Perry Mason or Columbo . . . .

Columbo 2 OR Perry Mason 1

There are at least two general approaches you can take when beginning your speech or message.  You can begin with a . . . .

Perry Mason Approach


Columbo Approach

If you have seen both series — then you are around my age — and you realize that there are two approaches to framing a murder mystery.  Our family used to sit around the television and watch Perry Mason on Friday evenings.  Each of us would take a guess near the end of that particular episode as to who was guilty.  You had to call it before Perry Mason got the killer to admit he was guilty.  Even in the last minutes of the trial while individuals were testifying on the stand, you were changing your mind.  “Who done it” was revealed in the very last minutes! — followed by a final few closing minutes of how Perry Mason figured it all out at the end.

Then Columbo came to TV, and it became the new American mystery series to watch in the 70’s.  However, with Columbo, the approach was radically changed!  The viewer found out who the murderer was within the early minutes of the episode.  Now it was up to Columbo to figure out who did it.  The viewer watched Columbo step his way through the various events and possible clues, moving him closer and closer to identifying the guilty person(s). “Who done it” was known from the beginning and you watched it move to that revelation.


I am sure you see the very point I am about to make when I say “Perry Mason or Columbo. These two series capture the two different approaches to presentation.

A speaker can lay out the aim, the Big Idea, the point of the speech or message at or near the beginning  — within the early minutes of the speech/message.


A speaker can take a journey with the audience, moving step by step, closer and closer to the point(s) he wants to establish  — nearer the end.*


I would imagine that many, if not most, speakers begin with the Columbo approach — stating their aim – goal – purpose – main or big idea — right up front.


The Columbo approach would probably begin or sound something like this . . . .


Today, we are going to answer the question, How do you get through the trials of life with joy — James 1 — How does a person go through troubles and still have a joy in his or her heart?


Turn to Ephesians 3 as we look at the mystery of the church.  Paul is going to lay out for us the background of where the idea of the church came from in the plan and program of God.  That is Paul’s aim in the first verses of Ephesians chapter 3.


What are the differences between the seven churches in the book of Revelation, and which one would typify us?  We are going to look at the seven church of Revelation and see their differences as well as some of the characteristics which may mark a church, maybe our church – today.


The speaker is announcing to the audience the “end of the story” up front.  There is no “mystery” for the listeners to figure out.  They know where they are headed, and the rest of the message will be focused on getting there.

If you were to leave before the end of the message you still know the point which is going to be made, you know the “who done it.”

At the beginning the audiences knows understands the point of the message.  Then, that is followed by a presentation of information which moves the audience to that announced point or those points.  The end comes at the beginning.



The Perry Mason approach would probably begin or sound something like this . . . .

Joseph is the second youngest of 12 brothers.  There are four basic chapters in his life which contribute to establishing of a biblical principle which is both illustrated and then stated at the end of Joseph’s trial and at the end of his life.

The first chapter in Joseph’s life begins in Genesis 37, where he is the favored son of Jacob.  That favor is reflected in what we call – a coat of many colors . . . . yada . . . . yada . . . . yada . . . .

The second chapter in Joseph’s life begins with a plot to kill him . . . .  yada . . . . yada . . . . yada . . . .

The next chapter takes place in Egypt where Joseph must now navigate through the injustice of both his brothers and a scorned woman. . . . yada . . . .yada . . . . yada . . . .

The final chapter in Joseph’s trial begins with Joseph as “prince” of Egypt . . . . yada . . . . yada . . . . yada . . . .  He has his brothers standing before him and he says, “I am Joseph!”  . . . . yada . . . . yada . . . . yada . . . .


Now, it is at this point where  Joseph is going to tell his brothers and us how he was able to navigate through all that has happened and arrive at a place of spiritual growth and personal peace in light of the many wrongs with which he has had to deal.

Joseph now tells us as he responds to his brothers  – there in the land of Egypt – how he has not turned bitter, but how he is a better person . . . . “God sent me here” . . . . Later on, he is going to say it this way, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good” . . . .  Joseph’s thinking and heart’s attitude lead him to do what was right and avoid revenge . . . .

It will only be as we see God’s hand and working in our lives amidst the trials – troubles – problems – tests – painful experiences – long days and even years of discouragement and disappointment — that there is hope for stability in our lives.  It will only be as we can talk to ourselves and listen to that truth that this is God at work — that God wants to both reveal and test us in and through the situations of life — that we will make it through better and not bitter . . . .


With the Perry Mason approach, the speaker is holding off the audience.  The speaker is moving somewhere, and the audience is waiting to hear the main driving idea(s) of the message.  The end is at the end.  You must wait until the end to hear the conclusion of the whole message.  If you must leave before the end of the message you miss the “who done it.”

Note: While it seems like narrative portions of Scripture (much of the Old Testament, the Gospels, and the book of Acts) lend themselves more readily to the “Perry Mason” approach, that is not actually true.  The Perry Mason approach also works with grammatical portions of Scripture.  There are many biblical truths which are found at the end of a particular grammatical passage.  Verses in a Psalm, or a section of Proverbs, or in a section of a New Testament epistle can and do lead to  – move toward – a main or culminating idea(s).


Conscious Variety

As you listen to various messages, and/or think about your own approach, say to yourself — Perry Mason or Columbo?

As you listen to various speakers, and/or think about your own speaking, ask yourself — Am I primarily Perry Mason or Columbo?

As you consider varying your approach, see if you can flip it from a Perry Mason approach to a Columbo approach, or flip it from a Columbo approach to a Perry Mason approach.

It is not that one approach is inherently better than another.

Sometimes one or the other approach will simply NOT work by the very nature of the passage.

At other times, one approach is what naturally works with the passage, especially when it comes to narrative accounts.  However, even with narrative accounts which typically lend themselves to a “Perry Mason Approach,” you do not have to begin by announcing the aim or Big Idea.  Hold the audience off until near the end.

At other times you will be using the Perry Mason or the Columbo approach, but you simply have not consciously identified it as such in your mind.  If you do not know what you are doing it is problematic to change it up.

Sometimes you can use both approaches.  An example of this is found in Luke 18:1ff where Luke begins by announcing the purpose of the parable in Luke 18:1 and then the parable which Jesus gave is stated, which is a story which leads to a point and that point.

Nevertheless, consciously recognize how you are approaching the passage and/or decide if you want to change the way you are doing it.

Think about adding variety to your approach – conscious variety – and avoiding the “same old same old.”


*I do not like the terms, but sometimes this is called an “Inductive” and a “Deductive” Approach.  These terms are really terms of logic, not arrangement, but I understand how they are used this way.

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