It used to be that a good sermon had anywhere from three to five points, and if the sermon was especially great, those points all started with the same letter, or rhymed, or something else totally rockin’ like that. But I’m convinced that style of preaching doesn’t fly with post-modern audiences. It feels forced and artificial.
Today, the best sermons have one point. You say one thing, and say it well. You exegete the text not so that you can make a series of points, but so that you can deliver the overall meaning, and then apply that to the specific circumstances of your congregation.
One of the images that helps me as I prepare my sermons is a bullet. Bullets are streamlined, smooth, and come to a lethal point. They find a single target and take it down. The opposite of a bullet is buckshot. Buckshot spreads out all over the place and doesn’t have that laser-like focus on a single target. Preaching with buckshot is scattered, hard to follow, and overall ineffective. You want to preach with a bullet.
I know the violent language may turn some people off, but one way to think about preaching is as an assassin of the “old man”. Paul talks about crucifying, with Jesus, the person we used to be. Our old ways of living and being must die. Preaching the word of God is a kind of killing (and, hopefully, a kind of raising to new life in Christ). Thinking about your sermon as a bullet may seem morbid and violent to you, but preaching is, and should be, an act of violence against the kingdom of darkness and the ways in which we still obey that darkness. You’re not going to sweet talk anybody out of hell. You’ll need bullets. Lots of them.