’s thesis. He then provides a real experience from his own life with which many of us can relate. The humorous anecdote and the painful memory both feed directly into not only his thesis, but they set up the passage as is evident when he provides the context. To learn more from Kuruvilla you can check out his blog Homiletix. and his many books on preaching.
#2. Don Sunukjian (1:27- 3:34)
I love how he gets right to it. He presents a familiar verse and the problem: most of us don’t really buy it. He gives us the reason to turn to the passage — to be encouraged in it as opposed to disbelieving it. He takes us there and provides a very brief contextualization before reading it. At just over two minutes, this is a very lean introduction (and sermon). To learn more from Sunukjian you can order his book An Invitation to Biblical Preaching.