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Characteristics of Good Preaching

8 Qualities of a Good Sermon


I asked people on Twitter to share the characteristics of what they thought comprised a good sermon. I compiled their helpful thoughts and came up with 8 qualities.

 

1.    Gospel-centered

  • Leads to the cross and trust/surrender in Jesus.
  • Uses the Scriptures to unearth the heart not behavior.
  • Bringing people to repentance
  • Did Christ need to die for this to be true?
  • Having the main thrust of the passage explained & applied in a way that grips and changes me
  • Missional/Evangelistic

2.    Bible-based, exegetically-sound (Intelligent but not academically arrogant)


3.    Empowered by the Holy Spirit


4.    Preached through a passionately changed man


5.    Relationally-connected

  • Displaying honesty and authenticity
  • Inspirational (not just informational)
  • Challenging and encouraging
  • Humbly and compassionately
  • Engaging (not boring)
  • Contextualized
  • Winsome

6.    Simple, memorable and concise with clarity of thought


7.    Bible-generated points of application

  • Answers the question, "So, now what?"

8.    Leads to the worship of Jesus

 

 

Preaching with Smoke, Fire, Blood and Water

 

Kevin Bruursema, Location and Teaching Pastor at New Life Community Church in Chicago offered these nuggets on preaching in an email to me.

 

Smoke

  • Good preaching sets an aroma/atmosphere/environment that opens the way for the voice of God.

Fire

  • Good preaching has the fire of living passion and illumination.
  • Fire is an element that can be harnessed for good use; can be used to destroy evil things;
  • Fire can also hurt good people if used improperly.
  • Fire illumines and gives insight

Blood

  • Good preaching only really happens if the preacher is bleeding his own blood with his message. He's suffering the truth in his own life and it lives through him.
  • Good preaching has to flow from a preacher who is being cleansed with Christ's blood through repentance and obedience.

Water

  • Good preaching brings refreshing, restoration and life. It brings renewal and resurrection.



Evaluating a Sermon

 

This evaluation is to be used to identify strengths and weaknesses for preachers and their messages. The questions are divided into two main categories: faithfulness and communication. Dr. Tim Keller, Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, is credited for the original thoughts for these categories.

 

We use this form to evaluate Acts 29 and Mars Hill sermons preached.

 

Faithfulness to Scripture and God. These questions are related to the preacher's theological accuracy.


1. The preaching assertions (points) were clearly rooted in the text and squared with the whole teaching of scripture. (1 - Strongly Disagree 2 - Disagree 3 - Not Sure 4 - Agree 5 - Strongly Agree)


2. The central theme was an illustration of Christ - the message was clearly all about Jesus. (1 - Strongly Disagree 2 - Disagree 3 - Not Sure 4 - Agree 5 - Strongly Agree)

3. The speaker seemed in awe of God, not merely focused upon his sermon and the audience. (1 - Strongly Disagree 2 - Disagree 3 - Not Sure 4 - Agree 5 - Strongly Agree)

4. The speaker avoided moralizing or psychologizing, and distinguished these from the gospel. (1 - Strongly Disagree 2 - Disagree 3 - Not Sure 4 - Agree 5 - Strongly Agree)

5. The goal was to get people face-to-face with God, rather than merely instruct. (1 - Strongly Disagree 2 - Disagree 3 - Not Sure 4 - Agree 5 - Strongly Agree)

6. Christ and His finished work were applied as the practical solution to any problem. (1 - Strongly Disagree 2 - Disagree 3 - Not Sure 4 - Agree 5 - Strongly Agree)

Message Delivery and Communication. These questions are related to the preacher's communication abilities and connection with the intended audience.


7. It was clear where the preacher was driving - and the progression of points was traceable. (1 - Strongly Disagree 2 - Disagree 3 - Not Sure 4 - Agree 5 - Strongly Agree)

8. The points were presented in a fresh, wise, and striking way as opposed to boring & cliché. (1 - Strongly Disagree 2 - Disagree 3 - Not Sure 4 - Agree 5 - Strongly Agree)

9. At the end of the preaching, the main point was both clear and persuasive. (1 - Strongly Disagree 2 - Disagree 3 - Not Sure 4 - Agree 5 - Strongly Agree)

10. It was clear the speaker understood the hearers’ hopes, fears, problems, concerns, etc. (1 - Strongly Disagree 2 - Disagree 3 - Not Sure 4 - Agree 5 - Strongly Agree)

11. The central metaphor or "hook" was gripping. (1 - Strongly Disagree 2 - Disagree 3 - Not Sure 4 - Agree 5 - Strongly Agree)

