So these are always fun. This morning’s inbox included an email article from sermoncentral.com. I never preach other people’s sermons, but years ago I uploaded a couple to their website thinking others might be able to use them and ever since I get these articles. Some are good. Some are bad. Some are ugly. Today’s was actually pretty good. It was written by a man named Joel Mayward, whom I do not know. His profile on his blog indicates he is a youth minister in B.C. and that he was born in Tacoma, Washington. So, he can’t be all that bad.
His article was a list of five questions, all beginning with “Does it. . .
- Clearly point to Jesus?
- Speak to Christians?
- Speak to non-Christians?
- Speak to the heart/attitude?
- Give people something to do immediately?
I like Joel’s list. It is meaningful and would help anyone working to sharpen their skills. My only critique is that I think #1 could get lost in the idea of people wanting to always present a Gospel invitation message. I believe a sermon should be Christo-centric, but that doesn’t mean every sermon is “here is how you can become a Christ-follower.” Christ-centered is more about the worldview being presented. I also think Joel has a different perception of The Homiletical Plot than I do.
But those are nitpicking kind of things. I really think he is on target, and I especially like #5 as a rhetorical technique in our age. A sermon really should have something that a hearer can follow up with pretty quickly.
However, I have my own list of questions that I ask regarding my sermons. Some of these get done while I write them, some get asked as I edit it down on Saturday mornings, and some get asked in the heat of the moment.
1. Have I accurately portrayed the main point of the text? The sermon has work to do, and that work is to communicate the biblical material, preferably as one overarching theme which unifies the sermon. If it fails to do that, then it is time to get out the red ink.
2. Will my hearers know that I care? This is the question that differentiates between speaking and pastoring. Many people are great speakers, but pastoring requires a different skill set. The pastor will always be thinking about the connection he or she is making to individual people as the sermon is being prepared and delivered. For our hearers to know that we care about them as individual people, even when we are delivering difficult material, is vital to living together in the community of faith.
3. Do I have all my materials? About half the time when I preach I have a prop, a slide, a book or some other visual that facilitates the logic of the sermon. It is important that I make sure all of these items are in order. This includes my iPad, which is what I use to read the Bible from and which has the order of service. In general I need to do this about an hour before the service starts or I will be in trouble. If I wait till the last minute, they might start without me and then I am disheveled the whole day.
4. Is my fly zipped? Never underestimate the importance of that question. I suppose if the preacher were female there might be other grooming/clothing/wardrobe malfunctions to tend to, but I don’t know what those would be. For me, it is the fly.
5. Do I know how this sermon ends? Have you ever heard someone preach and as he preaches you’re thinking, “He has no idea how to land this plane?” It is a sad situation to have worked so hard on a premise, a textual exposition, illustrations, stories, and propositions and then to not clearly know how it should end and when to end it. In sermon prep I ask this question because it helps me whittle away material that doesn’t lead up to the ending. Just before I preach I ask this question to keep my mind disciplined because the temptation is always there to chase rabbits and follow tangents. I must stay on target, and get to the conclusion.
There are many other good questions that probably need to be asked before a sermon is preached. These might include, “Why am I preaching this sermon?” or “How would Jesus tact with this text and topic?” as well as “Is there some way I can make this sermon unique and different from the way everyone else in town would preach it?” But, Mayward only had five questions, so for symmetry’s sake, I’ll leave my list at five.