One of my life’s greatest privileges is preaching God’s word week in and week out. I have been doing this for over fifteen years now and steadily look for ways to grow in my skill as a preacher. One of the unfortunate things I have discovered is that I can fall into lazy habits and practices if I do not think carefully about my sermon preparation.
Last year I developed a set of questions to ask myself about every sermon before I preach it. This helps me to evaluate its tone, content, and application. All of this presupposes that I finish the first draft of my sermon by at least Thursday at noon so that I can have time to look over it, reflect on it, and make necessary changes before I stand up to preach on Sunday morning at 10:30. (You can hear our sermons from Chelsea Village and subscribe to our podcast here.)
If you don’t preach, you may wonder what this post has to do with you. If you are a follower of Jesus, you want to learn how to take his word more seriously and listen to it with greater benefit. When you know how sermons work and what they are intended to do, you are able to be a more informed listener who catches more treasure from God’s word each week.
Here are five questions I ask of ever sermon before I stand up to preach.
Is this sermon faithful to the biblical text?
While this ultimately may not be the most important question, it is the first one to ask because the rest of the sermon falls apart without it. Because Paul instructs us to “preach the word,” (2 Timothy 4:2) the sermon is the exposition of a biblical text. The pastor takes a passage of Scripture, explains its message, illustrates its message, and applies its message.
The text sets the agenda for the sermon, so before I preach, I look over my sermon notes and ask if what I plan to say is faithful to the biblical text under consideration. Is my sermon’s main point the passage’s main point? Am I accurately explaining what the text says? If the answer to this question is “no,” I rewrite the sermon until the answer is “yes.”
Is the Gospel message clear in this sermon?
Sidney Greidanus spelled out a test for pastors to ask themselves about their sermons, especially ones from the Old Testament– “Could I preach this in a Jewish synagogue?” He phrased the question this way because many pastors preach biblical texts divorced from the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Even if the sermon technically says what the text says, if it does not point to Jesus and his work, we have missed the ultimate main point.
When I look at my sermon notes, I ask if the finished work of Jesus Christ upon the cross is necessary to fulfill the main application of my sermon. I ask if I am pointing to Jesus’ perfect righteousness, death for sin, and victory over the grave. Furthermore, I look at the imperatives in the sermon to see if they are rooted in what Christ has accomplished for us. Do I point people to their forgiveness, their justification, the adoption, their hope, and their reconciliation as the basis for why they obey God, love their neighbors, and press on in following Christ?
Does this sermon contain grace for hurting people?
The Bible offers real hope for people walking through overwhelming pain, difficulty, and sadness. As a pastor, if I preach as if hurting people are not in the room, I am denying them access to the grace the Scripture holds out to them.
When a pastor knows the people he preaches to every week, he knows how many of them are walking through stress, pain, anxiety, fear, and sadness. The world offers them countless options for dulling their pain or dealing with it in destructive, self-centered ways. The Bible calm for our stress, healing for out pain, peace for our anxiety, hope for our fear, and joy for our sadness. Every week, I look to make sure I offer the Bible’s solutions so they know how to go to the word instead of the world.
Does this sermon confront Christians in their sin?
The writer of Hebrews reminds us that the Bible is a “two-edged sword.” It convicts and it comforts. It wounds and it heals. Often, healing lies down the path of repentance and we will not walk down it unless we sin our sin for what it is. Therefore, the sermon must confront Christian’s in their sin and call them to repentance.
Early in the preparation process, pastors need to ask if there are root sins that the passage under consideration addresses. The passage might not deal with obvious sins like drunkenness, adultery, or lying, but it likely deals with sins of the heart that lie behind ones we can see. As I look at my sermon notes, I ask if I am helping people learn how to identify and repent of their sins. Otherwise, people come to worship and leave as they are.
Does this sermon call unbelievers to faith in Christ?
Jesus addressed a crowd at a feast in John 7 and told them, “If any man thirsts, let him come to me and drink and from his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.” Jesus called out to the crowd and told them that any person with a thirsty soul could find refreshment and salvation in him. Jesus offered a general call to any who knew they had a need to repent and believe. We would be wise to do the same in every sermon.
I look at the layout of every sermon and ask, “what is the best place to explicitly and clearly call people who do not believe to faith in Jesus Christ?” This needs more forethought than we usually put into it because evangelical pastors have so often closed with the call to trust in Christ. While that feels like a natural thing to do, there may be other spots in the sermon that are better suited to issue the invitation to trust in Christ. Wherever a pastor chooses to put it–it must be there.
There are many more questions we could ask of our sermons, but these five get to the heart of biblical preaching. Am I faithful to the text? Am I preaching the Gospel? Am I calling people to holiness and comforting the hurting? If we are doing these things, we can be sure that people who hear us will be experiencing repentance, growth, and encouragement.
“How to Sharpen Your Concentration for Bible Reading“
For Further Reading:
On Preaching by H.B. Charles