One Great Truth A Sermon
by Pastor Jack Hyles
(Chapter 1 from Dr. Hyle's excellent book, Teaching On Preaching)
A preacher lives with his sermons all the time. After the Sunday evening service ends, I spend 15-30 minutes in my office alone reflecting on the day I relive the services and try to figure the needs of my people for the next week. Usually before I leave the study on Sunday night I know the general direction of my sermons for the next Sunday From that moment forward, I am planning next Sunday's messages. They are constantly on my mind as I prepare my mind and heart to meet the needs of my people on the next Lord's Day
I must remember; however; that my people do not live with the sermon. They spend only 30 minutes to an hour a week on each message; whereas it is in my mind constantly Because of this, I will remember the sermon for many days to come.
A preacher has no choice during the delivery of the message but to think about it; the people do not have to listen. The preacher's mind is totally occupied with what he is saying; whereas the minds of those who hear him range from being totally aware of what he is saying to being totally unaware of what is being said. During the course of a sermon most of the people will no doubt at least partially listen, but their occupation with the sermon can in no way compare to that of the preacher.
These things mean that the preacher may never forget the sermon whereas most of the people will soon forget it. Therefore, I believe that the fondest hope that a preacher can have concerning retention of his sermons is to attempt to leave one great truth a sermon in the minds of his people. The average person will not remember much of what the preacher has said. Most people will not remember his outline. The preacher has done well who leaves one great truth in the minds of his people as they leave the service for their dwelling places. This is my goal when I preach.
How may this be done? This chapter is totally devoted to methods and means that will cause the people, the congregation, to carry with them from each message one great truth which they will never forget.
1. Picture the invitation and the one thing you want to happen. Decide on the one thing that you want the members of the congre- gation to do or to begin to do because of the message. In other words, plan first the destination. Then plan the best way to arrive at that destination. It may be a message on stewardship, the purpose of which is to inspire the people to be good stewards of their lives, their time, their talent and their money Maybe it will be a message on faithfulness, the goal of which is to inspire the members to attend faithfully the services of the church. It may be a message on prayer during which the pastor wants to impress his people to make definite decisions concerning their prayer lives. The wise pastor will decide early the one thing he wants his people to do, the one decision he wants them to make, and the one destination to which he hopes to take them. This, I think, is necessary to the delivery of a good sermon. The purpose of preaching is not that of delivering a good sermon. The purpose of preaching is that of delivering a great truth that will inspire the parishioners to perform a great service.
2. Decide what truth will make it happen. You have already decided the destination. Now choose the vehicle and the route that will properly take you to that destination. This is the truth that must be emphasized over and over again during the message so as to imprint indelibly in the minds of the hearers the one great truth that will convey them to the destination you have chosen for them.
3. Write it down and look at it. Confirm to yourself that the decision that you want the hearers to make can be inspired by the truth that you plan to deliver. Be convinced that the truth will be the proper vehicle to deliver the congregation to the desired destination.
4. Decide what you think that truth will make happen. First you have chosen the desired goal and from that choice you have chosen the truth that will lead the congregation to the desired goal. Now forget the goal-- look only at the truth. Decide to what destination that truth will lead. If this destination coincides with your original destination, you have no doubt chosen the proper truth.
This is like checking mathematics. When a person multiplies 3 times 9, he gets 27. When he divides 3 into 27 and gets 9, this proves that his multiplication was proper. When the pastor starts with the destination and determines what truth will lead him to that destination, then takes the truth and determines to what destination it will lead, and finds that they coincide, he no doubt has found the one great truth that he should emphasize throughout his sermon.
5. When convinced both ways, decide on the truth to be delivered.
6. Use the time between this decision and the time of the preaching of the sermon to convince yourself of the importance of the truth that you have chosen. By the time the sermon is delivered the pastor must be totally sold on the fact that he has the answer. He must be totally convinced that the truth he is going to deliver is desperately needed by his people and that their lives will not be complete without the absorption of this great truth. This is perhaps the key to the delivering of a message. The pastor must be consumed with the idea that this is the answer and without it his people will flounder in at least one area of their Christian lives. It must be life or death to him! He must feel that the delivering of this truth is the most important thing going on in the world at the time of its deliverance. He must magnify this truth in his own mind all week so that when he stands to speak he will be consumed with its importance.
