Does Every Sermon Need to End With a Call to Respond in a Specific Way?

by Wesley Allen, Jr. on Friday, October 7, 2016

Does every sermon need to end with a call to respond in a specific way?

                              —Participant at the 2016 Young Preachers Festival, Church of the Resurrection


Every sermon needs to invite a response—how specific and what kind of response is another question.

First, how specific. Notice I changed the word “call” to “invite.” This change is not meant to imply that sermons should never issue forth a call to the congregation—they certainly should. But the question is about “every sermon.” If every sermon concludes with a call to respond in a specific manner, the hearers will have a sense that the preacher is claiming an authority over them with which they are (and should be) uncomfortable. To go a step further, preachers should be cautious about demanding a single response as the only faithful response to a sermon. Hearers (and God!) must be given freedom to move in the direction the preacher offers or in a completely different direction that the preacher has not even considered. So, for the sermon to be good news, preachers should invite instead of dictate a response.

The type of response(s) preachers seek is another question. One way public speakers have thought about responses in general is in relation to the hearers’ head, heart, and hands. Hearers responding with their head means they are invited to think about something differently than they thought before the sermon. This indicates that preaching serves didactic, formative, and persuasive functions and should invite intellectual responses.

Hearers responding with their heart means that the preachers invite an emotional reaction to the sermon. We should be careful not to manipulate emotions, but when we speak of sin, our people should be invited to experience guilt and when we speak of forgiveness they hopefully experience something in the range of relief and joy. When we speak of poverty they might feel sad, distressed, or overwhelmed and when we speak of the church’s approach to poverty hopefully they move toward feeling empowered and challenged.

Finally, reference to the hearers’ hands means that preachers invite a behavioral response.  The range of actions can be within the liturgy—coming down to the table or putting money in the offering plate—or beyond it—finding ways to serve in the community, praying for our enemies, etc.

Most sermons should invite response in all three categories—head, heart, and hands—but where the emphasis lies will and should be different week to week. This week the sermon is more emotional, next week more intellectual, after that more behavioral. We are called to love God with our whole hearts, soul, strength, and minds—sermons across our lifetime should help us do that.

Wesley Allen, Jr.

                                       Lois Craddock Perkins Professor of Homiletics

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