The Introduction

by Pastor Jack Hyles

(Chapter 7 from Dr. Hyle's excellent book, Teaching On Preaching)

The purpose of the introduction is, of course, to introduce. It is to introduce two things to the congregation: (1) Yourself, and (2) Your message. The introduction is not just the first part of the sermon. It is not simply to get the attention of the audience. It is to say to the audience, "Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce my message to you, and may I introduce myself to you.

Because of this, it should be honest and accurate. It should be in keeping with the sermon content, and it should be in keeping with what the speaker is. It should not be beyond the speaker's ability to perpetuate. It should be simply a sampling of the speaker and of the message. It should project the real you and the real sermon to the people. It should be a specimen taken from the sermon to say to the people, "This is what it is going to be like," and it should be a sampling taken from the speaker saying to the people, "This is what the speaker is going to be like."

First, let us project the specimen of the sermon as we say to the people, "May I introduce you to the sermon.

1. The introduction should be an accurate signpost pointing to the sermon.

2. The introduction should not be a sermon or an outline.

3. The introduction should create a hunger for the rest of the message. For example, I preached a sermon on ingratitude. The introduction was as follows: "A few years ago a poll was taken in America to see which sin does the most harm. To the surprise of many, the sin chosen was the sin of ingratitude."

Today I was in a health food store. As I walked in I saw a little bowl of soy beans. Beside the bowl was a little sign which said, "Take a free sample." I did so, and in less than 60 seconds, I bought a package of soy beans. This is exactly what a sermon introduction should do. It should say, "Here, take a sample of the message and let it whet your appetite for more."

4. The introduction could be a question that needs an answer.

5. The introduction could be a statement that needs a completion. For example, in my sermon on Proverbs 3:6, I begin with the following, "I, like every other sincere pastor, have sought the answers to the oppressions and frustrations of our fundamental people. I, like every other sincere pastor, have sought the answers to the heartbreaks, breakdowns and unhappiness of our fundamental people. I, like every other sincere pastor; have sought the answer to the disappointments with life and the disillusionments of our fundamental people. I have searched and searched for these answers. I think I have found some. One is found in our text." In this case the introduction leaves a question unanswered.

6. The introduction could create curiosity as to where the speaker is going. In my sermon, "The Flesh That No One Knows About," I start by saying, "The Devil is after you He wants to ruin your life with unrighteousness, so he attacks your flesh in an attempt to get you to do bad, but you are a good Christian. The flesh is repulsive to you, and the Devil fails, but he isn't finished in his effort to get you in the flesh. He knows that there is other flesh. So, having failed to get you to do unrighteousness in the flesh, he gets you to do righteousness in the flesh. Having failed in his attempt to get you to do bad in the flesh, he leads you to do good in the flesh." This is used to create curiosity as to where the sermon is going.

7. in the introduction, there should be a creation of intrigue. For example, I have a sermon that was Dr. Rice's favorite of all the ones that I preached. When I preach it, I always mention the fact that this was Dr. Rice's favorite. I often introduce the sermon by saying, "The pastor requested this one." Still another statement used is, "The sermon that I am preaching tonight is not often used," or I might say, "I am preaching tonight the first sermon I ever preached," or "I am preaching tonight the first sermon that I ever preached here." Such statements generate intrigue.

8. The introduction should lead the people to feel that the sermon has the answer to an individual need. Crisis-oriented preaching can only take a church so far. Preaching will soon become unfruitful if it is not geared to meet the needs of the people. We should preach prophecy, but preaching all prophetic sermons will dry up the church. The preacher who preaches on social issues will someday run out of social issues and will dry up the church. Preaching must be geared to the needs of the people, and the introduction should lead the people to feel that the sermon has an answer to an individual need.

9. The title of the sermon should not be more spectacular than the sermon. Spectacular titles may get a person to come once or twice or maybe a few times, but crowds grown by the advertising of spectacular titles will scatter when all the spectacular titles have been used. The pastor does not realize it, but he is training his people to come only when there is something spectacular in his title. It also requires him to make the content of the sermon just as spectacular as the title in order to be honest.

10. The introduction should not be more spectacular than the sermon. This will cause the sermon to climax too soon. To be quite frank, it borders on dishonesty if he introduces a sermon to be something that it will not be.