The person who sees a burning house has no problem or thought of his delivery when he warns the inhabitants of the danger they are facing. No preacher has preached well until his message becomes in his own mind life-changing and life-transforming to his people. Hence, he must utilize wisely the time between the choosing of the truth that he will soon deliver and the delivering of that truth. He must be totally consumed with the importance of the message.
7. Write the truth and place it at several well-traveled places. If, for example, the truth is "Total surrender to God brings happiness to the individual," he should write those words, make copies of them and have them at well-traveled places. Put a copy on the door of the refrigerator; at the telephone, on the mirror in the bathroom, on the windshield of the car; near the dial of your watch and other places that are a part of your daily schedule.
8. Set times to do nothing but think of the importance of the truth to be delivered on the Lord's Day Perhaps at least 15 minutes several times a day should be given to such meditation. At this time sell yourself on the importance of the truth you have chosen to deliver; dwell on it, convince yourself that it is vital to the spiritual well-being of your people.
9. Place the truth at the top of your prayer list. Every time you go to the throne of grace you will be reminded of your sermon for Sunday and you will pray fervently for God to help you to convey properly to your people the truth that He has led you to choose in order for them to arrive at the destination which He has chosen for them.
10. As you pray, picture in your own mind the invitation on Sunday Picture one person kneeling at the altar to make the decision that you feel he needs to make. Fervently ask God to lead you to present the truth in such a way that this picture in your mind of the invitation can become a reality.
All of the things that are being listed now are parts of a recipe that is to convince the preacher of the importance of the sermon he is going to deliver. He must be consumed with the desire to help his people. He must be carried away with the awareness that the truth that he has chosen is the vehicle that God can use to give this help. He must be lifted out of himself and above himself and be swept up by this great truth caused by a burning desire to see his people make the decision in their hearts that he feels is so necessary to their lives and spiritual growth.
11. Choose a song that conveys the chosen truth, and sing it often throughout the week. It could be a familiar song. For exam-ple, if the destination chosen is that of leading your people "to decide to be unselfish" and the truth chosen to lead them to that destination is "living for others," the pastor could have as his theme song for the week that beautiful little song, "Others." He could sing throughout the week those beautiful words, "Lord, help me live from day to day in such a self-forgetful way, that even when I kneel to pray, my prayer shall be for others. Others, Lord, yes others. Let this my motto be: Lord, help me live for others that I may live like Thee." This song can be used of God to help His man to lose himself in the message he is to deliver to His people the next Lord's Day
It has been my policy for many years now to choose a song for the day Early in the morning I choose a song that I plan to sing all day I hum it, whistle it and sing it throughout the day until it becomes sometimes even a subconscious activity. Usually this song will be one that deals with the truth of my message for the next Sunday For example, if my message for the next Sunday is on total commitment, I may sing all day one day, "Jesus I my cross have taken, all to leave and follow Thee." The next day I may sing, "All to Jesus I surrender." These songs lead me to dwell on the truth that I have chosen as the vehicle to lead my people to the destination that I feel is best for them.
Sometimes I will make up a little song that will help me to think about the truth I am to deliver. Recently I was going to preach on Proverbs 3:6, "In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths." I wrote a little chorus using the words of this great verse. Once I was going to preach on coming boldly to the throne of grace. I wrote a little song entitled, "Come Boldly" This helped to keep my mind on the truth that I want to transfer into the minds of my people on the Lord's Day
12. Read all you can about this truth. Acquaint yourself with every tool possible that will enable you to convey better this chosen truth to your people in order that they may arrive at the chosen destination.
13. Think of its greatness. Many years ago I had an assistant pastor who came to me and said, "Preacher; you play up your sermons too much. You make them appear to be more important than they are." Months later he returned to me and said, "Preacher; I was wrong. You don't play up your sermons too much. You simply don't play them down."
The Bible has the answer! The truths of the Bible are ingredients of that answer. They are life and death. The preacher does not have to build them up; he has to dwell on them in such a manner so he can build himself up to realize the magnitude of his preaching and the importance of Bible truths being conveyed to his people. There are no live preachers and dead preachers; there are preachers who convince themselves of the urgency and greatness of their calling and there are preachers who do not!
