If what Haddon Robinson said is true of our average congregation, then we preachers have our work cut out: “When you stand up to preach, people are bored and expect you to make it worse” (Biblical Preaching, Second Edition. page 166).
A good introduction can remedy this low expectation.
The first of Mark Dever’s 9 Marks that characterizes a healthy local church is expositional preaching. Dever, in discussing the introduction and conclusion of the expositional sermon says, “Good sermons are like a three course meal – an introduction for the appetizer, a body for the main meal, and a conclusion for dessert. Let’s look at each part separately.
- Goal – The goal of a good introduction is to show the unbeliever that we understand how they might perceive what we’re saying, and to show the believer why it is important for them to pay attention to this passage and this sermon.
- When - It’s best to write the introduction at the end of your preparation. That way you know exactly what you’re trying to introduce.
- How - Use a story, quote, experience, or thought that front loads the sermon’s application for the believer and identifies with the unbelievers skepticism.”
To this general, but interesting, analysis of introductions, I want to add the following three necessary steps for the introduction.
1. The attention step: “As a preacher begins his sermon, he must be sure the opening sentences grip the minds of his hearers” (Braga, p. 119). Robinson believes this must be accomplished in the first 30 seconds. The introduction starts with the listener and not the text as Paul recognized and practiced on Mars’ Hill (Acts 17:22).
“I have no statistical proof, but I believe that at least 50% of the sermons preached last Sunday started with ‘Now, if you have your Bibles, please turn to . . . .’ The other 50% began with ‘Now, you’ll remember that last week we discussed. . . .’” (Wiersbe Prokope Vol. V, No.3).
In the attention step, the preacher gets his listeners’ attention in relationship to his proposition, which is the sermon reduced to one sentence. Telling a joke is not the attention step unless the joke relates to the big idea of the sermon. Dever is correct when he says you can do this with a story, quote, experience or thought that front loads the sermon’s application for the believer.
In a sermon, I preached entitled, The Depression God’s Servants Experience based on the suicidal request of Elijah in 1 Kings 19, I related the following episode from the life of God’s servant, G. Campbell Morgan. Morgan was the greatly used Bible teacher, expository preacher, and commentary writer. He shocked his congregation at London’s Westminster Chapel on his 10th anniversary by telling them, he considered himself a failure: “During these ten years, I have known more of visions fading into mirages, of purposes failing of fulfilling, of things of strength crumbling away in weaknesses that ever in my life before.”
2. Interest Step: Your listeners are asking two questions. The first question is, “What is he going to preach about?” and the second question is, “Why do I need this sermon?” The interest step answers the second question. This step goes beyond grabbing their attention to convincing them that they need this sermon (Jay Adams. Preaching with Purpose, pages 59-64). When the preacher is through with the introduction, his listeners should be saying to themselves, “I am glad I came to church today. I need this sermon.” Here are some suggested ways (with examples) by Donald R. Sunukjian to tap the need in your listeners for your sermon.
1. Relate a personal story and refer to recent events. Such as the G. C. Morgan story above.
2. Make a startling statement:
R. C. Sproul, in a lecture, said when he was preaching on a college campus and the students were not listening he would announce, “For the next few minutes, I want to discuss sexual intercourse.” He said when he makes that statement their heads snap up.
3. Explore a contemporary issue (Capital Punishment or the impact of the Qur’an on Islam).
In a recent sermon on Paul’s Defense of the Gospel which alone is the power of God to salvation, I related how the Qur’an is not preventing millions of Muslims from turning to Christ. As a matter of fact, the Qur’an is Islam’s worst enemy although translated in most of the languages of Muslims since King Fahd of Saudi Arabia commissioned this project in 1984.
Some missionaries are buying Qur’ans in the local languages and distributing them to Muslims so they can read them and see in inadequacies of the Qur’an to meet spiritual needs (The Camel, page 48).
