Editor’s Note: This is the part 1 of the 4 part installment on preaching from the layman’s perspective. Future installments include: “How Do I Know I When I’ve Heard A ‘Bad’ Sermon?” “What Do I Do After I Hear A ‘Bad’ Sermon?” and “What Do I Do After I Hear A ‘Good’ Sermon?”
What would you say qualifies as a “good” sermon? How do you know when you’ve heard one? Is it one given by an eloquent speaker? Perhaps one that has a nice balance of humor, but not too much? Maybe it’s one that has a good helping of stories to keep us engaged? For some of us, a good sermon might just be any one that comes under the 30 minute mark.
Given these and a whole host of other questions, we might feel resigned to confess that determining whether a sermon is good or bad is hopelessly subjective because each person has their own unique likes and dislikes. And preachers get depressed because they realize that there is simply no way they can live up to every person’s expectations.
But is personal preference really the only category we have for evaluating a sermon? Thankfully, the answer is no. What follows are what I think are more biblical, healthy categories for helping us to determine when we’ve heard a “good” sermon. So, here goes.
A good sermon…
1. Seeks to explain what message the original author of the biblical passage was trying to convey.
One of my favorite lines from hermeneutics class is “A text can never mean what it never meant.” A good sermon is one in which the pastor has worked hard in trying to find out what the original author was trying to say in the passage being preached.
2. Consistently points the congregation back to the text to help them see where its points are coming from.
This one is simple too. You should be able to listen to the main points in the sermon and then turn to your Bible and say “Oh okay, I see where he’s getting that from.” The main idea and the entire content of the sermon must show clear evidence of coming from the passage itself (and not just the preacher’s mind).
3. Helps show the congregation how the meaning can be applied in today’s world.
Though God’s Word wasn’t originally addressed to us, every bit of it was written for us. Every principle found in the biblical text is applicable for believers today. A good sermon is one which shows how.
4. Is comprehensive.
One of the qualifications for a pastor in 1 Timothy 3 is that “he be able to teach”. What this means is that he should be able to communicate in a way that is understandable by his audience. This doesn’t mean he must be entertaining or funny or charismatic. That kind of list is what is called a consumer mindset and it is the kind of list we use in evaluating a movie, not a sermon. We do not gather on the Lord’s Day to be entertained or to listen to personal stories from the pastor’s life. We gather to hear truth from God’s life giving Word. So while a sermon may have bits of humor (and I certainly enjoy weaving humor in mine) that is not the same thing as determining whether or not biblical truth was comprehensive. A sermon can be comprehensive without any entertainment or humor. And when biblical truth is presented in a clear and understandable way, you have heard a “good” sermon.