Illumination and Inspiration
What makes for the most engaging sermon? Each pastor will have his own personal style. His interests and passions, wit, sensibilities, family, background, education and study, the congregation he serves—all of these will form the tone and tenor of his preaching. Beyond background and environment there are two other areas that make up the preacher’s delivery. One is his talent, or raw ability to communicate. Some men are simply gifted in this area as excellent speakers.
But the second is the subject of this post, and that is the skills a pastor develops during his career. A memorable and, more importantly, biblically applicable message has three central elements, all of which can be honed and improved by any pastor as skills he develops over time. These elements, together, form the basis of an illuminating and inspiring message.
The Word. A sermon without the Bible is just a speech to a group of attentive people. Don’t use the Bible as a “diving board”, beginning with a verse and then launching off into the waters of your own thoughts and ideas. Let your messages be saturated with the Word of God. A great skill to develop is to let your sermons teach your congregation how to study the Bible as you preach. Point out cross-references. Give background details and context to the verses. Break into a Hebrew or Greek word every now and then. A powerful sentence to utter in a sermon is, “This is something I learned this week while preparing…” It tells your congregation that you, too, are a student of the Word, just like they are.
The Takeaway. A sermon must have an objective. Simply walking through the Bible makes a great Bible study, but a sermon must be more. What do you want to see the message accomplish in the lives of your congregation? What is God calling them to as a result of the message you are teaching? A great skill-building exercise is to write out this sentence as you study and prepare your message: “The purpose of this sermon is to…” If you can’t answer that in a few words, keep studying and seeking God for that all-important takeaway.
The Connection. Finally, a sermon must have an element of connection between God’s Word and the believer (and/or unbeliever, in the case of an evangelistically centered message). God’s Word is seldom stagnant—it will always call the believer toward God, either by understanding, by action or in relationship. In other words, a sermon must answer the question, “What does the Bible want the believer to know, to do or to be?” A simple skill-building exercise is to answer this question during the planning and study process.
By honing your skills in teaching the Word, in determining the takeaway and in forming a connection, your preaching will improve. These are practical skills that apply to a preacher at any level of education or talent.
Author: Eugene Mason, Communications Director for Cross Pointe Church under the leadership of Dr. James Merritt.