Preaching is not the end-all, be-all of pastoring or church planting, but it’s certainly a huge part. It’s a part of the formation for mission of our communities, the personal formation of followers of Jesus, and often, a big part of someone’s journey toward Jesus.
We don’t recommend that you spend your whole work week preparing for a sermon, but… In light of its importance in the life and rhythms of your community, here are 5 questions to ask as you think about what you’ve written, and what God has laid on your heart to communicate to your community this week.
Where in this message do I clearly point to Jesus?
If the aim of the whole Bible is to point to the work and person of Jesus, then shouldn’t we do the same every time we preach? Whether we’re in the Old Testament or Wisdom literature, or the Pastoral Epistles, there’s a always a bridge to Jesus, and we should look for it. As I preach Old Testament characters, I’m often asking “Where does this character’s victories or failures point to Jesus?” “What did they get wrong that Jesus got right?” or “How, rather than being a role model for me, is this character showing me something I could NEVER do, but that Jesus DID on my behalf?” A great example is that of David- too many of us preach his victory over Goliath as some kind or moralistic hero tail- “Believe God and He will help you defeat the giants in YOUR life!” That’s not the point of the story! We’re not the hero David- we’re the cowering Israelites who need an unlikely Savior to do for us what we can’t do for ourselves. (If you are looking for more on how to preach this way, we recommend Tim Keller’s excellent Preaching.)
If the aim of the whole Bible is to point to the work and person of Jesus, then shouldn't we do the same every time we preach? Click To Tweet
Always pointing to Jesus is the point of preaching- without it, at best we’re just giving people tips on how to be slightly better people, and at worst churning out Pharisees who think the point of the Christian life is to do more, or do better. Point them to Jesus instead, and encourage them to rest in HIS finished work, and then, out of gratitude, live their lives more and more like Him.
Where in this message do I speak to non-Christians?
A surprising number of sermons omit this. Even if your sermon is on some point of Christian living, if you truly are a missional community, you should expect some element of the neighborhood to be present in your gatherings, and you should preach as though they are. Even if you and your community aren’t doing the best at inviting others in to the life of your community (including worship gatherings), preaching with a view to saying something of value and invitation to non-Christians, in a careful and sensitive way, is a great way of teaching your church community how to talk about various topics to their friends and neighbors. It also shows them that your community is a safe space to invite their friends into. It doesn’t have to be an INVITATION (in the classic, come-down-to-the-altar sense)- just a simple “If you are here today, and you are not yet a follower of Jesus, or are still exploring and questioning, here’s what I want you to think about…” or “Here’s where this text touches your life if you’re not sure about Jesus.”
If you truly are a missional community, you should expect some element of the neighborhood to be present in your gatherings, and you should preach as though they are. Click To Tweet
Where in this message do I speak to Christians?
It’s possible to get so focused on those among us who might not yet be followers of Jesus, that we forget to regularly encourage those who are following Him, or who are struggling. That’s why after I speak to the non-Christians, I always want to say something like “If you are here and you are a follower of Jesus…”. Often, I’m saying the same thing to non-Christians and to Christians, just with slightly different emphases for those on either side of the decision to be a Christ-follower. But making it explicit is always helpful, especially as sometimes people tend to tune out when they hear you addressing a group (like non-Christians) that they are not a part of. There’s a piece of the Good News in that text and in your sermon for everyone- tell them what it is and invite them to grab hold of it! If we really believe that the Gospel is not just the start of our Christian lives, but the way we live it, grow and are ultimately formed into the character of Jesus, then even mature believers and long-time Christians need to hear the Good News preached in a way that helps that to grab hold even firmly to what Jesus has done for them, and what it means now, right now today, in their lives.
Where in this message do I speak to the heart?
Sermon prep for you probably looks a lot like reading books and commentaries to help you understand and explain the text. The problem is that too often, this leads us to not just an intellectual understanding of whatever subject or passage we are preaching, but an intellectual presentation of that subject or text. And there’s probably a lot of people who are listening to you that love that- they love gaining a new insight about a text that has troubled them, or finally having something explained to them in a new way.
But that’s not the point of preaching. Gaining insight about a text, or understanding of the biblical context around a passage is good, but it doesn’t move the human heart any closer to the Kingdom of God.
In asking this question of my sermons, I’m really trying to get at “Where does the Good News of the Gospel intersect with what people are going through in their lives right now?” I want to help people connect emotionally with the issue I will speak to in the coming minutes. I want to know where what I’m preaching speaks to the deep needs of the people that are listening- where it touches our shared human experience. I can explain a text all day long, but until I access their hearts, and show them where the Gospel touches their loneliness or their grief, their joy or their pain, their desire for more or their fear of the future, I haven’t really done what I need to do.
I can explain a text all day long, but until I access their hearts, and show them where the Gospel touches their loneliness or their grief, their joy or their pain, I haven't really done what I need to do. Click To Tweet
We want to partner with the Holy Spirit in seeing hearts moved toward God, and lives transformed more and more into the image of Christ. We’ll never really get there if we’re not constantly reminding ourselves to speak not just to the heads and intellect of our listeners, but to their hearts as well.
And finally, the last question I ask of my sermon is…
Where in this message do I give people something to do right now- rather than later?
Too often, the take away from our sermons is something to do, decide or die to later. And the real question is, how many of our listeners remember that past lunch, much less into the coming weeks and months. That’s why I always strive to give my listeners something to do right now– this morning, before we end this sermon. I want them to commit, to make a plan to do something, to decide to forgive someone- whatever it is. I want to give time for reflection, space to do business with God and challenge them to do it- to not wait until later, because later it will be forgotten. What is God saying to us today, and how will we answer Him?
These questions may seem like something of a checklist- I certainly don’t mean to complicate your sermon prep process. They have been useful to me as I have strived to preach the Gospel to whoever was listening, week in and week out, and to see that Gospel message become sticky in the lives of the people I pastor. Hopefully, they won’t necessitate a complete re-write for you this week, but subtle tweaks of a sentence here or there, and maybe a conclusion that points more to Jesus than it did before.
Unless, of course, your sermon this week is “Slaying the Giants in Your Life.” If it is, go ahead and start over.