12. Jesus was made visible, not just taught about. (1 - Strongly Disagree 2 - Disagree 3 - Not Sure 4 - Agree 5 - Strongly Agree)

13. There was a balance of warmth, love and humility on the one hand and force, power and authority on the other. (1 - Strongly Disagree 2 - Disagree 3 - Not Sure 4 - Agree 5 - Strongly Agree)

14. The notes followed the message and enhanced comprehension. (1 - Strongly Disagree 2 - Disagree 3 - Not Sure 4 - Agree 5 - Strongly Agree or N/A)



John Piper on Preaching

What I Mean by Preaching
May 12, 2009


From Desiring God website


Some of you may have little or no experience with what I mean by preaching. I think it will help you listen to my messages if I say a word about it.


What I mean by preaching is expository exultation.

 

PREACHING IS EXPOSITORY

 

Expository means that preaching aims to exposit, or explain and apply, the meaning of the Bible. The reason for this is that the Bible is God’s word, inspired, infallible, profitable—all 66 books of it. The preacher’s job is to minimize his own opinions and deliver the truth of God. Every sermon should explain the Bible and then apply it to people's lives.


The preacher should do that in a way that enables you to see that the points he is making actually come from the Bible. If you can’t see that they come from the Bible, your faith will end up resting on a man and not on God's word.


The aim of this exposition is to help you eat and digest biblical truth that will
    * make your spiritual bones more like steel,
    * double the capacity of your spiritual lungs,
    * make the eyes of your heart dazzled with the brightness of the glory of God,
    * and awaken the capacity of your soul for kinds of spiritual enjoyment you didn’t even know existed.

 

PREACHING IS EXULTATION

 

Preaching is also exultation. This means that the preacher does not just explain what’s in the Bible, and the people do not simply try understand what he explains. Rather, the preacher and the people exult over what is in the Bible as it is being explained and applied.


Preaching does not come after worship in the order of the service. Preaching is worship. The preacher worships—exults—over the word, trying his best to draw you into a worshipful response by the power of the Holy Spirit.


My job is not simply to see truth and show it to you. (The devil could do that for his own devious reasons.) My job is to see the glory of the truth and to savor it and exult over it as I explain it to you and apply it for you. That’s one of the differences between a sermon and a lecture.

 

PREACHING ISN'T CHURCH, BUT IT SERVES THE CHURCH

 

Preaching is not the totality of the church. And if all you have is preaching, you don’t have the church. A church is a body of people who minister to each other.


One of the purposes of preaching is to equip us for that and inspire us to love each other better.

But God has created the church so that she flourishes through preaching. That’s why Paul gave young pastor Timothy one of the most serious, exalted charges in all the Bible in 2 Timothy 4:1-2, I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word.

 

WHAT TO EXPECT FROM MY PREACHING AND WHY

 

If you're used to a twenty-minute, immediately practical, relaxed talk, you won't find that from what I've just described.
    * I preach twice that long;
    * I do not aim to be immediately practical but eternally helpful;
    * and I am not relaxed.


I standing vigilantly on the precipice of eternity speaking to people who this week could go over the edge whether they are ready to or not. I will be called to account for what I said there.


That's what I mean by preaching.

8 Comments

Joshua Barron

on May 25, 2009 :: 11:56 pm

Yes sir-ee ... that's what I mean by preaching, too. Whew ... reading this made my heart race and my brow sweat. I've got real live goosebumps on the back of my neck. Thank you for communicating these things, these ... er ... standards(?). Thank you for confirming that I am not crazy to be discontent with a "twenty-minute, immediately practical, relaxed talk."

In my case, this means cutely packaged, correct but palatable, and readily digestible; candy. I hate that.

The Word has never been these things to me. It is almost always hard tack, pemmican, and prunes. It wounds me, drives me to my knees, and prompts me to awe and revere the God of the universe.

The Word is also meat and potatoes, greens and gravy, toast and cobbler. It lifts me up and propels me forward with hope and life, not guilt and duty. It invites and engages my mind, never dumbs itself down to me, or leaves me with simple and pithy mnemonic devices. It is honey in my mouth, something that I don't dare to swallow for the change it will bring; but is simultaneously something that I can't bear to spit out because it is so savory, fulfilling, hearty, and warm.

This is the Word ... I meditate on it day and night so that I am careful to do everything in it. So then I will, I must, expect the mouthpiece of my congregation to do the same. Yes, every word of the sermon must carry on its breath little bits of honey that hit you on the face like the spittle in your eye from a wet-mouthed close-talker (to channel Seinfeld for a moment).

