What is the purpose of a Sermon? Part 2

What is the Purpose of a Sermon part 2

By Pastor David Cox

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 (posts 5/1/20)

Reviews of related posts from other people on this topic. See “What is the purpose of a Sermon“. The author presents several points of view about what is a “good sermon”. I believe the group is Catholic or Anglican by the way, so they are going to be different from our view as Baptist. Not that the criteria of this piece is from a man’s perspective. What do we care if men think a sermon is good or not? Shouldn’t we care more what God thinks about our sermons? I will comment on this as first, second etc. The first comment basically says that the sermon is boring. A boring sermon comes from a preacher that is boring and has selected a boring topic (boring to him). The second comment basically see sermon as an informational instrument. Although God would present sermons as teaching us, this should not be elevated above the spiritual change element which is the most important. The third comment reflects spiritual growth which is part of or the same thing as moral change. The fourth comment comes from a man who is looking for a sermonette. Hors d’oeuvres and snacks are fine, but not a substitute for a real meal. A 10 minute sermon isn’t a sermon, but a Bible reading at best, a farse at worse. The fifth comment reflects preaching typical among Baptist churches. Note that the commentators object to a “prepared speech” is justified in that he dislikes a sermon that focuses more on talking at people than to people. It is good to use a loud voice on occasion, and to have a three point outline, and to use illustrations and alliteration. But when these things are the best things in a sermon, it is very poor at best. These should be vehicles to getting the message across, and they should not be the primary emphasis, but rather the message. See also What is the Purpose of a Sermon? The central purpose of a sermon HAS TO DO with the utility of Scripture to affect us spiritual in all ways and forms (2Tim 3:16). This is true, but it is not the purpose of a sermon, but rather a foundational premise. THE PURPOSE OF A SERMON

“to explain and apply Scripture. It’s purpose is to bring the Word of God to the congregation; to faithfully explain what it says, and make clear its meaning. This is preaching God’s Word.”

The purpose of a sermon? by Bryan Marvel He lists some points which he sees as the purpose of a sermon. My generalized comments at the end. Beauty – “Beauty is powerful.  It has the power to mesmerize, captivate and change us.  Therefore, the sermon should be a beautiful word portrait that reveals the nature and character of God and his Kingdom as seen in Jesus Christ.” I believe that his observation, or this quality is talking about what is a good sermon, not why a sermon should be. He points out that sermons should have a moral impact on the life of the listener (good point by the way). We who preach sermons are in the business of morally changing people through our sermons. That must be vitally important and come through on many levels each and every Sunday. Application and change via God’s Word explained is what it is all about!!!!  Story. I don’t really follow him here, but his point is that other people’s “stories” or lives present a moral pull towards them, and a sermon should pull us to God’s morality. Worship. I think that the heart of worship is to morally be transformed into the character of the God we worship. In our case, it is to morally be like Jesus. Sermons are vehicles to effect this. If a sermon does not change a person (for example, only informing or teaching them) then the sermon hasn’t fulfilled its purpose.The Theology of Sermon Design” by Dennis M. Cahill.

 Sermon form, then, is not just a matter of what works. Closely related to the issue of theology is the question of just what a sermon is to do. There is an interrelationship between theology proper, one’s theology of preaching and sermon form… what a sermon is to accomplish, affects the forms we choose to use. Purpose in preaching cannot help but be related to the structure of our sermons. When the purpose is informational, certain forms will be used; when the purpose is to create an impression or cause something to happen in the life of the listener, then other forms may be chosen. In traditional homiletics, the purpose of a sermon was to bring an idea or concept across the homiletical bridge, which connected the text with the listener. But more recently the emphasis has been on the sermon as an event or experience. It is more a feeling, an emotion or an event that is to be brought across the bridge. The focus is more on what should happen in the sermon rather than on informational content… The sermon, then, is often seen primarily as an event… The sermon is not static but dynamic; something should happen during the preaching time. We are to preach the text, not just about the text. 

Although Cahill’s post is complicated and difficult to understand, he speaks of a shift between the thought that a sermon’s purpose is to communicate, to a new purpose that a sermon is to cause an event. Emotionalism has a part in this, but is not the central focus really. The central focus is moral change. I would disagree with Cahill in that he says that formerly, the majority of preachers preached a sermon to inform. In years past, sermons were meant to cause remorse over sin and moral change. I cannot accept that this hasn’t happened until today. It’s just not so. The Purpose of a Sermon by Robert Spencer.

