Awkward Titles, Long Stories & Pop-Culture Saturated Sermons – Part 1

I think the title of the post describes my preaching style quite accurately. Of course, I would hope terms like Christ-centered, Biblically-rooted, Spirit-led, and a few others would work in there as well too.

I’ve been wanting to post on the topic of preaching/teaching for a while now but have held back for a number of reasons and they included:
– I’m not sure I preach often enough to warrant the posts.
– Some blog posts I read on preaching bug me and I don’t want to bug you, well maybe some of you.
– Lastly, these posts have the potential to come across as defensive or as an apologetic.

But lately I’ve been thinking that I may have something to offer others and it’s in this respect that I am creating this/these posts. I think what I can offer is some of my experience and thought process of how I am intentionally trying to craft messages for the underchurched and overchurched. It’s been my experience that they tend to be drawn to similar things (and bothered by similar things).

First, for those of you who don’t know me (well), here’s some of my context :
I am the Pastor of Community LIfe at my church here (Grace Chapel) and have been on staff for a little over a year – honestly, so far, really good. I get to serve in the areas of small groups, adult discipleship, family ministries and am part of the leadership of our Sunday night service. It’s a very large church and I get to serve with really incredible people and I’m learning a good bit and on better days, I think I am contributing some too.

So Why the Awkward Titles?
To answer that directly, it’s to make some type of positive first impression specifically to those who don’t enjoy sermons. I remember thinking this in undergrad because if I can say this, I didn’t really like a lot of the sermons I heard during that time of my life. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to take homiletics but it was required for the Biblical Studies Major.

It turned out that my first homiletics professor loved my titles, it also turned out that he hated my deliveries. Similar to other undergrad homiletic students, he would videotape and critique us from his “Control Room” as we would look into a camera and give our sermons to fellow classmates. One of my first messages was entitled, “It Don’t Mean a Thing Unless It Ain’t Got That Swing Do Wah, Do Wah, Do Wah …” (It was the late 90’s, swing music was cool again, remember that Gap Khaki Eddie Setzer Orchestra commercial and the movie Swingers with Vince Vaughn and Jon “You’re so money” Favreau – anyone with me?)

Like all good homiletic professors, he was brutally honest and I wish I could find the video tape (and VCR) where he said, “You should have stopped preaching this one after you gave the title – that was the best part.”  I know I grew on him, he and his wife even invited me over to their house for dinner one night.  Anyway, over time, the deliveries improved a bit and the titles stuck.

This isn’t to say that great sermons need great titles – in fact, most people rarely remember the title of their favorite sermon – they may remember the central theme or a powerful point or a great illustration but most people don’t remember the title. My main concern with my awkward titles is that they may be distracting or perceived as cheapening the message.

But here’s what I learned about them over the years – for some, they create buy-in and some type of interest level especially among those who may need a shot in the arm or a reason to listen. At best, sometimes they create some suspense and I’d like to think they make some sort of creative first impression, hopefully in the positive. To be honest, I’m still learning and processing this so I am thinking out loud here but here are some examples of titles I’ve used in the past:

“The Magi Caravan Will Be Departing in Thirty Minutes”
“You Are Not Judge Wapner”
“Have Yourself a Merry LIttle Pentecost”
“Why We Prefer Tina Fey to Sarah Palin”
and my favorite:
“Spacely Sprockets, Flux Capacitors, Teleportation and other Lies Given to the Children of the 80’s and 90’s: We Were Promised Flying Cars and Were Given Farmville!”)

If you are a preacher, what are your thoughts on titles? If you are a not a preacher, let me ask you, how important are titles to you? Do you see any value or concerns here? Feel free to comment – thanks for reading and for all you nostalgia types, here’s a trip back to 1998.


  1. Debispragetti says:

    I remember “Spacely Sprockets… We were promised flying cars and given farmville.” as a title of yours that I sat through, my vague recollection was that it was about how the church promised all of these things but in doing so got away from the gospel and/also couldn’t come through on some of their promises… but maybe I’m confusing that with other sermons you gave and random conversations we have had.

    When it comes to titles, I can take them or leave them, shorter is easier. I’m finding at this juncture in my life I’m very tired of those cheesy illustrations and, maybe worse, cheesy applications. The above statement with which I identified the most was “over churched” and I’m finding that has been effecting me very much.

  2. Thanks Debi – this makes my morning ;) Yeah, the message went something like that (and it critiqued the placing of faith into human strategy and endeavors over God’s, etc.) Curious though, do you think you would have remembered that without the nemonic device of the title?

