3 Things Make a Sermon Great

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There are a lot of good sermons and good preachers, but there seems to be a level of great. Communicators that thousands listen to, thousands respond to and the Holy Spirit uses in incredible ways. While I would not stick myself in that category, I hope to continue growing to be used by God as much as I can.

Before laying out the difference between a good and great sermon, a quick definition:

To expound Scripture is to open up the inspired text with such faithfulness and sensitivity that God’s voice is heard and his people obey him. -John Stott

A sermon is not a sermon if it doesn’t point people to Jesus. It is just a motivational talk if it simply self-help and not focused on the gospel. So, with that definition, what separates a good from a great sermon?

Three things.

First, stories. 

It isn’t the facts, data or logic laid out in a sermon. People forget those things. Facts and data do not move people. No matter how convincing they are or how much pastors love them. And believe me, pastors love facts and data. They are a warm blanket. If a pastor is communicating a gospel-centered sermon, it is not facts and data or logic that is missing. It is stories.

Now, many pastors stay away from stories because they don’t want to sound shallow, they don’t want to be vulnerable and talk about their moments of failures. The reality is that people respond to stories, they respond when you open up about yourself.

For many pastors, they feel stories are shallow. When going to make a point, many pastors who preach through books of the Bible as we do as at Revolution will use a verse from a different point in the Bible instead of a story. There isn’t anything wrong with this, but when you jump around in the Bible, you create the impression for your church that it is hard to study the Bible (I’ll blog about that another time). This is no way means a pastor has a low view of the Bible, that is a straw man argument. What a pastor is seeking to do is create a human connection with a story. Bringing emotions allows a person to be more open to hearing something. When someone feels connected relationally to a pastor, they are more likely to listen to them.

Second, editing. 

I recently read an interesting thing, most movies that win best picture awards are also in the running for best editing. In some circles of pastors, it is seen as a badge of honor if you preach for an hour. I’ve never listened to a sermon for an hour. I always give up around minute 45, no matter who is preaching. Justin Anderson once told a group of pastors, “You need to know how many minutes you can preach. You may be a 45 minute guy or a 35 minute guy. You need to know and stick to that.”

My sermons tend to be in that 35-40 minute time frame. There have been week’s that it is longer depending on the topic and text and some week’s that are shorter.

When you preach, can you make a sentence that is 15 words down to 10 or 7 words? Can you make your point by taking 5 – 7 minutes off your sermon?

Third, one point. 

This follows closely with the second thing. People listening to a sermon cannot remember multiple things, only one thing. I saw this with a group of younger leaders I meet with. We watched some sermons and 5 weeks after the one sermon we were talking about it. The one guy didn’t like the speaker, thought he was shallow, but he could remember the main point he communicated 5 weeks after the fact.

Make your main point into a simple, memorable statement. And say it again and again in your sermon. Make your church say it with you. Long after your sermon is over, they will remember the stories and that one statement.

Do you agree? Disagree? What 3 things make a great sermon?

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2 thoughts on “3 Things Make a Sermon Great

  1. I guess the thing I’d add — and this goes along with your definition of “sermon” — is the anointing of God. I believe we can only do so much, and your three things are all good. I agree with all your points. But letting God lead you — being willing to veer away from your plan if God nudges you — that to me is what makes a sermon great. The best ones I’ve ever heard have been ones about which the pastor, afterwards, says, “I didn’t even know I was going to preach on that today.”

  2. Pingback: Top Posts for May 2013 | JoshuaReich.org

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