That’ll Preach! The three components of a good sermon

ImageWe’ve all been there.  Trying to listen, wanting to learn, yearning for inspiration…but mind-numbingly bored as the preacher drones on.  We try to “screw our courage to the sticking place” and press on.  We pray for God to reveal to us what He wants us to hear despite the messenger.  We remind ourselves that God uses the “foolishness of preaching” to transform lives; but oh, to be somewhere else…anywhere else.

Sometimes we are the ones preaching these sermons.

A mentor/friend of mine once gave me the two best pieces of advice I ever received on the art of preaching.  Mike Hilson said, “You have to tell them what they need to know, and what they need to do about it.”  He also said to quit making up your own outlines, that God’s outlines in the text will always be better.  I concur.  I would also add one extra little piece: bridging Information and Application must be the Illustration.

Information:

The first rule of preaching is to preach no heresy!  No matter how well your sermon is crafted, or how artfully it is delivered; if it is heresy – you fail!  The content must be understood within its context (both textual and historical), and its content must  be the very words of God.

Application:

Information without application is mere vanity.  We have far too many informed spectators and too few obedient disciples.  Without application, sermons are nothing other than truth innocculations.  The people hear the truth, do nothing with it, and have built up their immunity to that truth.  They are worse for having heard.  Never leave them without some direction in which to walk with Jesus.

Illustration:

We preachers often preach on the parables of Jesus without realizing that we should be preaching like Jesus preached (not just what he preached).  His parables on agriculture, master/servant relationships and Samaritans were powerful because they resonated with the innate cultural understanding of his hearers…they connected.  This is the purpose and the power of the illustration.  Less than 1% of the American population are now farmers, slavery is not only abolished but abhorred and the term “samaritan” brings its corollary of good deeds to mind (not to mention hospitals and charitable organizations), not a hated ethnicity that we would rather cross the street to avoid than walk near.

St. Augustine said it well when he said to “Make the truth plain, pleasing and moving”.

Put as much effort into finding the illustration that fits the message as you spend understanding the content and deriving action steps.  The message will come alive – and so will your hearers!  After all, the goal is not only accuracy but also efficacy.  Build a powerful bridge between the Information and the Application and the result will be the inspiration of the body of Christ and the world through them.

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4 comments on “That’ll Preach! The three components of a good sermon

  1. Brian Yu says:

    I’m currently working on an article and I was wondering if you could share your thoughts with this question: If I had a lengthy passage with plenty of information to go through, would it be wise to skip illustrations for the sake of dishing out more information? I only have a limited amount of time to preach.

    • Brian,

      A couple of things:
      1. if there is too much content to preach effectively on – then develop a sermon series.
      2. if that is not an option then focus on an effective sermon rather than a complete study of the passage. remember that the point of the sermon is to change lives, not to thoroughly cover the content (as though you could exhaust the Scriptures anyway)
      3. a third option would be to summarize the bulk of the material, but focus on the text that best illuminates the point of the message.

      I hope that was helpful.

      In Christ,
      Jon

      • Brian Yu says:

        Just what I was thinking. I’d like to split the passage into two sermons. However, it’s not an option because we need to keep a preaching schedule and I don’t want to throw off the rest of the dates. I believe you hit it on the nail when you said that the goal of the sermon is to change lives in the end. Besides, we won’t be able to exhaust everything anyway. Thanks for your insights!

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