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Sermon Titles: Substantive, Silly, or Superfluous?

What do you think about sermon titles? Are they needed or just a poor excuse for the preacher to show off his latest alliteration or attempt to tie into the contemporary culture?

Recently, I came across a post discussing the merits of sermon titles. It got me to thinking about the area that is likely my greatest weakness, homiletically speaking.

To me, it’s my sermon on Proverbs 9:10 and that’s how I will always remember it. Do those in the audience remember it by the title?

Do you even look at the title in the bulletin?

Off the top of my head, I can only remember the titles of 3 sermons:

  • Too Important to Let Slide (on the perils of legalism)
  • Ten Shekels and a Shirt (by Paris Reidhead about selling out God for the sake of ministerial success)
  • Hell’s Best Kept Secret (by Ray Comfort on the use of the law in evangelism)


For you preacher types …

  • How much energy do you put into the sermon title?
  • Do you tie it to the text, your topic, your conclusion, or none of the above?
  • Does your title make sense before or after the sermon, if at all?


I’m thinking you don’t want to promise too much in the title and you can probably wear out the audience by striving for a provocative title each and ever week.

Does it make a difference to you in the pew whether or not a sermon has a title?

I tend to preach inductively, so I’m hesitant to reveal too much in the title anyway.

Every once in a blue moon I feel I’ve struck gold with my sermon title, but more often than not I’m afraid it’s a dud where I’ve followed tradition in thinking I have to have one.

Can you share any particularly good or bad sermon titles?

(I guess that makes them memorable either way, so that’s saying something at least.)

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About Eric "Gunny" Hartman

Gunny is pastor of Providence Church in Plano, TX, and has taught at Dallas Theological Seminary and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has completed coursework for a PhD in Rhetoric at University of Texas at Arlington and tries to be a good father to his 4 kiddos, exhibited by coaching a girls soccer team.

Discussion

8 thoughts on “Sermon Titles: Substantive, Silly, or Superfluous?

  1. >I wish someone would do a sermon called “urinating on the wall,” but then again, nobody would ever be dumb enough to preach on that…

    Posted by Jared Nelson | March 1, 2008, 5:47 pm
  2. >What, can we preachers really be less clever than we think?!A real preacher? Never! That’s why I got into teaching English. We get a pay bonus for every bad joke we venture in front of our classrooms. 😉

    Posted by Nathan P. Gilmour | February 28, 2008, 7:26 pm
  3. >Jay the Bennett,That’s some good slooge, brother.Dwight wrote:”Plus, when I’m a real famous preacher, it’ll be easier for folks to find all my sermons on iTunes if they have titles. ;)”Shrewd, brother. Way to plan ahead.Nathan P. Gilmour wrote:”I’m wary of my own tendency to try to be clever rather than to be clever.”What, can we preachers really be less clever than we think?!Thanks, lads, for your insight.

    Posted by GUNNY | February 28, 2008, 1:00 am
  4. >When I preached regularly, the bulletin didn’t have a slot for sermon title, so I never titled them. Now that I only preach a few times a year as a pulpit-filler, I go with what the congregation wants. I generally prefer to use a phrase from the turning point of the pericope I’m preaching, with as little adornment as possible, but that’s because I’m wary of my own tendency to try to be clever rather than to be clever.

    Posted by Nathan P. Gilmour | February 26, 2008, 5:54 pm
  5. >My goal in titling a sermon is as much or more for my benefit as it is for listeners. I try to boil the message down into as few words as possible, hopefully finding an image or idea that encapsulates the whole message. I try to make my titles a single word as often as I can. This helps my ADD mind to stay focused on what I need to communicate.Plus, when I’m a real famous preacher, it’ll be easier for folks to find all my sermons on iTunes if they have titles. 😉

    Posted by Dwight | February 26, 2008, 7:27 am
  6. >I don’t put a lot of thought in sermon titles. But I do think they are important. I typically go for some image or main theme that will be returned through throughout the sermon. I also try my best to construct titles that could have multiple levels of meaning.For instance:Kiss of the King- the sermon thesis was God’s justice is not opposed to God’s love; it is an expression of it. The chief image from the text was David’s kiss given to Absalom. David loves his son; but his love for his son is undermined by his lack of integrity (i.e. justice). So, I thought, the title communicated several things. Prior to hearing the sermon I figured it would raise questions in the listeners mind. It communicates love, affection, kingdom. But is the kiss given to the king or received from the king? After the sermon I figured the main gist would sink in. The idea of kiss is parallel to the concept of love in the sermon thesis. The idea of King is parallel to the idea of justice in the sermon thesis. So, as the sermon thesis was about the relationship between divine love and justice, I thought “Kiss of the King” worked.The Gospel of Genocide- Purely intended for shock value. I wanted the listener to ask himself how can genocide be good news? The sermon thesis was God’s eradication of his enemies is an expression of his love for himself, which is good news for his people. I figured if I could get people to ask how genocide could be good news, I’d have them hooked. The sermon was basically an answer to that question.A Shepherd’s Love- Thesis: A shepherd of God’s people should be motivated by a love for Christ that is distinguished by humility. My decision to title the sermon this way had to do with the multiple meanings it conveys. Who is the shepherd who loves? The text was Jesus’ reinstatement of Peter. So much of the sermon was focused on the love of the Chief Shepherd demonstrated in his encounter with Peter. However, the main point of the sermon was to understand how Jesus had transformed Peter, by his grace, into one who could be a shepherd and love (i.e. feed) his flock. One could either understand the shepherd in the sermon title as Jesus or Peter. Both are correct. Both are meaningful. Both are essential to the sermon.Methodologically, I rarely title a sermon (with a title that sticks) until I’m finished crafting it. I always know my thesis before I begin, so I can get a sense of what basic themes might work for a title. But I usually don’t come to a firm decision on the title until I’ve finished the sermon. Then, hopefully, I have explored the complexities of the biblical doctrines, scenes, and/or images at hand to such an extent that the title becomes apparent.

    Posted by M. Jay Bennett | February 26, 2008, 5:16 am
  7. >Ah, good distinction.Thanks for your feedback, Judy.

    Posted by GUNNY | February 26, 2008, 4:16 am
  8. >Good question. For me, as a church goer (not a preacher), I like titles for topical sermons, but think it’s unneccesary if you’re preaching straight through a book of the Bible.

    Posted by Judy | February 26, 2008, 4:01 am

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