What Makes a Sermon Great

You don’t have to be John Piper or Mark Driscoll to preach a great sermon.  What makes a sermon great is not the fame of the preacher, the size of the sanctuary, or the volume of the speaker’s voice.

This could be a very long post, but for the sake of brevity, here are, at least, three things that a pastor should have/do to make a sermon great:

  • Passion for Jesus so hearers leave wanting to know the Jesus you know.
  • Faithfulness to the text in that you labor to explain what it means, instead of using the text to prove your points.
  • Give hard challenges to holiness so that the information you gave them (theological, cultural, social, etc.) turns from information to transformation.

As I grow older (not that I’m old), I find that these three are usually intertwined, and number three is often a fruit of the first two.  I hear so many sermons that are more like a youth group talk on Wednesday night.  It might even be biblical theology, but it is weak sauce in conviction and does nothing to challenge a person to want more of Christ in their life.

Most weeks, what a Christian needs is the velvet hammer, not the teddy bear on the Downy Soft commercials.  Sermons today lack that extra something that makes me leave and think, “I’m awful and God is supreme.  What do I need to trust him for this week?  Where do I need to repent?  What about my life needs to be transformed by his grace?”

Remember that I am not a pastor, but as a weekly hearer and as an aspiring pastor, these are things I think are essential to the preaching ministry of a pastor.   Our end goal shouldn’t be “great sermons.”  Our end goal should be to make Christ look great by glorifying him with our words and lives.  However, pastors should be ready and willing, by God’s grace, to give their best on Sunday as they proclaim God’s word in order to edify and challenge God’s people.

What other things do you think are essential to a make a sermon great?


The Point of Doctrine is Worship

If doctrine is not devotional, and consequently not practical, then it leads to cold, legalistic, head knowledge.  That’s never transformed anyone’s life to Christ-likeness.

In his commentary on Titus 1:1, Calvin wrote, “The only lawful commendation of doctrine is this, that it instructs us to fear God and to bow before him with reverence.”

The point of doctrine is that you might know God and worship him in spirit and truth.  Every other kind of doctrine is pointless.

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The 50/50 Gospel and Grace

Jonathan Dodson:

In his newest book, Christless Christianity, Michael Horton argues that a semi-pelagian understanding of the gospel plagues the American church. Is it fair, however, to lay our rampant nominalism at the feet of Pelagius? After all, most so-called “semi-pelagian” churches are neither aware of nor lay claim to Pelagian doctrine (heresy). Perhaps it is overreaching to frame the Christless Christianity of America with a 6th-century theology? Regardless, Horton has placed his finger on the near lifeless pulse of the American gospel.

He points out that American Protestantism has come to view grace as “divine assistance for the process of moral transformation rather than as a one-sided divine rescue.” That gospel operates on what we’ll call a 50/50 principle. This 50/50 gospel offers salvation via a blend of fifty percent grace and fifty percent good behavior. The cross is no longer expiation of sin but an example of how to live sacrificially. People are good enough to choose Christ but they simply need to be reminded of how good a choice he is. Broken marriages, patterns of sexual sin, deep-seated anger, and rampant debt are primarily the product of our failure to behave like Jesus.

Read the whole thing.


Don’t Let Them Fool You…Doctrine Does Lead to Joy

For  my own part, I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await many others.  I believe that many who find that ‘nothing happens’ when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.

– C.S. Lewis, On the Reading of Old Books


Election is for Humility

How shall those who are the subjects of divine election sufficiently adore the grace of God? They have no room for boasting, for sovereignty most effectually excludes it. The Lord’s will alone is glorified, and the very notion of human merit is cast out to everlasting contempt. There is no more humbling doctrine in Scripture than that of election, none more promotive of gratitude, and, consequently, none more sanctifying. Believers should not be afraid of it, but adoringly rejoice in it.

– Charles Spurgeon