FIRST-PERSON: 5 words to improve every sermon

EDITOR'S NOTE: Jason Allen is president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP) -- Sermons are comprised of words, and every sermon rises or falls on the words that preachers choose to deploy. The words preached come with the power of life and death; thus, the preacher must carefully choose his words.

The point is not so much eloquence as it is intentionality. Over the years, as I have monitored my own preaching and observed others, I have come to realize how intentionally using a few key words will strengthen most any sermon. For example, consider these five:

Bible

"The Bible says," a phrase popularized by Billy Graham, is one of the sweetest refrains a preacher can offer. It implies so much: God has spoken, His Word is accessible, His Word is true and authoritative, and this is His Word for you.

Intentionally using the word "Bible" enforces and reinforces the authority of the Scriptures and the authority of the sermon. Furthermore, specifically citing the text you are quoting or referencing adds punch. Make sure your congregation leaves not just exposed to the Bible, but inundated by it.

Look

Better still, invite the congregation to look in their Bibles with you. Throughout the sermon, saying, "Look with me in verse 2" or "See with me in verse 7" continually pulls your hearers into the text.

As you do, your hearers are able to draw a direct line from the text to your point of emphasis, enhancing your sermon's clarity and biblical weight. Moreover, your hearers will learn how to study their Bibles, as they see how you have studied yours, leading to a maturing congregation.

Repent

Perhaps some pastors avoid the word repent because it sounds too draconian, too judgmental or too confrontational. But, to call for repentance is actually a gracious, inviting act. For those seeking forgiveness, repentance is the doorway through which one enters the room of God's grace.

Repentance is not just an act at one's conversion; for the Christian, it is a way of life. "Repent" was a common word in the book of Acts, and it should be in our preaching as well.

You

To preach is to call for a verdict -- to press the truth of God onto the lives of your hearers -- and it is impossible to do that without using the word "you." Sadly, many preachers have an unhealthy aversion to confrontation and an accompanying inability to pronounce the word "you."

There comes a time when the sermon should transition from the third person plural "we" to the second person singular "you." Too much "we" and "us" hollows out the sermon, gutting its full force. It is impossible to preach pointed sermons without using pointed words; so do not be afraid to use the word "you."

Jesus

Most importantly, make sure you point your hearers to the Word Himself -- Jesus. In our world of superficial spirituality and ambient religiosity, opaque God-talk is not sufficient. If you have preached a sermon without featuring Jesus, then you haven't preached a Christian sermon.

And whatever you do, do not use the generic, all-encompassing "faith" talk as in "faith journey" or "faith life." Faith never saved anyone. Jesus saves. Model the Christological centricity of Charles Spurgeon; eschew the oblique nonsense of "Oprah Winfrey spirituality."

Preaching is too consequential to settle for subpar sermons. These five words will help any preacher up their game. Make sure to intentionally deploy them.

This column first appeared at Jason Allen's website, www.jasonallen.com, where a tandem column is posted, "Five Words that Weaken Every Sermon."
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