One evening after pulling into the parking lot of a local restaurant I saw a new set of reserved spaces. Close to the main entrance, next to the handicapped spaces were two additional specialized spaces. They were marked with a sign which read, “Parking For Takeout Orders Only!” Those spots set me to thinking. Shouldn’t the parking spaces in our church lots carry similar signs?
I want you imagine all the parking spots in our church lots labeled, “Reserved For Takeout Sermons.” I do not mean to imply the worshipper leaves his car running, runs into the church, grabs his pre-ordered sermon, then leaves.
What exactly is a takeout sermon? It is a sermon our listeners remember after the worship service into the work week. It is a sermon they remember days, weeks and longer into their lives. It is not that they simply remember that sermon and what you said. That sermon has affected the way they live, worship, pray and live their relationship with their Savior. They remember the sermon and are living the sermon in their walk of faith. That is what we want to accomplish each time we preach. And that is a tall order!
The fact of the matter is we do not want people merely to listen to us when we preach. If we are passionate about the task of preaching God’s word we want our people to take our sermons with them into their work week. Our goal is to preach takeout sermons not because we want our people to remember what we’ve said, but because we want them to live what the Scriptures say!
If we preachers do not accomplish that takeout task our sermons may be entertaining and eloquently worded but little else. One of the marks of an effective sermon is that people take it home into their lives when they leave. If our sermons don’t leave the sanctuary in the lives of our people I believe we haven’t fully accomplished our task as preachers. We’ve ordered in and our people have left with nothing of our sermon in their minds and lives. So then, what steps might we take to ensure we are preaching takeout sermons?
When I pick up a takeout order I always check to be certain I’m leaving with the correct order in hand. The times I’ve gotten home with the wrong order are the times someone didn’t check it before I grabbed it and left the restaurant. I think it prudent we preachers do the same with our sermons. I think it best to discover any problems with the sermon “order” before we deliver to our people. As I check my takeout order in the restaurant so also we need to check through our sermons while still in our studies.
We want to be sure our people are getting a real takeout sermon and that their order is correct. We certainly don’t want our listeners leaving the worship service empty handed. So, how do we go about checking our takeout sermon? What areas of our sermons do we need to examine if we are seeking to preach takeout?
I think the first thing to look into is the main idea of your sermon. Does your sermon have a central, unifying, clear main idea? Your listeners have ordered one to go. Takeout sermons contain well defined, memorable sermon ideas you can state in one sentence. If you can state the main idea in one sentence those listening will be able to do the same. And, take the idea with them when they leave.
The main idea of the sermon must, of course, accurately communicate what the Biblical text says. Sermons are about one thing, and you must be clear about what that one thing is. That sermon idea must be crisp and clearly stated. If you are not sure about it the people listening to you will miss it as well. A clear main sermon idea will more easily take up residence in the minds of your people and go home with them into their lives. The next step is closely related to the sermon idea. It is purpose.
Are you clear about the purpose of your sermon? Are you clear in what you want that sermon to accomplish in the lives of your listeners? There are times when I’ve listened to a sermon and wondered where we were going. I must confess I’ve preached more than one sermon where others have wondered the same. It soon became clear we were wandering because the preacher had no idea where he was going, and, as a result, neither did I! We want to induce faithful action in the lives of our listeners, not motion sickness! Sermons are not joy rides, they are trips with a purpose and destination. Know where you want to go and how you want to get there before you preach!
For that reason I think it wise for preachers to write out a purpose statement for each sermon they are going to preach. Think of the main sermon idea as what you are preaching. A purpose statement is what you what that sermon idea to accomplish in the lives of your listeners. That purpose statement must be as clear and as intentional as the main sermon idea.
I divide my purpose statements into two parts. The first part is the goal of the sermon itself. It usually begins with the phrase, “As a result of this sermon the listeners shall . . . ” The second part of the purpose statement lists the objectives I have to cover to accomplish that goal. As a result I can say; this is the idea of the sermon, this is the result I want this idea to produce, and these are the things I have to do to reach that result.
So, be certain about what you are going to say. Be certain about what you want that idea to accomplish in your listeners’ lives. Be certain about what you need to do to achieve that goal. These steps; a clear sermon idea with a clear purpose, work together in the making of an effective takeout sermon. If you have a good sermon idea and an equally good purpose statement you will know exactly what you are going to say and what it will produce in the lives of your listeners. So will your listeners!