11. The introduction should get the people desirous for the preacher to continue. In my sermon, "So Great Salvation," I begin as follows: " 'How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?' Now the usual interpretation of this passage is that if one neglects being saved, he will not escape the wrath and judgment of God. I do not believe that this does an injustice to the Scripture, but it is not the primary teaching of Hebrews 2:3." I hope that this introduction creates a desire in the minds of the audience for me to continue.

12. The introduction should be the most articulate part of the sermon. It should not be joke-telling time unless the sermon is very funny If the sermon is funny, then the introduction which is to be a specimen taken from the sermon, should also be funny. In my sermon, "A Wounded Spirit," I have as my goal the lifting of the spirits of those in the congregation, so I feel it is only proper for the introduction to be a spirit-lifting one.

13. The introduction should not start on a mountaintop unless the sermon is a mountaintop sermon. For example, in my sermon "A Name that is Above Every Name" I preach an entire message just about the person of Jesus. It is in every way a sermon meant to be a mountaintop experience. So, to be honest, the introduction or specimen must be mountaintop.

14. The introduction should get the attention of the preacher. Every sermon introduction should be examined carefully to be sure that the preacher will get his own attention in his introduction.

15. The introduction should make it obvious that the preacher is preaching to himself also. Often in an introduction I will say, "I am not here tonight primarily to entertain you. I am not here tonight primarily to instruct you, nor am I here tonight primarily to inspire you Let me make it plain before I start. I am here that by the grace of God, God may use this message to change your life and mine." Notice, I am identifying myself with the audience. I am not preaching down to them, but I am preaching out to them and to myself.

16. The introduction should not include jokes that make others an object. If a joke is used in which someone becomes its object, it should be the speaker himself who is the object of his joke.

Sometimes a joke on yourself is a wholesome thing if it is done in good taste. For example, I often tell the following on myself: "I got up as usual one morning, got in the car, drove to work. On the way to work I made my usual stop at the White Hen Pantry; a little drive-in grocery store, to get my morning paper. It was a cold winter morning; in fact, it was below zero outside. When I got back into the car after getting my paper, I could not get it started. I tried and tried, but the starter would not even turn over or make a sound. I got out of the car and did the thing that all of us do in an effort to repair the problem-I opened the hood and looked at the engine. In fact, I even looked at it twice, but it still would not run. After several minutes of futility, I called the service station where I trade and asked them to come and get my car started. They told me it would be within an hour. I insisted that I could not wait that long and reminded them of my long years of being a customer. Finally, I persuaded them to come immediately Within ten minutes he was there, got in the car and within just a few seconds he had it started. In fact, he didn't even open the hood. I was amazed at his brilliance. As he got out of the car said, 'My, you are a wonderful mechanic. What was wrong?' With not a smile on his face, with his eyes pointed away from me he said, 'I put the stick in park.' Oh, brother, was I ever embarrassed!"

I often tell in my introductory remarks about the night when Dr. John R. Rice and I were in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. The church met in a school building. The entrance to the building was on the side, so when you entered, half the congregation could see you and the other half was in front of you to your right. This Monday night found me a little late. My plane had had some problems and I got to the church just as the song service had ended and Dr. Rice was beginning to speak. It was a cool night, around 400, and it was drizzling rain. I had no coat or hat, and as I approached the door the usher said, "I'm sorry, mister, but you can't come in!" I asked, "Why?" He replied, "Because the preaching has already started and nobody goes in once the preaching has started." I said, "Look, mister, it's drizzling rain out here, and it is cold!" He said, "That doesn't matter! You can't come in!" I said, "What do you mean, I can't come in?" He said, "I'll tell you again, sir. Nobody enters once the sermon has started!" I said, "Let me tell you who I am." He said, "I don't care who you are. You're not coming in! The rule is that no one enters after the speaker has started speaking, and I'm going to enforce the rule." I looked at him and said rather tersely, "That's a dumb rule." He said, "Sir; I agree with you. I don't like the rule either. We haven't had it very long. Our pastor got it in Hammond, Indiana, where he attended a Pastors' School."

Oh, brother, was I ever embarrassed! For 45 minutes I stood out in drizzling rain on a cool night without a coat and hat. When Dr. Rice heard about it, he laughed and said, "If I had known that, I would have preached for three hours!" I replied, "I thought you did!"

