Muscles help hold our bones together. When our muscles become flabby they allow bones to shift out of place, resulting in pain or injury. The solution to this problem requires that we tighten our muscles through a program of diet and exercise. A well-toned body produces far more benefits than a flabby one.
The same holds true for sermons. A sermon may have the potential to greatly benefit its hearers — the content may have been well-researched, meditated upon, and prayed over — but unless a logically tight structure accompanies these other needful factors, that potential may not be reached.
Flabbiness in a sermon most often shows up at the transition points. As you move from your introduction to the proposition, then to the main points, and finally into the conclusion, these points need obvious continuity. Nebulous transitions lose people and greatly reduce the benefits of the message.
Here are some suggestions for taking the flab out of your sermon.
1. Use a Concise Proposition
The proposition presents the central truth of your message, and it serves as the pivot around which you build the rest of the sermon. The significant eternal truth of the proposition makes the message worth preaching and worth hearing. You need to determine this one, all-important truth which you want your people to take home with them before developing any other part of the sermon.
Since we want just one truth in the proposition, you will want to avoid compound sentences. A compound sentence contains two ideas connected by such conjunctions as “and” or “but.” If you have two ideas (truths), save one for another sermon. You may want to preach on “God is love” or “God is a Spirit” but do not try to join them together as one proposition. Choose, perhaps, the proposition “Our God is an awesome God” and develop the concepts of His love and His spiritual nature as part of His awesomeness. Where it is necessary to cover both of these subjects in your message, use them as main points — after selecting another truth as the proposition that incorporates the two subjects under one topic.
Keep the proposition simple and straightforward. In fact, it frequently works best to distill this truth down to a short declarative sentence. If you like to wax eloquent, save it for the body of the message. A proposition is not designed to impress your listeners — it is designed so as to be remembered by them. The simpler you state your central truth, the more likely people will remember it.
2. Use a Thematic Word
The thematic word reflects the theme of the message. Study your proposition to find a suitable word. In the proposition “God is able to do all things,” the word able (or one of its derivatives — ability or ableness) is a fitting possibility. In the proposition “We have hope in Christ,” either the word hope or hopefulness could fit the theme.
In a message I preached on the Holy Spirit (from John 16), the proposition stated was “The Holy Spirit is a need.” The thematic word was need. Each transition tied into the others through this word. In the introduction, the word appeared as part of a quote:
“There’s an old adage that says, ‘Today’s luxuries are tomorrow’s need.’ That’s true of many things but not of the Holy Spirit.”
The body of the message was then crafted to demonstrate why we need the Holy Spirit. Each main point presented the thematic word by phrasing it as follows:
I. “The Holy Spirit is a need because life is tough. (vs. 7)”
II. “The Holy Spirit is a need because life is empty. (vs. 8)”
III. “The Holy Spirit is a need because life is deceitful. (vs. 13)”
The conclusion continued to use the thematic word by saying,
“As we sit in the midst of all our luxuries, may we be sure that we have what we need most — God’s Holy Spirit.”
No one left that day without knowing that at least the preacher thought the Holy Spirit was a need. This also gave the message a sense of overall unity.
3. Use a Keyword
Usually a plural noun — such as steps, reasons, or examples — forms the keyword (see Lloyd M. Perry’s Biblical Sermon Guide [Baker Book House] for a further list of possible keywords). It functions to especially tie together your proposition and main points. The keyword answers a logical question raised by the central truth.
If you declare “You can have peace with God,” you might be asked, “How?” The keyword steps answers the “how” (e.g., “There are three steps to peace with God”). On the other hand, if your proposition states a need such as “You need to study the Bible,” one might ask, “Why?” This suggests a situation where you could use the keyword reasons (e.g., “There are four reasons why you need to study the Bible”).
4. Use Parallel Structure
Parallel structure in your main points minimizes the need for your listeners to mentally switch gears. Grammatical structure offers one way of achieving parallelism. If you use a declarative sentence for one main point, use declarative sentences for all main points.
Similarity in wording creates an even more striking parallelism. You might choose to take a phrase directly from your proposition. Thus, “The Holy Spirit is a need because” shows up not only at each main point in the example above but restates the proposition as well. Do not be overly-concerned that you will wear out your central truth. Most listeners will hear it only a few times even if you repeat it often.
5. Use Summary Statements
Listening to a sermon differs significantly from reading a sermon; the listener can refresh his or her memory only as you repeat yourself. A preacher was asked the secret to his success. He replied, “I tell my people what I’m going to tell them, then I tell them, and then I tell them what I told them.” That would bore a reader but listeners find it helpful.
Summarizing your main points prior to moving to the next point is a sure way to build-in repetition. Reiteration reminds your listeners of what you have said, and it reconnects you with those listeners who have lost touch with your message.
Conclude your message by repeating your proposition and summarizing your main points. For the sake of variety you may want to occasionally change this approach, but the benefits received make it worth using frequently.
6. Use Written Transitional Statements
Even if you preach extemporaneously or use just a few notes, it adds to your sermon’s clarity and continuity when you write out at least the transitional points of your message.
This insures that these sermon-markers maintain similarity — even the best of memories can slip during a twenty- to thirty-minute sermon. Rather than struggle to remember how you phrased your first points, write them down!
As when you’ve lost your train of thought, written transitional statements bring you back to your topic when you have gone astray. Some listeners complain that their preachers meander in their messages; he or she might start speaking on one subject and conclude on another. Written transitional sentences refocus the preacher to the topic at least for each main point and the conclusion.
Of course, no amount of technical skill can replace prayer and the Holy Spirit as we prepare messages to change people’s lives. Our well-constructed sermons will provide our listeners with more memorable material for the Holy Spirit to work with. A flabby sermon can never reach its potential like one that is well toned.

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