Thank you for writing and compiling these thoughts. Preaching is certainly not the church, but it is a vitally important window into the eldership, vision, and overall character of a congregation.

Your compilation here has caused me to center again on truth, no, on Truth, and has released me from a sense of guilt and consternation when I don't find it delivered on a given Sunday.

Things I'm prompted to ask myself:
Are we about Jesus, or are we about self-help?
Will we be changed, or will we be coddled?
Will we worship, or will we waddle?
Will we eat solid food or will we suckle?

Thank you for reminding me that I must pursue health in this area as I continue to pursue life, health, and maturity in my own walk, and as a husband, father, and friend. Thank you, thank you.

I pray that every sermon you preach will be immeasurably more than we could ask for or imagine ... to His glory! Amen!

Adam Heaton

on Jun 10, 2009 :: 12:47 pm

Great post, it's good to see descriptions of Preaching that are gospel centric and work out the highest possible view of Scripture.

Along the same lines, I found 'Preach the Word' by Greg Haslam and 'Lectures to my Students on the art of Preaching' by Spurgeon really helpful.

Jeff Johnson

on Mar 6, 2012 :: 11:24 am

I agree that an essential characteristic of good preaching must be that it is Gospel-centered. I will argue that this is THE essential characteristic. The main objective in preaching is to present Jesus as the Messiah. It always has been and it always will be. Yet, preaching does not stop here. If it did, preaching would be no more than an argumentative lecture. Preaching involves both the Spirit and the mind. True preaching exists as the man moves out of the way and allows the Spirit to guide and lead.
One of the components of the online list of “8 qualities of a good sermon” article was that efficient sermons lead the listener to the cross – always giving an opportunity for a decision. Yet, there is a slight difference between trust and surrender when it pertains to Jesus. In its truest sense, I believe most Christians “trust” Christ. We trust that Christ will guide our paths and light our way. We trust that He knows what’s best for us. Yet, the rub is do we completely surrender to His will and way? True preaching must bring the listener to this decision. It is not enough just too cerebrally know that Jesus is the Messiah, for even the devil knows this. By faith, we must also place our trust in Him as Savior.
I love the Hillsong United song, “Lead me to the cross.” It is moving and direct in its message. I think this song reminds us that we are to keep the cross as the focal point of our lives. We are to uphold the message of the cross – love, sacrifice, and forgiveness – in our preaching. We are called to commit to the One who was on the cross.
Preachers must be cognizant of “dumbing-down” our messages to strip the gospel of its life changing message. By upholding the cross and keeping our sermons “Gospel centered” we can efficiently and proficiently lead others to a saving knowledge of Christ.

Ryan Goodroe

on Mar 26, 2012 :: 9:46 am

I agree with Jeff that THE essential characteristic of good preaching is that it must be Gospel-centered. In fleshing that out, I need to put continual focus on one bullet point in particular. Gospel-centered preaching "uses the Scripture to unearth the heart, not behavior."

This is the key to avoiding moralism in our sermons. If we are not careful EVERY WEEK, we can rip the "thou shalt's" and the "thou shalt not's" out of the pages of Scripture and preach them with absolutely no connection to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This insight about unearthing the heart is the key to avoiding this mistake. It does our congregations no good to tell them what to do and what not to do if we do not consistently remind them that we are incapable of faithful obedience without the heart transplant that comes through a relationship with Christ.

It goes without saying that this emphasis is absolutely critical for the non-Christian listener. They must be clearly pointed to the cross as the only solution for the problems of the heart. Behavior flows from the heart, and only the heart that is renewed through faith in Christ will consistently lead to godly conduct.

But preachers must not miss that Christians, too, need to be reminded of their need for the gospel. In his book, "Respectable Sins," Jerry Bridges wrote, "the gospel is a vital gift from God not only for our salvation but also to enable us to deal with the ongoing activity of sin in our lives. So we still need the gospel every day." (p. 10)

Good preaching is gospel-centered and reminds us of our need for God's grace to cure our hearts of sin and give us hope for obedience.

Jeremy Rogers

on Apr 16, 2012 :: 1:21 pm

When I read the post "Characteristics of Good Preaching" one particular point jumped off the screen at me. Scott stated that good preaching "Must be preached through a passionately changed man" and I couldn't agree more.

