Let’s be honest: teaching the Bible is scary.
If it’s not to you, it should be. Whether you are a small group leader, Sunday school teacher, professor, pastor, or anything else where the Word of God has been entrusted to you to magnify and exposit, you should tremble.
The Holy Word of God, His grand love letter to the world, everything the Lord of the universe thought beneficial that we know sits on your desk or in the back of your car. It’s the book you hold in your hands as you sit in a circle on a Sunday morning or Wednesday night to casually chat about Jesus.
You have been granted influence over the spiritual lives of all your listeners. Things you say (and even how you say them) will be floating around in their minds for years to come. You might not think they are listening, but they are.
These things should make us feel the weight of our gift. Since I feel that weight, I wanted to check myself before every sermon. I use 5 categories of questions to guide me through sermon planning and evaluation. If it’s a ten minute devotion for a local school, sitting down one-on-one with a disciple at a restaurant, or preaching an hour to hundreds of people, I go through the same questions. Here they are:
1. How am I?
I always want to start with my heart. Before I try to parse a verb in Greek or think up an awesome illustration, I want to examine myself. I want to look at my heart and my motives.
Have I prayed about this sermon?– If the sermon isn’t from God, it will do more harm than good. No matter how great of a communicator I am, no matter how funny or smart, no matter how much studying, I will be wasting my time. I want to be dependent on God for everything in my life, especially writing sermons.
Am I relying on the Spirit or solely my abilities?– Having the gift of gab isn’t the same as having the gift of the Ghost! There are many effective spiritual-speech-givers out there, but I want to be a Spirit-annointed herald of the Gospel.
Have I given sufficient effort into the message?– Not every message will have the same amount of time dedicated to it. Sometimes 15 minutes is all you need to put together a solid devotional. Other times, you know that you should spend more time studying and understanding the text.
Have I allowed the passage to sink into my heart and change ME?– It’s hypocritical to preach one thing and do the other. That was Jesus’ problem with the scribes and Pharisees: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.” Matthew 23:2-3.
2. Is it true to Scripture?
Once I get myself in check, I want to focus on how I’m dealing with the passage. Now, this is not a technical primer in sermon development. For that, I recommend some books such as Choosing to Preach by Kenton Anderson, Faithful Preaching by Tony Merida, and Biblical Preaching by Haddon Robinson. These are simply questions to evaluate the sermon.
Are my main points found in the passage?– Coming up with soapbox issues is easy. The temptation is to make Scripture a springboard to what you *really* want to talk about. However, applying Scripture to modern day issues is a job of the Bible teacher, but don’t forget to teach the biblical principles that allow you to cross the principlizing bridge.
Am I giving equal emphasis as the passage?– Basically, are you making a mountain out of a mole hill? Or even a mole hill out of a mountain? Allow the text to dictate what is most important to emphasize.
Am I shying away from any hard issues it addresses?– It never fails: the questions. I’ll be preaching to students, and we will be digging through a difficult passage. If I’m lazy at studying (though this never ever ever happens *sarcasm*) I’ll just hope the students don’t ask any questions. Guess what? They do. Whether you are preaching to children, youth, college students, adults, or senior adults, they all have questions. Do not be afraid to address (in equal emphasis) hard issues.
BONUS TIP: If you have questions about a passage, more than likely others do as well. Do it for your own benefit as well as your flock.
Is the tone of the passage reflected in the sermon?– Are you preaching a doom and gloom sermon on Matthew 11:28-30? How about a happy go lucky sermon on Revelation 19:11-21? Those are obvious, but others are not. The key is to understand why the passage was written. That will give insight into the tone of the passage, and therefore, your sermon.
Does it ultimately and intentionally point to Jesus?– If you can’t figure out how to make your sermon point to Jesus, then you’re not preaching the Bible. Somewhere in your sermon, you have to show how the passage looks forward to Jesus (Old Testament) or looks back at Jesus (New Testament). Highlighting His atoning sacrifice and victorious resurrection is crucial to gospel proclamation.
3. Does it relate to real life?
As I said earlier, a job of the Bible teacher is to take biblical truth and apply it to the here and now. We have to teach biblical facts, but also lead our listeners to know what it means for them.
Does it explicitly or implicitly address felt needs of the congregation?– Some preachers teach solely off of what they think their listener’s felt needs are. “I need a better marriage.” So they come up with a series on marriage. “I need to know how to handle my finances.” So they come up with a series on money management. “I need to know how to share my faith.” If anyone asks this, you better get together a series on how to share Jesus! This in of itself is not inherently bad, but over the long run, you miss so many other teachings in Scripture. When you teach through Scripture, God addresses every felt need any human can ever feel. However, you as the teacher need to recognize when God does that and make sure to highlight it.
Am I loving the people I’m speaking to?– If you come in looking to make the people love you because you’re such a great communicator, instead of seeking to express love to them by heralding God’s Word, then you should step down. If you’re looking for an ego stroke instead of a “pouring out” of yourself, then it would be better if you were just a motivational speaker.
4. Does it represent more than one learning style?
This is where I disagree with some pastors. I believe that not everyone learns the same way, and we must leverage that in our preaching and Bible studies.
Here are some examples:
Listening? Music, stories, sound effects, etc…
Touch? Drawing, games, building, creating, etc…
Smell? Food, animals, other things mentioned in the passage…
See? Videos, props, powerpoints, etc…
Some of these would be hard to do in a large congregation, but small Bible studies are perfect for incorporating two or three learning styles in every lesson. A couple of great resources for learning to use multiple learning styles are The Power of Multisensory Preaching and Teaching by Rick Blackwood and for kids and youth workers (it’s even great for adults with a little tweaking) The Youth Worker’s Guide to Creative Bible Studyby Karen Dockrey.
5. Does it suggest ample application?
Based on the passage, does the sermon give the hearer something to do in response to believing the passage?– Application must be action oriented. When God speaks, things change. When God’s Word is proclaimed, God’s people respond. As Bible teachers, we must help our hearers think through what the possible responses may be. But this must not be done without the next question in mind…
Is the application Spirit-driven/grace-based (doing something because of God’s love) or law-based (doing something to earn God’s favor)?– If anyone walks away with an extra burden on their shoulders, either you didn’t preach the power of the Spirit or they aren’t born again and are trying to earn God’s favor. We must emphasize continually (because the Bible emphasizes continually) that we are not only saved by grace, but also are sanctified by grace/the Spirit.
Remember, Bible teaching is a scary privilege. So we must do it well.
As a bonus, here is the list in a printable form if you would like to print it out and hang it somewhere: sermonquestions.
What others might you add? Let us know.