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Honing Your Introduction

Four ways to improve the opening minutes of a sermon

To help you improve your preaching, PT prints part of an actual sermon and then gives you expert analysis on ways to improve it. The focus this issue is improving your sermon introductions.

The Sermon

Sermon title: " Who Do You Think You Are? "
Text: Amos 7:10-17

" Who do you think you are? " This is a question you might ask someone who seems to be thinking too highly of himself, someone trying to pretend to be something she's not, someone who puts on airs of greatness or superiority when he or she is really just the same as you. Have you ever asked someone, " Just who do you think you are, anyway? " Has anyone ever asked you that question? It seems to me that if you're trying to live for God, you'll be asked that question a lot.

" Who do you think you are? " When you're trying to tell a friend about Jesus or about how the friend's life would improve if he or she followed the Christian way, your friend may say to you, " Who do you think you are, some kind of preacher? Billy Graham? Do you think you're so perfect that you can advise me? "

Sometimes Satan asks us that question. We even ask ourselves that question when we take a job in the church as a Sunday school teacher, a vbs teacher, an elder, a deacon, a musician — " Who do you think you are, some kind of saint? You've still got lots of sins in your own life. There are still some things about the Christian faith you don't understand. You make lots of mistakes. Yet, you are going to presume to lead others? Ha! Who do you think you are? "

And often when we decide that we're somehow going to get more serious with God — whether its coming to church more or praying every day or digging into the Bible, whatever — there's that question again in the back of our minds: " Who do you think you are, a monk or a nun? You know that you never follow through with all your high-minded plans. You know this spiritual life isn't really for you. You're too earthly. "

And if you ever get to the point of deciding to get rid of certain sins in your life, it's often as though the sins themselves suddenly seem to grow to gigantic proportions and start yelling at you, " Who do you think you are to attempt to stand up to me. I've had control over you for years now. I snap my fingers and you obey. Do you seriously think you've got the strength to beat me? Who do you think you are — some kind of spiritual Arnold Schwarzenegger? "

" Who do you think you are? " It's the question that Amos the prophet was asked in our Scripture lesson this morning. And if we listen to the answer that Amos gave, maybe we'll know how to answer our friends, the devil, our own selves, and our sins when they ask us, " Who do you think you are? "

Strength: Creates a Need

This introduction to Amos 7:1-17 does a fine job of creating a need. The preacher succeeds in asking a question of significance for his audience: " How do we answer our critics when they question our efforts to serve Christ? " He raises the need from a variety of angles — socially, spiritually, and personally. Many, if not most, of his listeners would certainly be drawn to the sermon by this approach.

Suggestion: Be more positive

The initial question, " Who do you think you are? " comes across as too negative. A more appropriate start might be to probe the listeners about their experiences with others who thought too highly of themselves and then move gently towards the stated question. A positive, friendly approach usually works best.

Suggestion: Be more interesting

While this introduction creates a need, it lacks interest. It is too generic and abstract. A more appealing way to begin is with a specific illustration or anecdote that stimulates intrigue. This could be done through the use of a personal experience or some type of story. Both play well with contemporary congregations.

Suggestion: Shorten the intro

In light of the length of the sermon, this introduction needs to be shortened. It dominates too much for such a brief message. The introduction should only compose about 5-10 percent of the sermon. This one takes up almost 25 percent — way too much for an effective exposition of the Scripture!

Scott Wenig is associate professor of applied theology at Denver Seminary in Denver, Colorado, and author of Straightening the Altars.

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