[This post is part of the Preaching for Youth series]. Paragraphs are the building blocks of any written material, including sermons. While you can’t actually hear the paragraphs when you listen to a sermon, they should still be there. Understanding how paragraphs function and utilizing them effectively, can help you structure your sermon better:
- It will help you identify your key message and stick to it
- It will show any unnecessary details
- It will help you check your line of reasoning
- It will trigger you to come up with beautiful and functional transitions
Let’s start with determining what a paragraph is:
A distinct division of written or printed matter that begins on a new, usually indented line, consists of one or more sentences, and typically deals with a single thought or topic or quotes one speaker’s continuous words.
In short, a paragraph:
- Contains one or more sentences
- Deals with a single thought or topic
- Is separated from other paragraphs by identation or a white space between the paragraphs (like I do on my blog)
Write in paragraphs
Assuming you write out your sermon (which I do, but it’s definitely not a rule), using paragraphs may take some getting used to, as not all of us are used to using paragraphs. Just train yourself into consciously making paragraphs when you write out your sermon.
Remember: you’ll need a new paragraph for every topic, every (sub)point you want to make. Don’t automatically start on a new line with each new sentence, but finish your point in one paragraph and then start a new one.
Don’t worry if you end up with paragraphs containing just two sentences, that’s fine. Though they shouldn’t all be that short, there’s no limit to the amount of sentences a paragraph has to have. On the other hand, if you have paragraphs with more than say seven sentences, you’re probably putting too much into one paragraph. You either have more than one thought in the same paragraph or you’re using too many words to make your point.
Check your paragraphs
When you’ve written your sermon, it’s time to check your paragraphs. Here’s what you need to check for:
Is there one thought?
When you’ve written your sermon, go over each paragraph and see if you can identify the single topic or thought in it. Can you find it? Could someone else find it? Test it by asking your spouse, a friend or another preacher to read it for you and see if he or she can find your thought in each paragraph.
Is the summary complete and to the point?
Now write down the single thought of each paragraph and put them onto a sheet of paper. This should be a correct summary of the key message of your sermon. Is it indeed a summary or are things missing? How many details are still in there? Are they important enough to be included or do you need to take them out?
Is your line of reasoning correct?
Study your ‘summary’ again but now look at your build-up and line of reasoning. If someone were to just read this summary, would it make sense? Are your arguments in the right order, are you not skipping any steps?
I’ve been guilty of faulty reasoning on more than one occasion. That’s because I make the steps in my head, they’re logical to me, but when I check my sermon they’re not actually there.
Take the Gospel for example, when you omit mentioning God’s holiness in your ‘reasoning’, the Gospel makes no sense. Why is ‘being a good person’ not good enough? Because God is holy. Leave out that part and your reasoning falls apart.
Are your transitions functional and beautiful?
There’s a transition from each paragraph to the next, a connection from one though to the next. Some are easy and natural, but others need extra work. The transitions between key parts of your sermon are often tough ones, for instance from the introduction to the middle.
If you want to keep your audience’s attention, you need to make these transitions smooth, meaning both functional and beautiful. We’ll get into more detail about how to make beautiful transitions in an upcoming post.
Writing in paragraphs makes it possible for you to check these transitions, so make sure you do. Is the transition from each paragraph to the next logical? Is it smooth? Try delivering it, saying it out loud. Does it flow naturally? If not, it will need some extra work.
Do you use paragraphs when you write out your sermons? Have you ever used them to improve your sermon structure?