The 3 Types of Tension in a Sticky Sermon

The 3 Types of Tension in a Sticky Sermon

A sticky sermon has to have tension.

Not just because it will help people remember the message, but because identifying and pulling at the tension in a sermon:

  • Helps your hearers care about the message
  • Cuts to the heart of your hearers
  • Pushes your hearers past their objections to applying the message to their lives

After all, Jesus told us that we are to make disciples through baptizing people and teaching them to obey everything that He commanded.

We’re not simply preaching for information transfer, we are preaching so that we can teach people to obey Jesus.

Tension helps us do this effectively.

What is Tension?

If you’re not sure what I mean by “tension” then stick with me here.

Tension is the word that describes the whys and the buts that come to mind consciously or subconsciously in those who are hearing the sermon.

  • Why should I care about this message?
  • But this doesn’t seem to have anything to do with me.
  • Why is that the interpretation you think is right?
  • But that application of this text would cost me something.
  • But what does this have to do with me?

Tension is also the word that describes the deep work we as preachers must do to cut through the religious cliches and cultural influences that so often flood people’s minds and hearts.

We do this through distinguishing the text from wrong theology and cultural ideas that are in dissonance with the truth of the text.

But not only do we distinguish the text from wrong beliefs and ideas, we also distinguish it from wrong actions.

When we identify and pull at the tension strings in a sermon, we are giving language to and bringing to light people’s experiences, people’s thoughts, people’s objections, and people’s actions.

Not only will they feel heard and understood, they will be more ready to receive God’s word.

The 3 Types of Tension in a Sticky Sermon

1. Tension before you get to the text

We don’t start here in our preparation, but we do begin here in the way we design the message.

In order to preach a sticky sermon, you must identify tension in the first few minutes.

Here you’re taking one of the tension points that you identified from your study of the text and you’re putting it at the beginning to frame the conversation.

Not many people like to listen to a message that is unclear in its aim.

By beginning with tension before you get to the text, you are telling people what the message is about without giving them your big idea at the outset.

The result? The people listening to you are ready to hear the truth of the text.

In order to preach a sticky sermon, you must identify tension in the first few minutes.

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2. Tension in the biblical text

But tension doesn’t come from no where. It comes from what we see in the text.

Tension in the biblical text is anytime there is an objection or hesitation of belief related to:

  • What the original recipients were hearing and dealing with
  • How to interpret the meaning of the text
  • When the truth of the text goes against something our culture has deemed good or okay
  • When what the text says doesn’t seem to line up with our own experiences
  • When the text is giving us a new way to think, live, believe, etc.

If you’re preaching through a narrative, there will often already be tension present in the plot.

It’s the preacher’s job to identify the tension in the biblical text and pull at it.

It’s the preacher’s job to identify the tension in the biblical text and pull at it.

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3. Tension in the application of the text

People may be tracking with you through the entire message. They see how the text deals with the problem you identified in the beginning and they even agree with how you interpreted it.

But when you begin to proclaim how this text applies to life today, there is often tension involved because of the narratives present in your people.

For example, Proverbs 18:10 says, “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.”

Where’s the tension, you may ask? It’s in our experience.

What happens when you run to the Lord, the strong tower, and you don’t feel safe or you still suffer?

That’s tension and it’s not only in the text but it’s in the application of the text too.

Why should they re-consider?

What is really happening when we run to the strong tower, the name of the Lord?

If you identify and address the tension that is present in the application, more people will take action.

When You Put These Together

The result of putting these three types of tension is a sticky sermon.

In every part of the message, you’ll keep your aim steady and at the heart of your hearers.

That’s what tension rightly used does – it helps cut through religious cliches and gets to the heart of the issue.

When you purposefully give language to tension, you’re giving people’s objections and hesitations a voice.

And when you do this, you’re limiting the power of those objections and hesitations; and helping them move forward into God’s ways.

More Help for Writing a Sticky Sermon

If you want to be faithful to the text, prepare efficiently, and craft your sermon memorably, I’ve got just the thing to help. It’s called the 10-step guide to writing a sticky sermon and it’s yours for free. Just click here to grab your copy.

10-Step Guide to Writing a Sticky Sermon

Written by Brandon Kelley

Brandon Kelley is the co-founder of Rookie Preacher and the author of Preaching Sticky Sermons and Crucified to Life. He serves as the Lead Pastor of First Church of Christ in Bluffton, IN. He also writes at BrandonKelley.org. You can follow him @BrandonKelley_. Watch his sermons here.

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