I have had to sit under preaching that was sound, in that nothing heretical was said, but was not based on the text that was supposedly being "preached." However, the worst part about this entire experience was the fact that the man preaching seemed like he was talking about a root canal he had done several years before. For preaching to be good it must definitely be all of the other things Scott stated but I would venture to say that preaching that is exegetically sound and theologically accurate but is boring, and declared through someone who seems like he is discussing the commonplace of issues, will the majority of the time fail to connect in any meaningful way to those who hear.

It is not to say that every preacher must force himself to be someone he is not...far from it.! In fact, the point Scott made is that the preacher should be a man who has been "passionately changed" and this may look differently in each man but a passionately changed man will always convey passion to those listening.

This point cannot be over-stressed if the last point is to be achieved as the end-goal. If the preacher is "passionately changed" then he will preach in such a way as to be worshipping Christ through the sermon which will lead to those listening being compelled to worship Christ passionately as well.

John Mark Harrison

on Apr 17, 2012 :: 9:18 pm

I am very thankful for each of these articles. Each bring excellent insight that help preachers refine their craft. I specifically enjoyed the eight qualities of a good sermon. It seemed to clearly articulate a churchgoer’s expectation of a sermon. I, like Jeff, think that being Gospel-centered is the more important quality of a good sermon. I’ve sat through sermons that seemed to start in Scripture, but quickly take a turn and end up being a moral lesson or motivational speech. I was glad to see this at the top of the list. Preaching must clearly articulate the Gospel message. Thomas and Bruursema both mention the importance of passion in preaching. A modern hearer desires a humble passion in their sermon. The arrogant, overconfident preacher is quickly dismissed, but people seem to greatly respect humble passion. It is important that preachers are convinced about what they are preaching and passionate in their delivery so that hearers can feel the urgency to respond to God’s Truth being preached. A constant challenge for preachers is to week after week be engaging as they are preaching the Bible. The Bible is not boring, but it is easy to make it seem boring. Good preaching is refreshing. Good preaching is engaging. Men who preach must spend the time in study to bring a fresh, engaging Word from God. The response in Thomas’ article illuminates the fact that a quality of good preaching is that it keeps the hearer engaged. We must work to engage our audience so that they will respond to God. These articles also help the preacher see the importance of application. Thomas’ article noted that people want it. Piper said, “Every sermon should explain the Bible and then apply it to people’s lives.” He also reminded preachers of the importance of preaching with urgency. Correct application of a passage is an important part of any sermon. The people in Thomas’ article are asking for application and do not desire an arrogant academic exercise. We must answer the “so what” question for our hearers. Piper is not as concerned about being immediately practical, but he does want to be eternally helpful. As we are eternally helpful, I cannot help but believe God can use our meek efforts of application to be practically helpful for the hearer in their daily life. I am thankful for the light these articles shine on many different aspects of preaching and plan to refer back to these articles as tools to continually sharpen my preaching ministry.

Andrew Owensby

on Apr 24, 2012 :: 11:31 am

I fully agree with the comments of the necessity to be gospel centered and Christ exalting in the sermon. The Bible challenges people in their sin and the reality of a person's lostness can be a hard thing to come to grips with, and without the hope of Christ through the message of the gospel there is no refresher. What enables us to preach the hard texts that condemn man in their sin is the glorious hope of Christ found in the gospel. With that truth why would you go any other place and focus on any other idea? We must center our messages on the one message of hope and grace in Jesus. This truth must drive our preaching and if it does it will be good!

Tim Shaw

on Apr 25, 2012 :: 6:22 am

A crucial aspect of our preaching needs, on the authority of Scripture, not us as pastors, to serve the purpose of exhorting and encouraging people to change their lives to conform to what is revealed by the preacher to be what the Bible teaches. This is accomplished through the giving the accurate message of the text. Our preaching is to reveal to people who God is and what He expects of us.
Second, we as preachers must be convinced that scripture is not only meant to inform the mind but also to affect the heart. The hearer should be convinced of the truth of Scripture and should sense the great need to obey the message communicated.
Third, we as pastors need to preach so that not only the mind and heart are touch but also the will. Once the mind has been informed and the heart convinced, the will must be changed. He must respond to the truth coming from God’s Word.
As we preach, we are to proclaim the message of God with great authority in order to change lives. The practical test of good preaching is the fruit it bears in the lives of hearers. Preaching must result in godliness. Therefore, our sermons are to be composed of a biblical message gained through a proper hermeneutic, and proclaimed in order to see lives changed for the glory of God.

Name:


Scott Thomas has served as the President of Acts 29 Network and a Pastor at Mars Hill Church. Scott has been a pastor for 30 years—first as a youth pastor and then as a lead pastor and church planter/church replanter for 16 years.