Not every sermon is a “home run” that has the congregation high-fiving you on the way out the door and people streaming down the aisles to profess life-change. We all know this to be true, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the preacher is not well-prepared, or other service elements might have gone flat before the message, or the message itself did not resonate or connect in terms of subject matter with its intended recipients. I love to read old sermons and writings by Spurgeon, Carey and others. I’m struck that has good as much of their teaching is, some of it also falls flat. Not every sermon by any great preacher, from Billy Sunday to Billy Graham, will measure up as a “home run”.
But the goal is not to hit a home run every Sunday, because nobody can do that, mentally or physically. Even the mindset that a preacher stands in the pulpit on Sunday to “take a swing at bat” has theological problems all over it. The job of the pastor in the pulpit is not to make the crowd roar. It’s to point them to Christ. Sometimes the crowd does roar, but most of the time if you can just clearly communicate the spiritual precept and how it applies, that’s a good day. Don’t judge success by whether or not you hit a “home run”. Look instead at the elements of a solid “base hit”, to use the metaphor, and determine if the necessary parts were in place:
Bathed in prayer. Sermon preparation begins in prayer. Have you prayed as you studied, as you wrote and as you rehearsed for this Sunday? Has God led you in prayer to His Word for the weekend, and have you been asking Him to speak through you, versus helping you speak for Him? Through prayer we find not only what we are preaching, but often we become in tune with why we are preaching it, and to whom we are preaching. A sermon marinated in prayer is always preferred to a speech about the Bible delivered with good motives but poor spiritual preparation.
Aligned with the Word. Is the core of the message God’s Word? Is the teaching focused on what God wants to say to His people through His Word this Sunday? Avoid “diving board” sermons, which begin with a scripture and then plunge into stories and ideas that swim miles away from the original text. Instead let the text come alive for your congregation as you talk about what God said, what you learned and why it is important today, 2,000-plus years later, to our lives.
Delivered with conviction. I’ve heard many tremendous preachers and literally thousands of sermons and I can tell you that your people will know if you really believe what you are preaching. It’s in your voice, your mannerisms and your delivery. Not long along I spoke with a pastor about a teaching topic and it was a cordial conversation. Then we got on the topic of his favorite sport—and his eyes lit up, his voice raised and he could barely contain himself. After a few minutes, I asked, “Why don’t you have that same passion about what you are teaching on this weekend?” His face turned red and his mouth closed and he nodded his acknowledgement. Your personal passion is a tremendously important part of your teaching. You cannot teach to help others toward life-change if you personally don’t find what you are saying to be life-changing.
Leading to obedience. Here’s the heart of preaching, which must be present in any effective sermon. Rick Warren said, “Many preachers believe the purpose of preaching is to explain the Bible, or to interpret the text, or to help people understand God’s word… But these all fall short of what it really is. Why did God give prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers? To produce Christ-like people (Ephesians 4:11-13). That’s the purpose of preaching: To help people become like Jesus.”
Life change begins with obedience to God’s Word. Every sermon, to be called a sermon, must have an element that helps lead people toward applying the Word through obedience to it. That doesn’t necessarily mean you spell it out: “Go home and do this or that.” Sometimes it’s good to let people hear God’s Word and then wrestle with it a while and work it out for themselves through prayer and study during the week. Other times it’s good to say, “We need to obey and do this thing, corporately as a church or individually.” Both methods work, but the key is connecting the Word to how it impacts and changes our lives. It might not be a home run, but it moves the church on the field, and that’s something for which every preacher can be grateful.
Author: Eugene Mason, Communications Director for Cross Pointe Church under the leadership of Dr. James Merritt.