The next thing to check in your takeout sermon order is the introduction to your sermon. A good sermon introduction must accomplish three things. First, it must gain the listeners’ attention. They have come into church from busy and distracting lives. There may be more than a few who are not in the best frame of mind to listen to a sermon. The first few sentences of your sermon must be designed to gain their attention over the noise of their lives, and perhaps their children sitting next to them. Second, the introduction must show them why they should spend this time listening to you. It must show why they should spend the effort listening to what you have to say. Finally, the introduction must orient your people into the sermon text.
A good introduction is worth the effort it requires if you want to preach takeout sermons. It will draw your people into the sermon raising their interest to listen. They cannot take home with them what they have not heard. At the risk of stating the obvious, the introduction is only the beginning! Takeout sermons also draw listeners into participating in the sermon.
That is the next thing you want to check. Does your sermon invite the listeners to participate in your sermon? If your folks are given the opportunity to participate in the sermon they are more likely to internalize it and take it with them into their week. Let me mention two general strategies I have used for drawing my folks into the sermon.
At times I invite them in through questions. It can be a simple question. For example, I recently preached from Romans 7:14-25, where Paul described his struggle with his sin nature. I asked my folks, “Have you ever felt the frustration Paul felt? You want to do what is right and good because you want to please God. You want to please God with your actions, yet you fall short and fail. Have you ever felt that way in the walk of your faith? Of course you have!”
A simple question will get your people thinking about the text in terms of their own life experience. It will serve to move them from theoretical ideas and explanations to real application in their lives. People take home things that are real, less so things that are theoretical. Good, well placed questions will draw them into the text and the text into them.
Another strategy I like to use is giving my listeners assignments. I once gave my people a two part assignment. In the first part they were to go home and count every Bible they had in their house. In the second part the next time they saw me to tell me how many Bibles they had counted. Many spoke with me later in the week and the conversations served an opportunities to discuss the text and sermon of that Sunday. They had taken the sermon home through that assignment. Questions and assignments work well toward making your sermon a takeout sermon. It is wise to consider how you are drawing your people into participating in the sermon.
The item in your takeout order is application. The sermon should, of course, tell your listeners what the text means. It should also tell them how to do what the text means. Your sermon should show them what the meaning means for their lives in solid, practical terms. The more concrete the application is to their lives the more likely they are to take the sermon home with them in their lives. So your folks are after two things; what the text means, and how can they do what it means. When they know how to do what it means, they will take the sermon with them and do it.
The last item to check concerns your sermon delivery. If you want to preach a takeout sermon you must deliver that sermon without notes. For many preachers making the jump from notes to no notes is an intimidating experience. I believe it a vital step in preaching takeout sermons. Let me explain why.
From personal experience I am continually amazed by the impact preaching without notes has. People instantly pay more attention when I stand before them with nothing in my hands but a Bible or the worship bulletin. Some express the thought that I am talking with them not preaching at them. They also express the thought that I was preaching more from the heart and less from notes. Preaching without notes allows me to have greater eye contact with my folks. When you preach without notes you find people will pay attention. You will notice the same dynamic.
There is another reason I advocate preaching takeout sermons without notes. If the sermon is structured well enough for you to remember it to preach it then it is structured well enough for your people to catch it as well. It is easy, I think, to be less clear in your sermon manuscript because, when you get lost all you need do is look down. When your people leave church after worship they do not have your manuscript they can turn to when they lose their place. When your sermon is clear enough for you to preach it without notes it is clear enough for them to hear it and take it with them. You must preach without notes because your people will live without notes!
I must confess the Sunday morning I decided to leave my manuscript in my study I was more than a little apprehensive. But if I could make the jump to preaching without notes anyone can do likewise. When I prepare to preach I still write out a full manuscript. Doing so allows me to organize the blocks and flow of the sermon. I do not memorize the manuscript but the flow of the sermon. A memorized manuscript sounds to me like a memorized manuscript when it is preached. The first few times will be a challenge. But the more you do it the better you will get at it. And, your people will thank you for it.
So there’s our takeout order check list. If we are serious about our preaching we want our people to take our sermons with them following the worship service. If we preach sermons that are fully consumed in the sanctuary, we may have preached a good sermon but not a takeout sermon. A takeout order check list will go a long way towards helping you write and deliver takeout sermons!
Tim McQuade is Pastor of Loveland Presbyterian Church in Loveland, OH.