The three point sermon has been around for as long as most of us can remember. In fact, its roots are in medieval scholasticism. Designed to articulate and defend as set of beliefs, the three point sermon can on one hand provide a thorough understanding of a scripture or theory, but it can also transform a living, breathing community gathering into a lifeless lecture.
I remember learning the art of the 3 point sermon in college. It made sense but seemed eerily similar to writing a research paper. I could feel the life being sucked out of me imagining a future filled with weekly sermons covered in a professor's "red pen" corrections.
Over the last several hundred years three point sermons may have had their place, but in a community reaching church they may have run their course.
The 3 Point Roots
A three point sermon is a dialectical teaching method originally designed as a non-emotional discussion between two scholars. In an effort to discover the truth, two or more individuals would calmly debate an issue to better understand the truth hidden beneath the surface.
Preaching in this traditional style means presenting two opposing views of the issue at hand. For example, if you were teaching on the Sovereignty of God your three points may follow this form.
Point 1. The Sovereignty of God
Point 2. The will of Man
Point 3. How they co-exist.
This form of teaching has it’s place when teaching theology, but I would argue that that debate of theology isn’t the first sermon I want my neighbor to hear when I invite them to church for the first time.
The More Common 3 Point Message
The more common modern 3 point message is built around delivering the top three reasons a truth is a truth. For example, if your teaching was focused on the approachability of Christ, you may unpack Hebrews, chapter 4.
Point 1. Jesus, our great High-Priest (v14)
Point 2. Jesus, undeniably sympathetic (v15)
Point 3. Jesus, merciful and gracious. (v16)
Again, these points are truth, but it seems as though our message is still based in the ancient Greek debate. It seems like we are just trying to convince our audience.
The Danger of the 3 Point Message
The danger of a 3 point message is that it too closely resembles a scholastic exercise and it doesn’t very often consider the audience. More often then not, it only considers the text.
The (2nd) Most Important Thing About Preaching
The most important thing about preaching is obviously truth, but a very close second is the audience. What you teach about any given scriptural truth must first consider the current condition of your audience. How are they struggling with the truth you are teaching? How are they experiencing it in their life right now? What is their context?
What Jesus, Paul and much of the New Testament authors did so well was to consider their audience.
Jesus spoke to Jews in a way that challenged their current belief.
Paul wrote to the church addressing specific issues they were facing.
They considered their audience.
First, looking at the text you will be teaching from next week, what is it teaching? What should your audience be doing after reading this text?
Then consider your audience. What are they doing? Which if their life situations does this truth apply to? Why is it an important truth for them to internalize?
Then spend your time helping them navigate their currently situation to apply the teaching.
Preaching isn’t an academic exercise, it’s an adventure in shepherding.