…sermons ought to be primarily about the business of revealing the heart of God. In other words, after we hear a good sermon, some aspect of the character of God and of His plan for me and for all creation is made more clear, more vivid to my imagination, better understood intellectually and, yes, more deeply-felt in my heart than before. In other words, a sermon should help us to ‘know God.'”

Spencer guts the good out of his above comment by saying that exhortative sermons leave him feeling bad. On a related note, See MacArthur’s excellent post – Biblically-Anemic Preaching: The Devastating Consequences of a Watered-Down Message. Topics: 1. It usurps the authority of God over the soul. 2. It removes the lordship of Christ from His church. 3. It hinders the work of the Holy Spirit. 4. It demonstrates appalling pride and a lack of submission. 5. It severs the preacher personally from the regular sanctifying grace of Scripture. 6. It clouds the true depth and transcendence of our message and therefore cripples both corporate and personal worship. 7. It prevents the preacher from fully developing the mind of Christ. 8. It depreciates by example the spiritual duty and priority of personal Bible study. 9. It prevents the preacher from being the voice of God on every issue of his time. 10. It breeds a congregation that is as weak and indifferent to the glory of God as their pastor is. 11. It robs people of their only true source of help. 12. It encourages people to become indifferent to the Word of God and divine authority. 13. It lies to people about what they really need. 14. It strips the pulpit of power. 15. It puts the responsibility on the preacher to change people with his cleverness.

More of my articles on Improving your Sermons and Preaching

Sermon Sleepers

Sermon Sleepers

As probably every pastor or preacher experiences this, there are times when your people are asleep during the sermon, and the famous almost asleep as they struggle to fight it off.

A few of my own thoughts about these people and this situation.

(1) Being in church is a spiritual activity, it is worship.

Okay, going to church is not like going to school when you were a kid. For some people, physically being in school was all there was to it, and they sleep, got distracted etc. Going to church is a spiritual activity, and this means you have to be awake and focused on what is the center of attention to really get something out of it. Tell your people this. Explain this to them. Although they “know” this, bring it to their attention.

I like to use Old Testament Jewish practices. They started their day at 6:00 PM and ended it the next day at 6:00 PM. God designed this I believe. The point here is that you prepare and start your day in the evening of the previous day (for us that is). So Saturday evening is when the Jewish sabbath started. Cooking, socializing and other such stuff were not done on Saturday night. So if we kind of take a hint from that, and simply stay at home (no running around, no socializing) then we go to bed at a good hour, we will be ready for church.

Note that unless you are working 24 hours straight, most people will sleep 8 hours and their body will wake up and tell them it is time to get up. Count backward then. Church starts at 10:00 AM Sunday morning. It takes you half an hour to get there, an hour to get a good breakfast in you, and another hour to get woke up and washed and prepared (dressed, etc). So that is 2 1/2 hours before 10:00 AM. So you should be getting up around 7:30 AM on Sunday morning. If you sleep 8 hours and have a half-hour to actually fall asleep you should go to bed at 11 PM to make all this happen. That is actually late. Most people who have to be at work at 8:00 AM go to bed at 10 PM or before. Who says you have to sleep in on Sundays? You do have Saturday to sleep in on, but that day is for fun and getting stuff accomplished, so you take from God to make way for your fun. Right. This is wrong.

(2) Sleeping while somebody is preaching is an offense to the preacher.

If you are telling me a story or asking counsel and I (as pastor) was to fall asleep because I don’t care what you are saying, you would be offended and leave. What is different if you do that to the preacher on Sunday morning?

Moreover, the preacher (most of us) has spent hours diligently studying and preparing a message, and this is after many times hours of praying and searching for what God wants us to give our people. Then there is the practicing of the sermon, the going through it to clear up anything not clear, and then praying over it before you enter the pulpit. By being inattentive or sleeping, you are offending the preacher to his face. YES! Preachers are like Santa Claus, HE SEES YOU WHEN YOU ARE SLEEPING!

(3) Sleeping while somebody is preaching is an offense before God.

God is trying to teach you what is wrong in your life, and how to fix that. The main vehicle that he uses is the church, the Sunday School classes, and the sermons. But if you sleep through the very thing God is going to use to straighten out your life morally, then (a) you are destroying your own spiritual life, and (b) you are ruining the only real force in your life to make a moral change. There should be a punishment for sleeping in church. In the old Puritan churches, they used to have a man walk around during the sermon with a stick. On one end was a feather, and the other end was a round wooden ball. The first time, you get the feather, and thereafter you get a whack on the head with the wooden ball, and it was not lightly either.

