Over the last two decades, my perspective on preaching has changed. Indeed, what constitutes good preaching is a personal conversation. From the pulpit to the pew and all points in between, everyone has their opinions. Nevertheless, I still contend that preaching is primary for the Church of Jesus Christ. We can do without many things that we currently think of as important. However, very few things are as important as proclaiming the message of Jesus Christ and teaching God’s Word. Solid Bible preaching should be the foundation of every local congregation.
From my vantage point of having been with hundreds of different churches, it appears that congregations and their appetites for spoken ministry are changing. There are several facets to this observation, and I won’t explore them all. Let me highlight two items where I’m trying to focus.
- The first two minutes of the sermon needs to be intentionally infused with power.
- What I don’t say in the sermon is almost as important as what I do say.
This first item is because it’s hard to acquire and maintain people’s attention. I’m trying to be intentional with my first two minutes. If it’s a congregation that already knows me and my ministry, I might not give any introductory remarks during the sermon time. If you must promote or provide other informational updates, try this. Change up the order to give those updates at a different time than the preaching portion of the service. When it’s time for preaching, that’s what I want to do! If I spend five to ten minutes talking about ministry updates immediately before beginning the sermon, it starts flat, and in many minds, I’m charged with a much longer sermon.
When done appropriately, I infuse the first two minutes with power. That can be accomplished by stating the explicit purpose of the message, like the sermon in a sentence and the big idea that I want everyone to take home with them. Usually, I will begin with clearly enunciating my text while looking at the congregation. At times I will start with an illustration that helps set up the text and theme of the sermon.
Pastors, you need to be even more concerned about this first item because people get so accustomed to your voice. The sermon time is not the time to rehash announcements or provide congratulatory remarks about other assorted things. If you want your congregation to have high regard for Bible preaching, then you must separate it from the other stuff and treat it with the utmost importance. Preaching is more important than any other thing you’ll say during the worship service, so let the first two minutes of your pulpit time reflect that. Do it with purpose and power.
The second item is related to much of the same reasoning as the first. What I don’t say in the sermon is almost as important as what I do say. I typically assume the preacher knows vastly more about a subject that what I’ve heard him (or her) say within one sermon. However, there appears to be a tendency for some to want to tell everything they know about their subject in one sitting. We should all resist that desire.
This also has to do with attention spans. Many congregations would never confess this, for fear of being thought less spiritual. But they too have a limit of what they’re willing to endure. Many have said something like; you don’t have to worry about time here, we just want you to obey the Lord and let the Holy Spirit have His way. I’m pretty sure that they mean that too, but let me caution every preacher – this freedom is not a license to take advantage of God’s people. Nope, you do not have permission to preach an hour about the Sermon on the Mount. Unless you don’t like preaching and your goal is to make sure you’re not invited to fill this pulpit again.
Pastors, you can accomplish this second item with ease. Accept the fact that making disciples through preaching and teaching is done over a long period. The discipleship process continues in small building blocks. Refuse to give a data dump of all your insight on the eschatological implications of the first four chapters of Revelation. There are times and places for that, but your Sunday morning sermon is not that place or time.
The principle for preachers to remember is that less is more. Given the right quantity and quality, the congregation will delight to hear from you again. Rather than a collective moan, they will enjoy seeing you in the pulpit.
What do you think about these two items I’m trying to give more attention? Whether you stand in the pulpit or sit in the pew, I’d like to hear your thoughts. What, in your humble opinion, makes for good preaching?