Over the years I’ve taught preaching in university courses and mentored a number of preaching apprentices and preachers-in-training. This series summarizes some of the most basic yet most useful preaching points I’ve emphasized in these settings.
Preaching Point #2: Decide if the message is going to be deductive (tell listeners at the beginning what the message is about) or inductive (wait until close to the end to reveal what the message is about).
The stereotypical deductive sermon has an introduction (e.g., “This morning I want to share three reasons why you should pray more.”), a body (reason 1, reason 2, and reason 3), and a conclusion (“In summary, we’ve looked at three reasons why you should pray more…”). It begins with the main point and then expounds that main point. You can visualize a deductive sermon as a cone with the narrow end on the top and the wide base at the bottom. The narrow top is the main point. The rest of the sermon then widens that point by explaining it and illustrating it. Deductive sermons are easy to follow, linear and logical in nature, and lend themselves to difficult topics that require a great deal of explanation. They can be, however, boring and predictable.
A typical inductive sermon withholds the main point until near the end of the sermon. The shape is an upside down cone with the wide end at the top and the narrow end at the bottom. The narrow end at the bottom represents the main point. The sermon is more narrative in nature. Both preacher and listener embark on a journey that ends with an “aha!” moment toward the end of the journey. In one sense, an inductive sermon recreates something of the process the preacher went through in his/her preparation for the sermon. Generally, the preacher does not already know the main point of the sermon. It surfaces at the end of a period of study, reflection, and exploration. The same happens in an inductive sermon.
Induction can also be very effective, especially in a Western culture like ours which is changing in many ways. Induction often captures a listener’s attention and engages a listener in multiple way. Contemporary preachers like Max Lucado, John Ortberg, and Fred Craddock use induction powerfully.
Most of the sermons I preach lean heavily on induction. How about you? And, listeners, what kind do you prefer to hear?