What is the purpose of a Sermon? Part 4 Curious or life change

By Pastor David Cox

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

What is the purpose of a sermon? This is an extremely important question to answer as far as the philosophy going on in the preacher’s head before we talk about any specific sermon or sermon creation in general.

Are sermons simply information classes where people are informed about the Bible as a piece of literature? Or are sermons actually persuasive dialogs with the purpose of changing people’s moral character. — David Cox

In reality, the vast majority of preachers do not present their sermons as something that could or is designed intelligently and with craft and expertise to change moral character. If that is their purpose, then they fail miserably at that because most people hearing the sermon cannot discern what that call to action is in the sermon.

Within speech development and craft, the term “call to action” is used with the idea that the entire presentation has some kind of point to it, something that the speaker wants the hearer or reader to do after they finish their speech. In business, a call to action is that the speaker wants the buy something. In the sermon in a church, the preacher who is designing his sermon correctly is wanting the congregation to make a moral decision about something he is presenting in his sermon.

Good sermon construction lays out the call to action in the introduction and afterward

This “call to action” is very simply that the principles that the preacher is laying forth should be accepted and applied consistently in the hearer’s life. Because we are speaking of the church and the Word of God, these are moral principles that should be applied. Before you, as a preacher, assume that ALL OF YOUR SERMONS ARE ALREADY LIKE THAT, they probably are not “like that”. Take 5 of your old sermons, and look over the outline. Find what that sermon is asking the people to change or reaffirm in their lives. Jesus spoke a parable. Good. They should believe what Jesus said. No. That doesn’t change people’s lives. You need to be specific. The parable of the Sower, what is the central teaching that we should impose in our lives? To witness, first of all, and secondly, we need to ignore emotionally those seeds sown that don’t come to bear the fruit of salvation because of Satan’s work. We need to focus on those people who are the seed sown in good ground and help them grow and thrive. In our own lives, we need to be persistent in following Christ and not be “thrown off” the right path by the temptations and opposition of the world and Satan, even our own evil understandings and desires.

Now reread your sermon and see if this very narrow point(s) is made clear from the introduction, various key places within the sermon, and it is concluded with this call to action made clear and exhortation to do it. Is that the way your sermons are constructed? Probably not. Sermons today are vastly baron of applications and calls to action.

Now we do not stop there. Read the sermon and listen to yourself if you have a recording of it, and see if ALL the supporting explanations and points (major and minor) all direct themselves to making that call to action supported by God’s Words. In other words, is there fluff and filler that doesn’t really make your call to action point? That should be removed from the sermon as a distraction from your call to action/application.

You Almost Persuade me

Acts 26:28 Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.

The problem with Agrippa was that he was curious, but when Paul pressed his speech or sermon into Agrippa personally, Agrippa balked at that and walked away from salvation. But to analyze this event, we see Paul had a call to action for Agrippa, he needed to get saved. Paul’s discourse was crafted to bring Agrippa to Christ, but Agrippa rebellious will refused to act on Paul’s call to be saved.

Isaiah 55:11 So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

In other words, when God’s Word “goes forth”, it is a powerful action that has the power of God behind it, and it is effective in changing people’s lives. But many preachers take the position that if they just read these verses from the Bible in the sermon, then even if they make a disaster of the sermon, God will still use His Word to change people’s lives. That is true. But consider something else here.

It is better to work with the Word of God to make it as effective as possible, rather than ramble off verses.

There is a tendency among preachers to ramble and get off on “rabbit trails” in their sermons. You can do much damage in your sermon by distracting God’s Word instead of logically and forcefully presenting it. God declared that they would die when Adam or Eve ate of the fruit of the tree. They ate, but they didn’t die. (At least not then and there on the spot). If you leave out the part I put in parentheses, then it would appear God lied. God didn’t lie. But your presentation of the Scripture is deceptive and twists the truth. That is exactly how Satan works, and so many pastors preach sermons that are just a confusing mass of spaghetti ideas and verses.

The Theme should Reign over the Sermon

When you construct a sermon, you should very quickly decide on the theme, which is what the sermon is about, and like a doctrinal thesis in seminary, you should reduce it, reduce it, and reduce it some more until it is very specific and very clear.

For example, preach a sermon on the Parable of the Sower. But what is the theme? Here it is helpful to switch in our minds from “theme” to what is the call to action? What do I want the people to do differently, think differently, feel differently after the sermon? If you can get that to a very specific “call to action”, then your sermon will build itself really.

While there are many sermons that can be preached from this passage in Matthew 13, let’s try to make some sermon calls to action from this passage.

(1) There are three bad types of seed (soil actually) and one good type.
(a) the caught away seed – disinterest in religious things.
(b) the stony places seed – the burst of joy that dissipates into nothingness.
(c)  the seed among the thorns – other forces separate you from the Savior.
(d) the seed in the good soil – produces spiritual fruit

(2) There are three strong factors that pull people away from Christ.
Thorns: care of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, pleasures of life (Luke 8:14)

(3) The lack of spiritual perception in seeing and hearing the things of God
the grossness of the people’s hearts. (Matt 13:15)
– things which prevent your action on these spiritual issues that God wants you to impose in your life
– disinterest (13:19), lack of persistence in following through by laziness or persecution or peer pressure against the things of God (13:20-21), lack of prioritizing God first over everything else (13:22), or producing spiritual fruit from true salvation (13:23).
Lack of spiritual perception and understanding (Matt 13:14)
Many have wanted to know these things and were not granted it so by God (Matt 13:17)
Matt 13:19-23 the spiritual engagement (or lack thereof) makes all the difference in the world.

So even at this point, there is no good sermon in any of these three, because there is no clear “call to action”.

(1) There are three bad types of seed (soil actually) and one good type.

You have to engage and embrace with all your heart in order to be saved. This is called “faith” or “believing” and without some effort on your part, you cannot hope for salvation.
Call-to-action: So believe heartily.

(2) There are three strong factors that pull people away from Christ.
Thorns: care of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, pleasures of life (Luke 8:14)

Your salvation and your spiritual welfare is a spiritual battle. If you do not fight, you will be destroyed spiritually. You will fail many times in this battle, but a true Christianity will not allow defeat to overtake him and keep him down. With every failure in his spiritual life, he will get back up and continue on with more resolve and dedication.
Call-to-action: Prioritize God in your life, and persist in following Him.

(3) The lack of spiritual perception in seeing and hearing the things of God.
Naturally, we do not understand nor desire the spiritual things, the things of God. Therefore, AGAINST OUR NATURE, we must persist until we do understand what God wants of us (through His Word). There is a battle to understand on our part, and God sends the Holy Spirit to open our spiritual understanding.
Call-to-action: Continue in the things of God, studying, praying, asking for understanding until you finally do understand.

These “call to actions” are more tangible things than “that parable is cute”. “Interesting.” They try to set up specific conduct, attitude or spiritual activity for the person to do. Once that is decided upon (before a sermon outline is created) then you know where the sermon should take the person. That then decides everything you allow into a sermon, the things that don’t promote that call to action are taken out of the sermon, and how the sermon is crafted.

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