But I wish people would be “punished” for ruining their spiritual learning experience by spending 2 hours extra every day during the weekdays after Sunday if they sleep in church. You should spend at least what the Pastor has spent preparing the message to try and get spiritual benefit yourself from your own Bible study. If that was somehow put into place, nobody would sleep in church.

Helps to keep from sleeping during the church

I already explained above about getting enough sleep the night before. An addendum to that is to also eat a good breakfast, good but don’t overdo it as that causes you to be sleepy.

I am a missionary in Mexico, so our “customs” are a little different from other places in the world. When I first arrived in 1986, I was taken back by some in the service that got up and left when I was just starting the sermon. But they went to the back of the church, but then they didn’t leave. Standing up helps a lot to stay awake. Go to the back of the auditorium and just stand up.

Another thing is interest. We sleep because we are not really interested in what is being said. (1) The preacher is boring and you should bring that to your pastor’s attention if that is the case constantly. But if nothing changes over time, look for a different church. (2) You should examine your spirit because probably he is not boring, you are just haughty and arrogant and are not wanting to learn anything from him.

On this point, please examine your own spirit carefully on this matter. Satan uses anything and everything he can to discredit the preacher and to make him rejected in your mind so that you will not hear his words thoughtfully. For example, it is Christmas and he puts on a tie that has red and green in it. In your mind, Satan enters and makes fun of him. Or he stands up and goes up into the pulpit and almost falls. For the entire sermon, you can only think of how stupid your preacher is, what a clutz he is. This is Satan’s purpose, to nullify anything good that you could possibly get from the sermon.

Even a novice preacher that has a simple 3 point outline and no subpoints, you can get spiritual good from it. At times, the preacher doesn’t know what he is doing, and he just picks verses at random it seems. Take each verse and meditate on it. Forget what he says and just look at what the verses say. Strangely you begin to see that he is talking about those verses and what he has to say comes to mean something to you.

  • Recommendation: Sit at the very front of the church – There is an unwritten rule, if you don’t want much or anything from the sermon, sit at the back then. Some people have to leave the sermon, like the ushers to take up the offering. But many people sit as far back as they can in order to deliberately NOT CATCH WHAT IS IN THE SERMON. They read somewhere the preacher isn’t talking about in their Bibles, or a devotional, or even doodle. They do this in the back so that others won’t see them, but there is a whole gang back there. Why? They are not interested in the sermon really.
  • Recommendation: Take Notes – The best thing to keep you from sleeping in a sermon is to sit in the front rows and take notes. Careful, your pastor may have a heart attack if he sees somebody taking notes. The idea is this, whatever impresses you, write it down in your notebook. When you get home, review your notes and the verses. To effectively take notes in a sermon, DO NOT WRITE DOWN WHAT THE PREACHER SAYS! That will be impossible to write down everything he says. Listen to him first. When you capture an idea, then write that down. Note the verses quickly in passing. If you take notes, then don’t look up every verse he mentions. You will probably get lost between thumbing through your Bible and the notes, and then it is worse if you do that than just listening.
  • Recommendation: Go to the bathroom before the service – Chewing gum, dealing with your kids, and going to the bathroom are often distractions. Do whatever before the church service begins.
  • Recommendation: Do not talk during the church service – You are going to be distracted and everybody around you also. Children, children of Christian parents, need to be in services, and they need to learn to be reverent, or silent and listening during the church service.

The Real Purpose of Sermons by Rick Warren

  • God wants people to think like Jesus (Philippians 2:5)
  • God wants people to feel like Jesus (Colossians 3:15-17)
  • God wants people to act like Jesus

What is the Purpose of Preaching? by Leah Baugh

Christian preaching has as its purpose nothing less than the complete conformity of every child of God to the perfect image of Christ the Son. (Dennis E. Johnson, Him We Proclaim [P&R Publishing 2007], 66-67)

Preaching’s goal is the spiritual maturity of believers that can only come from the wisdom of Christ and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. We get this from Paul’s own reflections on his apostolic ministry when he says,

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Col. 1:28-29)

More Posts on Improving Preaching Issues

Pastor David Cox is a missionary. See my ministry updates here.