17. The introduction should convince the people that you are on the same level with them. If the speaker feels a little beneath the audience, he could perhaps quote a poem or briefly give a little philosophical thought. If the speaker gets the idea that the people feel he is a little above them, he could say something that would be perhaps a little revelation of his humanity and of the fact that he too is flesh and a common person. I often use the following, especially if people think lam somebody special just because I pastor a larger church: "Perhaps some of you tonight have heard about the First Baptist Church of Hammond and Hyles-Anderson College. You wanted to see what this fellow Hyles looks like. You got here early and focused your eyes on the door to watch him as he walked in. In Hyles walked. You looked to your wife and said, 'There is the custodian-now when does this fellow Hyles come in?'

I was down in Mt. Vernon, Illinois, several years ago. A little lady about 35 years of age came to me and asked, "Are you the real Jack Hyles?" I said, "I'm the only one I know." She said, "I've heard about you all my life, but you just don't look like what I thought you would look like." I smiled and said, "You're not very pretty either."

Above all, be honest. The introduction is to introduce first, the sermon, and second, yourself. The introduction should say, "Good evening, folks. Let me introduce you to my sermon and let me introduce you to myself. Here is a specimen or a sampling of what I am going to be like and what my message is going to say I hope it will make you want to listen."

Now that we have introduced the sermon, let us spend a few moments discussing the speaker introducing himself. Bear in mind that this is a specimen of what he is like and of what he is. It should be an honest presentation so the people will be able to see and hear a sample of what is to come. Do not forget-this should be the real you, just like the introduction introduced them to the real sermon.

1. Dress like the real you. Dress properly to suit the occasion. Let your dress reflect yourself, a person of propriety

2. Walk like the real you. A preacher should walk like himself. He should walk on the platform like he walks anywhere else. It should not be some kind of a pious prance, but a simple, earnest walk. Every week I go to the auditorium when it is empty and practice my walk from the door to my seat and from my seat to the pulpit. I do not practice some strange new walk but just my usual walk so that when the people see me walking in they will see the real Jack Hyles walking.

3. Sit like the real you. Sit like a man with dignity and propriety, not with legs straight and together like a woman in a dress, not slouched with a pronounced crossing of the legs, but sit like a man. Sit up straight with both feet on the floor and some space between the knees, or with one leg slightly crossed over the other.

4. Be courteous like you. Before the sermon do not talk to others on the platform. Participate enthusiastically in the singing. Look at others and listen to them when they speak. Be ethical with other speakers concerning time, etc.

5. Speak like you. The introduction, as well as the rest of the sermon, should not be another speaking voice that you borrowed for the occasion. It should be your voice-the same voice and same type of speaking that someone would hear if they were with you for some time. When you get loud, get loud like you would if you were excited somewhere else. Be yourself Speak sincerely and speak earnestly

6. The introduction should not be a time of sarcasm. Of course, there might be an occasional exception to this rule. For example, sarcasm would not be in bad taste if it were done lovingly by a guest speaker who had often spoken at the church and was a very warm and close friend of the pastor; and mild sarcasm would not be in bad taste if used by a pastor who had served in the church for many years and had established his love for his people. Even then, care must be taken as to the objects of the sarcasm. There are some people who simply cannot absorb someone being sarcastic to them.

7. If a preacher is a visiting speaker, he should take time in his introductory remarks to compliment the church, the pastor, the city, the buildings, the area, the music, etc. This should not be done with humor, but with a sincere heart and a sincere spirit. Before the sermon, the speaker should spend some time in meditation thinking of his love for the pastor and his admiration for the church so that his comments will be sincere ones. The common man has a way of denoting sincerity, and it is very difficult to fool him.

8. Do not try to impress or startle. The introduction is not a time to win friends and influence people; it is a time to get the people to know the real you. It is a "get acquainted" time when you meet them and they meet you. If the introduction does not give to the people a true idea of what is to come, it has failed. It is a brief time when a sincere preacher reveals a brief example of his sincerity, when a loving preacher presents a sample of his love, when an earnest preacher reveals a sample of his earnestness and when the speaker says to the people, "Let me introduce myself to you. This is what I'm like. Let me introduce my sermon to you. This is what it's like. I hope you will want to continue listening as I preach it."

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Billy Sunday (1862-1935)

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