14. Repeat the truth over and over again. You have meditated upon it, you have placed it at well-traveled places, you have sung about it, you have prayed about it, and you have read about it; now repeat it over and over and over and over. Let it have the front seat in your mind so that by the time you walk into the pulpit to deliver it, it will be the most important event going on in the world at that time.
15. Think of the ways it can help your people. Picture the ways it will transform their lives. Think of what they can be and do if they absorb this great truth. This will enable you to realize more and more the importance of the sermon and its delivery. It will put an excitement in the voice, an urgency in the message, an electricity in the delivery and an attractiveness to the audience!
16. Remember that you have only one chance. This will be perhaps the only time you will preach this sermon to this congregation. They must get it now or perhaps they will never get it. Many of them will be hearing this truth for the one and only time in their lives. This realization should lead you to do your best and give your best as you preach it.
17. Avoid complicated outlines. For example, avoid outlines that would have Roman numeral one, four subheads; then Roman numeral two, and under that, four subheads; and Roman numeral three and four subheads. Such outlining may help to deliver a good sermon but it gives the people too many truths to retain, and there is too little emphasis on any one truth in order to force its retention. If, however; such an outline is chosen, each point should be connected to the main truth being conveyed. If you have several points, repeat the great truth as you give them. For example, suppose the sermon for the day is taken from Psalm 1:1-3, "Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in His law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper." The truth could be "how to prosper always." Now there are five things listed in these verses that are necessary for our prosperity: (I) not walking in the counsel of the ungodly, (2) not standing in the way of sinners, (3) not sitting in the seat of the scornful, (4) delighting oneself in the law of the Lord (the Bible), and (5) meditating in the Bible day and night. As each of these points is delivered, the congregation should be reminded of the truth that we are trying to present; that is, how to prosper. The preacher could say something like this, "I am preaching this morning on the subject, 'How to Prosper.' There are five things listed in these verses that are essential for prosperity. (1) Not walking in the counsel of the ungodly If you want to be prosperous, you cannot walk in the counsel of the ungodly If you walk in the counsel of the ungodly, you will not be prosperous." Notice the constant mention of the word "prosperous" or some form of it. Always in every point come back to the truth that has been chosen as the vehicle to take us to the destination.
18. Have the truth that is being emphasized written boldly somewhere in the outline. Have it underlined or encircled so that one glance at the outline will allow you to see the truth upon the slightest glance at the outline. This will keep the main truth before you while delivering the message.
19. If for any reason, there is no central truth given in the sermon, have something very memorable to present. If there is no reemphasis of the same truth over and over and over again, driving that truth like a hammer on the head of a nail in the minds of the people, there should be something in the sermon that the people will never forget. This could be a startling illustration. I have accepted the fact that the people will not carry much home with them. One central truth would be a worthy goal. If there is no such truth emphasized in the message, there should be something some- where in the delivery of the sermon that is startling enough to remain in the minds of the hearers as they leave. It could be one statement of truth. It could be one illustration that is very memorable.
In my sermon, "The Dignity of Man," I build the message around a man dressed in rags who came to my office the first day that I was Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Hammond. I tell in that message the thoughts that went through my mind and the lessons that God taught me through the old man. As I begin each point, I describe again the old man. He was a man who had long, shaggy hair that was dirty and matted. His face was dirty and ill- shaven. His neck was caked with filth. His shirt that once had been white had become yellow. His trousers were too big and were held up by a rope inserted through the belt loops. The trousers had patches at the knees. His shoes were worn and old, and there was a slit across each toe to widen them. His odor was obnoxious!
In this sermon on "The Dignity of Man" from the eighth Psalm, I list probably a half dozen things that God taught me through that man. Before each of those points, I describe the old man again as mentioned before. People who heard that sermon 25 years ago still remember the old man. It was not a sermon that left one truth, but they never forgot it because of this one illustration repeated throughout the sermon.
