Brother Bob delivered a masterpiece of homiletical eloquence. His studies had uncovered untold gems of biblical exegesis, myriad details of textual background, stirring quotations from Spurgeon and Shakespeare, and a gripping story to conclude the sermonic performance.
Bob was still wondering what size his "Preacher of the Year" plaque might be when it all came crashing down around the Sunday dinner table, as his 13-year old son asked, "So, Dad, what was that sermon supposed to be about?"
What is a sermon supposed to be about, anyway? To hear some messages, a listener would have to conclude that the purpose of a sermon is to fill the available space between the choir anthem and the invitation. There are few factors more likely to cause a sermon to "crash and burn" than the lack of a clear, concise purpose. Before a preacher steps into the pulpit, it is essential that he know what it is he is seeking to accomplish. Unless the preacher knows what the sermon is for, no one else will either. Here are three keys that will unlock the door to more meaningful preaching.
Determine the Sermon's Purpose First
We do not preach simply to transmit information; we preach to transform lives. A sermon is more than a Bible study accented by a pulpit; a sermon is a bold, Spirit-anointed charge into the very mouth of hell in order to see lives redeemed and restored in Christ.
We must know why we are preaching this sermon to this congregation at this moment. What is God trying to communicate through this biblical text; what will happen in people's lives if they truly understand and live out the implications of the text you are preaching? Is this a sermon aimed at proclaiming the gospel to those who are lost, that they might come to Christ in repentance and faith? Is this a sermon meant to challenge and assist believers to pray more effectively, or to share their faith more freely, or to walk with Christ more closely? What is this sermon meant to do?
When we have clearly determined the sermon's purpose, we are ready to —
Design the Sermon Around its Purpose
Authentic preaching is rooted in and shaped by the biblical text. If we have clearly understood the life purpose of the text — what it is God wants to happen in our lives as a result of this part of His Word — then we can let the text itself guide us in communicating that purpose through the sermon.
Here's one method: after identifying the life purpose (or key idea) of the text, then ask a question of that idea based on the content of the text itself. For example, in 2 Corinthians 1:3-11, I identify the key idea as "Ultimate joy and fulfillment grows out of service for Christ." The question posed to that idea is: "What is a Christian servant like?" The answers to that question, which I find in the text, become the major points of my sermon: 1. A Servant Undergoes Suffering for Others; 2. A Servant Provides Comfort to Others; 3. A Servant Brings Hope to Others.
When I understand where the sermon is going, then l am prepared to —
Deliver the Sermon with Purpose in Mind
There is energy and power in preaching with a target in mind. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, such preaching has a focus, a clarity and a driving force that is evident to both preacher and congregation. And it is far more likely to achieve an objective than a sermon with no objective in mind. While "three points and a poem" may be out of style in contemporary preaching, "three points with a purpose" never loses its appeal!