4. Probe a common need and promise some benefit such as depression above.
5. Address some contradiction and prode a common need.
I introduced a sermon on Helping a Fallen Brother by showing the apparent contradiction between Paul’s command in Galatians 6:2 and 5. In Galatians 6:2, Paul commanded, “Bear one another’s burdens” and in Galatians 6:5, Paul commanded, “Bear your own burden.” The alleged discrepancy is solved when we learn that Paul used two different Greek words for burden in the two verses. In verse two Paul used a word for burden that described the burden of a problem a person was carrying just before he/she committed suicide. Someone needs to help that suffering person bear that burden.
But in verse five, Paul employed another Greek word for burden which described an expecting mother carrying a preborn baby in her womb or a marching soldier carrying his back pack. There are some burdens that only we can bear as believers. No one can do our praying, Bible reading or witnessing.
6. Probe a common need and promise a solution.
I introduced a sermon by the “One another” commands in Scripture by quoting from ”Peanuts.” Lucy asked Charlie Brown, “Why are we here on earth?” Charlie Brown answered, “To make others happy.” Lucy pondered that reply for a moment and then asked another question, “Then why are the others here.”7. Offer to resolve some Biblical difficulty (Haddon W. Robinson. , Biblical Preaching, page 193).
If you use a story to get their attention use another method to get their interest. In my sermon on The Depression God’s Servants Experience, after telling the story of G. Campbell Morgan’s bout with depression in the Attention Step, for the Interest Step, I did not use another story. I discussed the three levels of depression that medical doctors identify: Mild, Moderate, and Severe. Many in your congregation will be at one of these levels or know someone who is.
3. Introduce the Subject Step: The introduce the subject step should include two parts. Give the theme of the book and the development of the book and where your sermon fits in the development of the sermon. This provides the greater context for your sermon. The theme of 1st Kings is the decline of God’s Kingdom. The Kingdom declined in spite of the prophetic ministry of Elijah and this contributed to his depression in 1st Kings 19.
Three Alternate Ways to Introduce a Sermon
1. Start with the Bible narrative:
As James Rose does in his sermon entitled The Big Valley on David defeating Goliath in 1 Samuel 17: “The stillness of early morning was reinforced by the mist filling the floor of a sprawling valley. It is like that in spring; it’s the time of green grass and gorgeous wildflowers….” (Haddon W. Robinson. Biblical Sermons, page 53).
2. For the traditional deductive sermon see (Seven Steps to Preparing a Sermon, Step 4 (Construct The Sermon Outline) for the transition from the proposition to the first main point in a traditional sermon.
a. The Attention Step
b. The Interest Step
c. The proposition for a deductive sermon
d. The Introduce the Subject Step
3. For an inductive sermon on 1 Samuel 1 state
a. The Attention Step: “How many of you consider yourself a leader?” “How would you define a leader?” “Who are some people you consider leaders in your life?”
b. The Interest Step: Personal story: The greatest leader in my life was my Christian mother. She influenced me for Christ more than any other person. You can be a leader. You can be a person of godly influence in some else’s life. The question is “How can God use you to be a leader?”
c. The Introduce the Subject Step: In 1 Samuel God raises up three leaders: Samuel, Saul, and David. Yet, 1 Samuel opens with barrenness. The book in which God sovereignly raises up leaders begins with a barrenness of leadership. How was this barrenness of leadership overcome? How can the barrenness of leadership in your life or church be overcome?
1) Not by compromise (1:1-2)
2) Nor by retaliation (1:3-8)
3) But by prayer (1:9-28)
Notice, because this is an inductive sermon, the proposition is not front-loaded. The proposition is near the end of the story because that is where the solution to the conflict in the story occurs. The form of the text should influence the form of the sermon. In narratives, where there are conflicts to be resolved the Big Idea is usually in the middle or at the end of the Biblical story.
I trust these thoughts will help pastor/teachers, who have been commanded to “feed the flock of God,” serve a Blooming Onion from Outback Steakhouse like appetizer in the introduction that kick starts the taste buds for the main course.