I read an interesting article the other day. It was one preacher’s perspective on what makes a good sermon.
My initial reaction was one of agreeing with some of the things, and disagreeing with a lot of other points. Here’s the five points the author stated that make a good sermon:
- Explain the text.
- Fewer stories, please.
- Leave your politics and social justice at home please, unless…
- Don’t sweat the time.
- Don’t preach same-old, same-old.
I was going to comment on each of these, but the commentary would make this blog post way to long, so here’s the short version of what I think about this.
There is no standard for what makes a good sermon generally. There are some guidelines that each denomination teaches of what should be in a sermon. So, for example, Lutherans generally preach Law and Gospel. Other denominations focus on other things. But can you really compare different sermons if the criteria is different.
Here’s what I think makes for a good sermon. But keep in mind, this is my preference. I don’t pretend to say that I’m some kind of expert. I’m only preached about 20 times, which is not much in the grand scheme of things.
1. Keep your listeners engaged. This doesn’t mean you have to do all sorts of theatrics or have an awesome inspiring story or anything like that. It means, read the listeners while you are preaching to them. Do you understand the context of who you are preaching to? Are they paying attention? Does anyone care? Or are they off thinking about what’s for lunch when they get home. It’s amazing that we have a message of grace and hope for a hopeless world and yet some preachers are able to crush those things and bore people. In other words, be authentic and sincere and preach what you actually believe. It will come through and people will listen because they will hear the authenticity of what is being preached.
2. Stories help. It’s what people remember. Bible stories and contemporary stories. We are visual society, so telling stories connects with people and helps them to understand the point without getting all academic on them. If it was good enough for Jesus, then it should be good enough for me.
3. Leave your politics at home. People didn’t come to church to get a political speech, or be a mouth-piece for a certain political party. They came to hear a message of grace and hope. Politics is neither. Does this mean we shouldn’t challenge our listeners? No. Challenge them, but leave the politics out. When I go to church and hear a political speech, it just pisses me off. That’s not why I went to church. I went to hear about how God was active in the world and giving people hope, not how we should feel guilty because we aren’t activists for some cause that is in the news. Jesus challenged the reigning authorities and ways of doing things. He was political, but it was different. It wasn’t a comparison of one political belief system versus an opposing one. It was criticizing a political system that was opposed to God’s kingdom. And when he did this, he offered a different vision for how life could be. I hope I never preach in a way that seems to claim that God is a Democrat, Republican, or member of any other political party. God is not any of those. God’s ways are not Democrat or Republican ways. God’s ways are better.
There’s more to a good sermon for me, but these are things that I think are essential. As a Lutheran, I would also add in that a sermon should preach Law and Gospel. But again, this is not a universal preaching thing – it’s Lutheran.
I’d love to hear what you think makes for a good sermon. I would especially appreciate hearing the perspective of people who don’t preach, but listen week-in and week-out, those who don’t attend church often or rarely. What makes for a good sermon for you? Leave your comments in the comment section. I’m looking forward to hearing what you think. Thanks.