I worked my way through college working for a local lumberyard delivering drywall. My days were filled with 4X12 sheets of gypsum and my nights were filled with ibuprofen. The hardest part about carrying the drywall was not the size or the weight, but the simple fact that there were no handles to grab. Now, some 25 years later in a completely different vocation, I find the same thing to be true for the people who listen to me each week. The sermons are hard to grasp if there are no handles to grab.
A sermon handle is simply an easy way for the listener to grab onto the topic. If they can hold it, they can apply it; if they can apply it, they can share it.
In the early crafting of a sermon, the question, “So what?” keeps the speaker focused on developing a handle. What difference does the information shared make in the hearer’s life? Sermons can be filled with good information, but as my preaching professor once told a student after he presented his message, “I am not sure what to do with that.” Too many sermons present great information with equally great inspiration. If the sermon stays in the room because the people have no way to take it home, however, then what good has it done? The “So what?” will help keep them develop a handle.
Handles in the sermon are the places where the hearer says, “That’s me.” Sharing a list of examples in an illustration is one way to develop a handle. For example, in one sermon I told a childhood story of how some classmates made fun of me. Not everyone has that experience so I cast a broader net with a list. “Maybe, for you it was a parent who said you were useless; a coach who called you a quitter; a spouse who said I don’t love you anymore or the words, ‘You’re fired’ still ring in your head.” Each list provides a handle for someone to grab and hold.
At the conclusion of the sermon, the speaker should soundly answer the “So what?” question. This creates a very practical handle which can take the form of action steps. It could be a meditation moment or a challenge to share what you just heard with another person. It could be a call to take the next step that the preacher can clearly define. Leave no ambiguity here. This handle must be clear. The goal is to get the listener to say, “I can do that,” or “I need to think further about that.”
The proof of a good handle is always found after the sermon. Whenever someone says, “I felt like you were talking directly to me,” I know the message connected with them by providing a handle. Better yet is when someone contacts you during the week to let you know they have used the handle. Whatever it might be, you know that you have shared a good handle. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is powerful. As Christ’s messengers, it is our task to share the message in such a way that the hearers will know how to assimilate the words into their lives. When we accomplish that task, we know we are faithful to our calling and have developed a good handle for our hearers.