A sermon is very much a jar of clay; even the best are far from perfect. Even though they bear the flaws of the preacher, God is still pleased to graciously work through humble servants and their earthly efforts.
The more I preach, the more I witness confirmation that the Spirit must supernaturally illuminate the Word of God in the hearts of people in spite of my feeble attempt to explain and apply it. I don’t think there’s a formula or process that can guarantee this, other than actually preaching from the Scriptures. (I am convinced sermons without Scripture are bueno para nada).
I’ve recently been asked what I value in a sermon. The more I thought about it, I figured I should put these values down on paper if only for the purposes of accountability. So, upon reflection, here are 7 values I hope are reflected in my preaching. Hear me out, I am not saying I’m good at these values, but that I want to be good at them. It is my goal that my sermons would be:
- Expositional– An expositional sermon is one in which the main idea of a text of Scripture is the primary point of the sermon, and ideally the sermon would show the congregation how (here’s a nice summary by Mike Bullmore on expositional preaching). This is where all the original language, grammar, history, genre awareness, and literary analysis pay off in studying a passage.
- Informed by Biblical Theology– The sermon’s content and main idea should be nuanced in light of the whole of the Scriptures. It’s easy to become so focused on the passage in question that the forest of Scripture is lost. In this I want to be aware of NT/OT connections, as well as the way certain themes are developed in the whole of the canon.
- Saturated with Application– A sermon should be infused with specific suggestions and examples of how the passage should be believed, applied, and/or obeyed. I never want to leave people saying, “That was nice, but what should I do about it?”
- Clear– The sermon should be easily understandable while not being simplistic. This applies especially to the main idea and related sub points. If people don’t understand the main point, I’ve missed something.
- Anchored in the Gospel– The sermon should make reference to the gospel, and seek to explain how the passage relates to the death and resurrection of Jesus. I try to include a call to respond to the gospel in each message for those who may not yet be believers. For some passages this is natural part of the sermon, while in others it takes
- Aimed at the Affections– The sermon should target the heart, not merely the intellect, seeking to foster greater love for God, hunger for God, and worship of God. A sermon isn’t a lecture. The mind may be the gateway to the heart, but merely teaching a text isn’t the end goal. No one is better than Jonathan Edwards on this point: “And the impressing of divine things on the hearts and affections of men, is evidently one great end for which God has ordained, that his word delivered in the Holy Scriptures, should be opened, applied, and set home upon men, in preaching.”
- Empowered by the Spirit– No matter how the sermon is structured, no matter how creative the presentation, if the Spirit of God does not work in the hearts of those who hear, it will not be effective. So what can the preacher do? He must recognize his absolute dependence on God for any good to come of the sermon. He must humbly ask for the Holy Spirit’s power to draw people to Christ through the sermon, and that each listener’s ears, eyes, and heart will be opened to understand, trust, and obey God’s Word.
As I think about these values, I realize that different preachers can check these boxes with very different styles/personalities. That’s part of the beauty of God’s design for preaching. As the years pass by, I hope to become a better preacher in these 7 areas.