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Sunday, January 03, 2010

Sermon Effectiveness

I heard a good sermon today at church. No really, it was a good sermon. "What," you may be asking, "is the definition of a good sermon?"

It might seem that what makes a sermon good could be found in the eyes of the beholder. In other words, the defining points could be subjective and vary from person to person.

But I don't really think it's that vague or ambiguous. It's much simpler than that. There are some basic tenets to a good sermon that should always be there. For starters, it should be truth that is being preached. We are to test everything against Scripture and verify that it is truthful. If it is, we are to hold on to it. (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22)

Of course from a practical perspective, a good sermon is delivered well. A monotone preacher who talks on and on or doesn't know how to make a point isn't going to get credit for a good sermon no matter what he has to say. So it's no surprise that people like preachers with charisma and charm. Perhaps a sense of humor and a quick wit are handy tools as well.

After hearing today's sermon, someone near me was talking about how much they enjoyed it and how good they thought it was. Out of curiosity, I asked what they thought made it a good sermon. They rattled off the expected responses. But then this individual said, "And when he speaks, I feel like I matter to him. It's like he cares about me, even though he doesn't know me and I'm one of hundreds in the audience." Wow. Was that a new factor in what makes sermons good?

I've blogged before about the travesty of sermons downloaded off the Internet. But there's a more important twist here that is being revealed. It's actually two simple truths that are really criteria for what makes a good sermon.

The first truth being revealed is that the sheep want to feel loved. It's been said that people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care (about them). My own experiences in both business and ministry have affirmed this reality for me. The Bible tells us about being shepherds when we are preachers or ministry leaders. And truly the sheep want to know that they matter to the shepherd. It helps make whatever the shepherd is telling them sound somehow better.

Jesus said that if we love Him we are to feed His sheep. (
John 21:15-17). Perhaps what He meant to say was that if we love Him we are to love His sheep (which would include feeding them).

The second truth being revealed is something that I've not yet heard anyone comment on. But I've noticed it in Scripture. And as I've listened to sermons, I also notice that it seems to be a common characteristic of sermons that I myself label as "good." Ezekiel 3:10-11 tells us that we must take God's words to heart before we can preach those words to others.

It seems that God's message(s) must sink deep into your own heart ... and show in your own life (actions) before you can effectively help others understand and apply the gospel in their lives. So it would seem that good preachers are not just conduits for information. Rather they are vessels that must digest and own the message before they can preach it in a good sermon.

So what's the conclusion here? It would seem that a good sermon has many characteristics. But once we get past the first criteria of truth, maybe the most relevant criteria for a good sermon are that the sheep matter to the shepherd and that the shepherd owns ... and lives the message.

Do you suppose they teach those two things at seminary or Bible colleges?

Do you suppose that people in today's churches listen well enough to discern those two things?

If they did, perhaps all sermons would be as good as the one I heard this morning.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:00 AM

    Great Post Larry!!!! I think you hit it. When I read this, I think of one word - Authenticity! I think this is what people are drawn to and what drew people to Jesus. Now we just have to live like Jesus right?!?!?

    I am taking notes on what you say and trying to apply them myself. You are a wise man!