How to Improve your Preaching: What is a sermon?

How to Improve your Preaching: What is a sermon? is an article by Pastor Cox on how to make your sermons better and more biblical.

Define your Goal in Preaching

If you don’t have a goal or target that you are aiming which forms and controls everything you say, well, with no goal, you will probably reach that. We must separate preaching from teaching in our minds (both are valid in the church), To really improve your preaching, you need to examine and create sermons that are what God wants them to be, not what you want, nor what is popular with the people. To improve your preaching is to focus on communicating the message of God.

The Goal of a class

The goal of a class is simply to inform the student. The background or context of “classes” is that the student is preparing himself/herself in order to be able to do something. The end goal of a class is to finish the course, and the end goal of all the courses is to be capable at whatever thing you are studying to be. For example, to be a nurse, you study courses which have individual classes in order to learn the ability to be a nurse. A good school teaches the right things in an excellent way so that the students finish and graduate as excellent nurses. A good student is one which takes in all of the teaching given the student, and is capable to be an excellent nurse.

Teaching develops a person

So teaching is more directed at developing a capability within the person. Note that much teaching in the church is the presentation of useless facts. While many of this is background for the exegete (person who interprets and applies Bible principles), much of it simply is information that is not going anywhere fast.

For a class in a church (like the Sunday School class) to be valid, it must take into consideration the end goal of the class, i.e. what will the graduated school be able to do after finishing the class successfully that they couldn’t do (or couldn’t do well) beforehand. So information is presented in the class with the end vocation always in mind. For some people the end goal of all Bible learning and teaching is to show off their brilliant minds and to prove their spiritual superiority. Of course, this teacher and his class is a complete disaster as far as God is concerned.

A biblical goal here is to remake the student in the image of Christ, i.e. study the spiritual pattern of Christ’s personality, character, and moral character, and impose that upon the student. Note that Christ’s teaching, preaching, counseling, and general life never focused on his own greatness or personal knowledge (coming from his own lips), but rather he did a job for God, and he did not shy away from exactly applying and using Scripture in a skillful manner to resolve situations.

Goal of a sermon

A sermon is a “totally different animal”. A sermon is a presentation of a message from God to a people. While classes can be very generalized, i.e. every nurse everywhere needs the same basic knowledge and abilities, a sermon is particularly tailor made for a certain people with a certain problem or need. So the audience is much more in view in a sermon that a class. Class material is determined by examining working nurses, and from these people working in this vocation, what do they do, and what do they need to know and what skills and abilities do they need to master in order to be a nurse (for example). But a sermon is a single solution to a specific problem or need.

At the end of sermon, there is a call to action where those listening should evaluate the presentation against their own life, and either (1) repent of what they are doing wrong or not doing, and make a decision to change their life according to God’s message, or (2) be comforted that their current lifestyle is complying with this message, and they are pleasing God. No sermon “is really a sermon” if it does not make that appeal to change (or have a call to action).

Validating a Sermon before God

Moreover this call to action is the only thing that validates the sermon before God. Be validating a sermon, I mean making a sermon “valid” or acceptable before God, making it biblical if you will. The call to action is the “why” you preached the sermon. This begins most clearly with a message that begins with God. There are homosexual and lesbian “pastors” that stand every Sunday before a group of similar people to themselves, and speak (which they call it preaching). But the difference between them and a real church is that in a real church, they receive messages from God that attack, rebuke, and exhort the congregants to change into and conform to God’s will. In an extreme case like a pastor totally against God’s will from the get-go, they give messages that are from their own heart or things that the people want to hear. The popularity of their “message” is what makes it good. For a biblical preacher, the closeness of the given message to God’s message in God’s Word is what makes it good.

Typically in poor sermons, the message fades before the people reach their cars. It was a “non-event” in that nothing lasting came from it. In a good sermon, the message lingers for much time with the people, and in an excellent sermon, the people’s actual life is changed permanently.

Improve your Preaching and Sermons

With these thoughts in mind, we can see some definite points to help improve your preaching.

A. Clearly define and protect the theme.

First of all, from the initial creation steps of the sermon through its execution, the theme must be clear, to the point, and most importantly, the theme must reign as king. By this I mean that anything that does not mesh completely and seamlessly in with the theme HAS TO BE EXCISED FROM THE SERMON! No jokes, no side points, no personal stories to talk about yourself for a while. All of this (if it detracts from the call to action) must be removed from the sermon.

Here I also add “protect the theme”. By this I mean to make sure the theme is always in the center stage, and gets the emphasis and focus. In most sermons, the preacher himself cannot define what the theme was. If he listens to it, he usually can only give a general idea of what he was talking about, prayer, the Holy Spirit, etc. A special theme is that we should pray when we are weary, we should not dispair when we pray and God doesn’t answer right away, the Holy Spirit (through Scripture and conscience) should be our guide in deciding the most important decisions of life, etc.

B. Define the resolution with Authority

Here we repeat what we said before, a sermon is a message from God. If that is so, how is it that you came to understand this message. This point must be clear throughout the sermon. In other words, did you just think this up yourself? or Did you come to see this message by the Word of God. Only that which comes from the Word God will have the authority of God behind it. Only that is obligatory for all men to follow and obey. Your opinion may be valued, but it is not the same as “Thus saith the Lord”.

Practically, the message needs to flow naturally from the text of Scripture. Convoluted schemes and ideas that are hard to see from the verses you present are simply not the message of God. God’s authority is very clear. It is in the Bible. It is clear in the Bible. And it is a priority in the Bible. What is secondary or even less important should not be the primary focus of a man’s preaching. He should preach basically the primary or most important priority things in his preaching, and in a very limited number of times preach on minor emphases when they are pertinent to the needs of his people.

C. Focusing on a Call to Action

A call to action is a final application and exhortation to change one’s life. In many sermons their glaring fault is that it is a jumbled presentation of Scripture verses without any clear point where these verses will or should change the hearer’s life. This is not a problem of Scripture, but rather of the preacher. He doesn’t present the message as an exhortation to something. This is the most glaring and horrible sin of our day, that is that so many churches and preachers are just “variables”. A variable, like x, y, or z, is used in math to hold the place for some real number. This is what Satan wants these churches to be, a church with sermons, but they do not have any real spiritual and eternal value, they are just “holding the place” for the real stuff. They preach and do stuff, are organized and have activities, but none of that is what the Bible commands. It is all “other stuff”, maybe good, but not the essential core things that make a church, preacher, or sermon.

D. Improve your Preaching

To improve your preaching you must first refuse to preach “filler”. Labor before the Lord in prayer and with your Bible, examining in your soul the problems and needs of your people, and from that, you will have a never ending list of topics to treat and deal with. Once you get this “vision”, you will need to first of all treat the most emergency type ones first, that of salvation, and those problems that may cause the members to leave the church or fall away from Christ. Once these are being dealt with, you will need to also look to see what is foundational versus what isn’t. A good solid understanding of salvation is foundational, and there are so many other problems (like sex, marriage, divorce, the ministry of the church, prayer, etc) that cannot be adequately dealt with if the people are not truly saved, or if they are not understanding the basics of salvation.

Another point here is to always work from the first minute in the pulpit until the last towards that call to action. Everything should be oriented towards that final call to action that the preacher does to his people through the sermon. But time must be delegated to the different parts that will support, explain, and convince his people to commit to that call to action. Everything the preacher does in the pulpit pushes towards that final appeal (call to action). That is kept in his mind throughout the sermon.

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