This week I have listened to fifteen sermons. No, I have not been at a very long church service, nor have I been glued to online services. Rather I have been listening to student preachers give their brief final term sermons. It has been an interesting experience, that has been followed by preaching a sermon of my own today.
Have you heard a good sermon lately? Listening to so many sermons made me think about what makes a good sermon.
Using the following criteria, we use for assessing sermons, I suggest the following five things.
1. A good sermon is biblical. I would expect to see a meaningful interaction with the biblical text. This can come in a variety of forms. A sermon on a whole book, verse by verse exposition of a passage, a sermon on one text, or a topical sermon that uses a variety of texts. What I am looking for is not uniformity in style but an attitude in the preacher that makes it plain that Scripture is the controlling factor in the sermon.
2. A good sermon is theological. Is the sermon communicating a message that reflects core beliefs of the Christian faith?
3. A good sermon is contemporary. Sermons are not history lessons, or academic essays, they should communicate with relevance to our present context.
4. A good sermon has a recognizable structure. There is no set method of doing this. What is needed is a clear sense of the movement of the message that allows a hearer to follow it.
5. A good sermon is a good piece of communication. The preacher has something to say and says it in a way that hearers want to listen.
A good sermon is always more than the sum of its parts; it could have all of the five features above, yet still fall flat. I want a sermon to retain my attention, show me something fresh, engage my imagination, touch my emotions, and call me to make a response.
There is a sense in which sermons that have all the correct components are like rocket on firework night. They contain all the magnificent explosive power that delights the spectators, but nothing is going to happen unless someone lights the blue touch paper. There is a spark that creates a flame. Some sermons simply lack this.
One of the sermons I heard this week was about time. The preacher placed a carriage clock next to him as an object lesson, and them preached a sermon using from Ephesians 5:15-17 as his main text.
The theme of time was woven throughout the sermon in a very skilful way. He did refer to other scriptures, but these were introduced without slowing the pace of the sermon or distracting the hearer.
Praise God for sermons like that. The preacher spoke about time without being tedious, legalistic or moralistic. The sermon made me grateful for the gift of time and exercised about how I use it.