    Hear what you’re saying about the cheesy illustrations too – I have been tired of them for ages. But I know I’ve been guilty of that too as I’ve found it’s a harder thing to navigate because everyone has a different “cheese-threshohold” and few people want to hear a 30 minute sermon without illustrations.

    Glad you’re connected with the “over-churched” – I think that’s accurate. I’m guessing you are getting an even better sense of that as you you have been looking for a new faith community. Thanks for reading sister.

  3. I prefer short titles. I think most of my sermon titles are 1-3 words long. I understand that titles like the above are attention-getters; I just haven’t used them in that way. Since we use images on our bulletins and Powerpoint, I use the image on the sermon slide as the attention-getter instead. So different ways of getting to the same point, I guess.

    I loved swing music and Swingers and remember those years fondly. I also remember reading an article postulating that once something popular is used in a Gap commercial, it’s a sign that its popularity is about finished. So thanks for that, Gap.

  4. Coffeepastor, first, I’m with you on the coffee. What do you like to drink?

    Interesting, I’m the exact opposite when it comes to sermon slides – I prefer basic black background and white letters. Graphics are only for illustration so in the message I preached recently that mentioned zombies, I included the movie poster from Night of the Living Dead (1968 version). I like what you said though – different ways of getting … I’m a big fan of that type of plurality.

    I’m cool with blaming the Gap for ruining swing music – lol.

  5. Debispragetti says:

    Why I think I remember that message: because you mentioned the title a couple times in various gatherings (outside of the office) so by the time Sunday came around I wanted to hear the pieces put together. I think it was the goofiness of the title and how appropriately it tied together the concepts that stuck. Hope that helps to clarify.

    One of the churches I like here the pastor always begins with some tired story and it makes me want to scream, but after that he’s very exegetical and thats what I’m looking for, illustrate the passage for me by telling me about the culture it was written to and how it may have applied then, and how that parallels to now. As Kind Solomon said: “There is nothing new under the sun.” I also really like it when the original language is broken down and tied to other passages. I realize both of these things require a lot more work than most pastors have time for, but I came to realize that I look for those things by listening to the sermons of Rob Bell. I strongly dislike when pastors bounce through passages and they are all loosely tied together. Or worse, they forget to tie them together, or, and I curse these, they loosely base a rant around one scripture passage. Last year I heard an EXCELLENT sermon by Rev. Randy Pizzino, given at Grace Church, Roanoke, VA called the “Most Thankful Man” ( in case you want to listen to it). What stuck with me, and is still in my bible, are the sermon notes, essentially a list of passages based around the word study of Thankfulness. The application I took away wasn’t just “be thankful in all situations” it was, study thankfulness in the Bible and see how it can manifest in your life.

    You are absolutely correct to see the parallel of being over churched with my struggle to find a church here. Part of my struggle has been to find a place where I can worship through music freely and not feel like the preaching is juvenile. There is a baptist, not southern, church where the pastor preaches so solidly, straight exegesis. (he’s a Liberty grad too.) I love it, but the music worship is cheesy and rigid. The other church I like has excellent musical worship where I can express my love for Jesus freely, but the preaching is criticized above. Also, their preaching pastor is leaving at the end of the year so I’m inclined to give them more of a chance because what could come could be more of what I’m looking for. I loved the musical worship at Terra Nova (you recommended that church.) but the preaching wasn’t quite what I was looking for, they burn incense during the service and it gave me a migraine and there is something about their essence that made me feel like it was a club and I wasn’t certain I wanted to join. But thats another discussion all together. I’ve come to call myself a church snob because when it comes to picking a church I am so particular its obnoxious, even to me! Thats where I’m at.

  6. I’m a fair trade guy, so lots of Equal Exchange and Green Mountain primarily, with a preference for dark roasts.

    Parts of our service that don’t involve corporately-read things just have an image as a placeholder of sorts, plus I think it engages visual learners. So the sermon slide has my (short) title and a graphic relevant to the theme that just stays up there the whole time I speak. So for instance, this morning people will see a pic of Felix Baumgardner right after he jumped out of his capsule. I like to think that it’ll get people wondering and listening for the tie-in, and then hopefully by the end they’ll have the connection and a way to remember the overall point.

  7. @Debi, interesting about Terra Nova. Would love to hear more some time.
    It’s hard finding a church community – keep me posted.

    @Coffeepastor – I like that – maybe I’ll try that some time. I get that it “creates tension” in the good way. I’ve done that with props (and to some extend the titles do that too) but I like the idea of the slide staying up for a long duration. Thanks for sharing that with me. Catch you soon.

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