Christian preaching/teaching is both an art and a science. It takes practice, patience, and years of experience to do it well. Here are ten pointers that will help you have a better sermon. Some you already know. Others will surprise you.
1. Prioritize the pulpit over all other aspects of your work. I don’t mean that all we pastors do is teach. But it is still our primary responsibility (Eph.4:11). I’ve heard pastors actually complain to one another about “having to write another sermon.” Others take Sunday morning as a sort of “add-on” to the “real pastoral duties” of visitation, counsel, administration and so forth. A person with this attitude needs to move into another line of work. Sunday is the most important day of the week, and the time in worship and the Word are the most important part of Sunday.
2. Create quantum study and prayer time devoted specifically to the pulpit. Quantum time (a Peter Drucker idea) is the minimum amount of time necessary to accomplish a particular task. It includes both study and prayer. We will never preach well by accident, while concentrating on other things. You must create the time, carving it out and protecting it in chunks big enough to accomplish something.
3. Don’t preach too short. You should address your adult congregation for at least 35 to 45 minutes. This goes against most advice we hear these days. In know. And if you’re a boring preacher, by all means at least bless your people with short messages. But if you’re excited about the gospel and the passage you’re teaching, and convinced that these folks really need to hear the truth of it, then spend the time necessary to introduce the topic, explain the text, and apply it practically to gospel thinking and living. You probably will need more than 20 minutes. Sermonettes produce Christianettes.
4. Start and end with the Lord Christ whenever possible (Col.3:17. check this verse out). There are talks we give that have specific purposes not suitable for Sunday morning sermons. But on Sunday, when the body gathers to worship and visitors gather to watch and listen, the voice of Christ must in some way speak. This is how sermons can get up to 45 minutes without being boring. You should be able to introduce any topic on a Sunday morning, no matter what passage of Scripture you’re exegeting, with something Jesus either said or did. If you really can’t see how Christ the Lord informs your sermon, then you’re probably not preaching Christ. And when you finish you should in some way have pointed to how the Lord Jesus has provided the grace, instruction, sacrifice, hope, purpose, or perspective that animates the applications.
5. Only keep some of it simple. The KISS method (Keep It Simple) is bandied about as the ultimate in wisdom for communication. Nonsense. If we are too simplistic, too “basic” all time, we will lose the more mature believers. And giving a Sunday school impression of Christian thinking is a terrible disservice to the gospel. Every sermon must have something for the young believers, something simple. But it must also have some real meat for the Christians who know as much about the faith as you do. Your applications may be simple, but your exposition should include wrestling with things that mature Christians need to hear even if it leaves the young wondering a bit. There is no field of serious endeavor that does not stretch the minds of the neophytes in order to instruct the mature thinkers.
6. Listen to (some) good preaching. A seminary professor recently wrote a piece in which he advised pastors not to listen to other preachers for fear that they might “clone.” Baloney. Pastors should listen to other good preachers. But they should be ruthlessly careful in doing so. Only listen to what you consider to be excellent preaching, preaching that invigorates you. Do we not need spiritual refreshment from excellent teaching? You may pick up ideas on style from others, but so what?
7. Read more good theology and less “church marketing” stuff. By “good theology” I mean whatever theological material nourishes your personal faith. This will vary depending on your head-space. Read writers that only you and a handful of other people understand, but that you know are good for you. Why? Because if you’re not growing personally you will not draw your folks deeper in their knowledge of Christ. Theology is only boring for people who don’t believe it. Part of our job is to interact with healthy and deep thinking that our folks might not connect with yet. Then we season our expositions with wisdom gleaned from that higher level material so that the congregation becomes aware of more than it already believes. If we’re not growing, neither will they.
8. Develop and train other new teachers. By teaching others how to preach you will lash yourself to the mast of excellent pulpit work. In addition you will keep honing your own understanding of what makes for good sermons.
9. Freshen your vocabulary. Most unchurched people in our world misunderstand Christian terms and ideas. And many Christians and pastors overflow with hackneyed, jargonized verbiage. A quick exercise: take the application points from last week’s sermon and completely re-work the same points with new words and phrases. You’ll be surprised how it refreshes your own mind.
10. Start a mid-week Bible-study and worship time. Some of your flock want to dig deeper. Many churches have mid-week meetings of various kinds on the calendar (sparsely attended), but no opportunity to get into the Word in a smaller and more in-depth setting. You’ll find that the study you put in for your mid-week talk will deepen the texture of your Sunday morning message.
Pulpit ruts abound. Nobody needs all ten of these suggestions, but even a couple of them may keep you on the smooth part of the road.
Just a Thought,