I remember a writing guru who argued that the key to writing nonfiction is in conjunctions.
At first I dismissed this as ridiculous. If you had asked me, I would have said that conjunctions were the least important part of writing. What is more dull and insignificant than a bunch of ands, buts, althoughs, therefores, etc.? These are dull words that we use over and over again. There is no creative way to work with them. They are merely devices that hold ideas in place. Saying they are the key to writing seems like saying the key to playing good music is a sturdy music stand.
Strangely, it was Christians who convinced me he was right.
The most common criticism I hear of sermons today is that they don’t hold together. They start out well. They have interesting stories and insightful points. But they don’t flow. They have trouble getting from point A to point B. They don’t culminate in a conclusion that ties it all together.
True, there are many Biblical examples of “string of pearl” teaching, where one thought is related only tangentially, if at all, to the previous one. But that style of teaching was part of ancient culture; it is not part of ours. People today find it confusing.
Sermons, then, seem to fizzle today because of problems with those pesky conjunctions that are supposed to hold ideas in place. I suspect this may be related to the cavalier way that Christians treat conjunctions.
A congregation of which I was a member had a pictorial directory in which the page showing photographs of the pastors was entitled “. . . And they shall lead them.” There was no citation of the source from which this was supposedly quoted. I don’t know that they had any specific quotation in mind. It just sounds Biblical or religious or something to start a sentence with “and.”
We all learned early in school that you do not start sentences with “and.” It’s even worse to start an entire topic or discourse with “and.” What sense does it make to begin a thought with an unspecified reference?
Why, then, do Christians get into religious mode by starting thoughts, memory verses, quotations, and page titles with conjunctions? Could it be because so many of our lectionary readings and memory verses begin with conjunctions?
How many worship readings, particularly the Gospel, begin in the middle of a speech or with “Then Jesus . . .” or “And he said to them. . .?”
One of the most quoted verses in Scripture begins, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations. . .” How do you begin a directive, a command, with “therefore?” That says, in effect, “Because of something crucial that I’m not going to mention, you must do this.”
If the message we send is that conjunctions do not matter, the implication is that context does not matter. In that case, we shouldn’t be surprised that so many people build their theologies on verses taken out of context, or that our sermons don’t flow.
I think we can improve sermons in general by constantly asking, “Where is this coming from?” “Where is this going?” and “How do I get from here to there?”
Conjunctions matter. They get us from point A to point B, so that we can proclaim in a clear and understandable and informed way.