20. If you have a sermon with points, repeat all when the new one is given. In my sermon, "God's Calls to Soul Winning," the outline is as follows:
1. The call from within.
2. A call from without.
3. A call from above.
4. A call from beneath.
As I give each point, I remind the listener that each is a call to us beckoning us to soul winning. When I mention point 1, I simply say, "There is a call from within." When I mention point 2, I say, "There is a call from within and a call from without." When I mention point 3, I say, "There is a call from within, a call from without and a call from above." When I mention point 4, I say, "There is a call from within, a call from without, a call from above and a call from beneath." People who heard that sermon a quarter of a century ago always remember the outline. In my sermon entitled, "Others," the outline is:
1. Jesus died loving others.
2. Jesus died caring for others.
3. Jesus died saving others.
When this outline is used, not only do I repeat the previous point or points when I introduce another one, but I also use the song, "Others," as mentioned earlier in this chapter.
Repetition is one of the most important things in preaching, or for that matter; in any public speaking. A famous preacher from Scotland said that the curse of the Scottish ministry is its un- willingness to be repetitious. Brother Bill Harvey, who was my music director for two years, in describing my preaching once said, "Jack Hyles is willing to be repetitious of the obvious." This is why I think that one-point sermons are so effective. The same point is hit over and over and over again. Each time it is hit, it drives itself deeper into the heart and mind of the hearer.
21. It is often advisable to have the people repeat the points aloud. This will help them remember the outline if there is more than one point in a sermon. For example, I have a motivational message I preach called, "Seven Steps to Success." The outline is as follows:
1. A dream.
2. A desire.
3. A decision.
4. A dare.
5. A direction.
6. A dedication.
7. A devotion.
When I bring this message I ask the people to repeat the outline with me as it unfolds. For example, if I am on point 5, "a direction," I will have them repeat the first four points along with the fifth point. Not only do they remember the points, but they remember their order.
22. Do not change your direction while preaching a sermon if you are feeling like it is a failure. You may be equating failure with cloudiness of mind. Sometimes you're not following yourself well, but the people are following you well. A few months ago I was preaching in a southern state. For the first 15 or 20 minutes of my message I felt that I was not succeeding. My mind was not clear. I was tempted to change directions but did not. Soon something happened that got my attention and something I said excited me and pulled me into the sermon. After the service the pastor of the church, who is a dear friend, said to me, "Dr. Hyles, I have heard you preach hundreds of times, but that is the greatest message you have ever preached in my presence!" Little did he realize that I almost ditched the sermon in order to flee to another.
One Sunday morning several years ago I was preaching in my own pulpit. About ten minutes into the sermon I went totally blank. I simply could not think! For some reason or other I was just unaware of what I was saying. I became frantic but kept right on plodding through the outline. To be quite frank, I was afraid I was having a mental problem. When the invitation came, I was barely aware of where I was. After the service I fled to my study, threw myself on the floor and begged God to give me a clear mind. By the time the evening service rolled around I had returned to normalcy. Several months passed. I was preaching in Atlanta, Georgia. Our oldest daughter; Becky, and her family were living there at the time. They asked me to go out to eat with them after the service. While we were fellowshipping, Becky said, "Dad, I recently heard a sermon of yours on tape that was the best sermon I ever heard you preach on tape."
I said, "Well, thank you, Puddin'."
She said, "Dad, it was not only the best sermon I ever heard you preach on tape; it was the best sermon I ever heard anybody preach on tape."
Well, I increased my expression of gratitude to her.
Again she said, "Dad, it was not only the best sermon I ever heard anybody preach on tape, but it was the best sermon I have ever heard anybody preach on tape or in person."
"Well," I said, "Puddin', I guess I better know what sermon that is so I can preach it again." She gave me the title. Was I ever stunned! It was the sermon I preached a few months before when I lost my coherence. I could not believe it. I returned to my room that night and praised God well into the night that He can use simple things to confound the wise and that it is still true that when we are weak, then we are strong.
Of course, every preacher has his own style of outlining and his own style of preaching. To be sure, each of us will, on occasion, preach sermons of different types, but it is the opinion of this preacher that the most effective preaching is that of determining before you choose a topic or a truth where you want to go. Picture the invitation. Decide what you want the people to do. Then find the truth that can be used as a vehicle to take the hearers to the desired goal. Then over and over again in the sermon emphasize the same truth, driving it deeper and deeper and deeper into the hearts and minds of the hearer until it is so indelibly and firmly positioned in his mind that he not only will respond as you had planned, but he will never forget the truth and the sermon.
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Billy Sunday (1862-1935)
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