This entry is part 12 of 13 in the series Subtle Errors

Sermon Titling is something that some consider to be irrelevant while others consider it to be very important. Sermons in the Black Preaching Tradition are often known to be titled well. Sometimes a great title will evoke praise or contemplation from the congregation before the sermon even begins. Because of this I have spent a little time thinking about titles.

I was looking in my old class papers and found a paper I wrote entitled “The Sermon Concealed: How to Create a Sermon Title.” First, one should have an idea of what the sermon is going to be about. The theme and the text should already be chosen. After that one should follow these steps.

Step 1 – Flash of Brilliance

Here you simply choose the sermon title that you might otherwise choose. What would you normally call the sermon?

Step 2 – J. Alfred Smith’s Sermon Title Categories

Now J. Alfred Smith, in the book Preach On! gave some categories for artistic sermon title creation. I wish to create a sermon title that corresponds to each of his categories. Thus when we have our text and our sermon in mind we then attempt to create a title that corresponds to the balance category. After that we try to create one that corresponds to the simple sentence. Then exclamation, label,word play,rhyme, and finally question. I believe that some of these categories will be difficult to come up with and sometimes we will not be able to
come up with one that corresponds to each one, but an attempt would be made to get as many as possible. So now we should have 5-7 possible titles. In addition, one should add the sermon title that comes from the “flash of brilliance” described above.

Step 3 – Evaluate the Titles

At this point we are ready to evaluate the sermon titles. The first criteria for evaluating our sermon titles is variety. The preacher should not use the same category from Smith or titles that sound too much alike every sermon. In addition, the preacher should take care to not create sermon titles in such a way that they give away the sermon. For example, one might use Smith’s exclamation for only a certain kind of sermon. Thus when one hears the title one knows the kind of sermon to be preached.

Another important consideration is that the sermon title encapsulate the whole sermon including the celebration. Next, as noted above the sermon does the sermon title not give away the sermon.

Following these three steps will provide a list of possible sermon titles. I would encourage you to try this method when you are against a wall or are suffering from “preachers-block” when trying to name your sermons.

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7 thoughts on “How To Title the Black Sermon

  1. I am viewing a DVD today where Dr. J. Alfred Smith preached for my Pastor’s(Dr. J.L. Netters)54th anniversary. The title is “Salvaging The Season.” He does know how to get your attention and hold on to it as he teaches,reaches and preaches.

  2. Ptr Rizal Asuncion says:

    Rev. Cox, I too believe in the importance of the title of a sermon.
    As you said the title “encapsulate the whole sermon”. I also consider the title as an expression of the theme of the of the sermon worded to attract interest of the congregation. The title serves to unify the content of the sermon.

  3. A title peaks the natural man’s interest. Once you get the interest of an individual and the message flows smoothly enough not to lose an individual’s interest, I believe you can preach/teach the Gospel effectively. On Sunday my message title was “Ring Ring Check the Caller ID God is Calling.” People could easily discern that I was going to speak about being called by God.

  4. Sherman Haywood Cox II says:

    Yes to both comments. The sermon title can be like the north star guiding us home. It can be a great representation of the theme of the sermon as Ptr Rizal Asuncion notes.

  5. Rev K Workman says:

    I thank you very much for posting this. Sermon titles entice the hears. It makes them anticipate what comes next. Great post.

  6. Vernetia Miller says:

    Often I receive a title before I receive a text and I write it in my notebook to come back to when I am later inspired. Sometimes I purposely seek a text which the title will work with. This is not to force a text, but rather engages me in another Bible reading moment. Just as with selecting a text then brainstorming for sermon ideas the text evokes, I do the same with a sermon title. This helps with being prepared to preach on the fly.

  7. There’s something about titles to Black Sermons that will carry you all throughout the week. My pastor loved the title of my first sermon I preached for Licensing, “Warning Signs” and I think the message impacted him and I think others who were there. So, titling is a big deal in Black Sermons.
    I even heard some preachers use song titles as sermon titles which is a pretty good idea as well—-I have a few in mind right now LOL.
    I am like Min. Miller who recieve messages before the text and my wife, bless her heart, even bring me titles to sermons as well.

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