I love the exchange between Fred Craddock, the legendary teacher of preaching, and one of his students.
The student had turned in a sermon manuscript for one of Craddock’s classes and asked the professor, “Will it do?”
Without missing a beat Craddock asked the student, “Will it do what?”
That is a question that preachers need to bear in mind throughout the process of preparing and delivering a sermon.
Preaching is designed to be a high impact activity. Although the impact of a sermon ultimately depends upon God, there are many other factors that need to be kept in mind.
1 We can pray asking God to show us what he wants to do with a particular sermon.
What is the desired impact?
How is the sermon intended to land?
Tom Long suggests using the following two questions when studying a biblical passage for a sermon:
What is the text saying?
What is the text doing?
How in our sermons can we communicate what the text is saying and doing?
2 We can raise the anticipation levels of the congregation by making it plain in the sermon that this is a message people need to hear.
Sometimes that can be done by using trailers to whet people’s appetites. This might be in the form of a well-crafted title for the sermon that is released in advance, a reminder on the church’s weekly email or WhatsApp group, or a tiny video preview posted on social media.
When a congregation is prepared and expectant there is a greater prospect of the message landing in their lives. I often think that if we gathered as the church on a Sunday in the same frame of mind in which we departed, the prospects of feeling the full impact of the sermon might be greatly increased.
3 We can demonstrate by our own lives and demeanour that the message of the sermon has already had an impact on us.
We preach on humility: are we humble?
We preach on prayer: are we praying?
We preach on joy: are we joyful?
The past decade has had more that its fair share of high-profile ministerial failures. When a preacher who we respect and have learned from falls, it can undermine our confidence in all that they have said and we can feel as if the rug has been tugged away from beneath our feet.
There is nothing like an authentic person preaching an authentic and well-chosen message to an expectant people.
I was preaching at my home church the Sunday before last. This week one of our members, a crane driver, spoke to me about the sermon. He said that he had enjoyed the sermon so much that it had “tickled” him. The language of being tickled pink is not one that I tend to associate with hearing a sermon. But in my friend’s mind this was the perfect way of describing a sermon that, for him, hit the spot.
I am praying that (in the best sense of the term) many people will be “tickled” by sermons this Christmas which have been carefully targeted with faithfulness and skill.