What Makes a Good Sermon?

What makes a really good sermon?  Who is the best preacher that you have ever heard (not read but heard)?  I’ve been reading a book over the last day called:

Why Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers

In it I learned that most pulpit nominating committees have given up looking for good preachers and simply look for ministers that are good at other things like administration, hospital visitation, or counseling. The feeling is, according to Gordan, that good preachers are just too hard to find. I don’t consider myself a good preacher (far from it) but do work on getting better by reading books on preaching five or six times a year. This particular book reminded me of what is one of the classics on preaching and Rhetoric. It was written by Robert Dabney and is called Lectures on Sacred Rhetoric

In this work, Dabney points out that there should be seven “Cardinal Requisites of Preaching.” Here, with a short explaination, is what the seven are”

1. Textual Fidelity- Here Dabney is simply pointing out that the sermon should be about what the Scripture is about. How often have we heard “talks” and walked away saying, “that was not a bad talk, but it had nothing to do with the text of the Bible that was read?” I received an email from a friend of mine who moved away from CRPC a couple of days ago. She tells me about going through a search for a new church and speaks of one place where “they played AC/DC music, danced around on stage, had a balloon blowing contest, but I don’t remember anything about the Bible. Our friends told us it was a church, but we were not so sure.”

2. Unity- Dabney argues that the sermon should be unified. That is it should drive home a point and most listeners, at the end of the sermon should be able to state the sermon in a “nutshell.” The sermon should be able to meet what Bryan Chapel calls the “two am test.” If someone calls up the minister at two am and asks him what his sermon is about he ought to be able to tell them in a couple of sentences. If he doesn’t know, the congregation has little hope. Chapel’s book is perhaps the finest book written in the last twenty years on preaching.

Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon

3. Evangelical Tone- Dabney means by this what Chapel calls “Christ centeredness.” The Bible is a book about the redemption that is available only through Christ and any sermon that does not point to Christ is not a Christian sermon.

4. Instructiveness- Dabney points out that every sermon should teach the hearers about the text, and not just say the things that are obvious. This is the reason that ministers should learn to study carefully. Teachers and preachers should work hard on lessons and sermons to make sure that they have “mined the text” for the gold that exists there. One of the greatest tools for Bible study that exists today is Logos Bible Software (http://www.logos.com). I use this program as my “library” and cannot imagine doing sermon preparation without Logos.

5. Movement- Any sermon or lesson should be seen as “going somewhere.” The listeners should know that there is a starting point, a traveling time, and an ending point. The teacher is the “pilot” and the listeners should be able to place their confidence in the teacher as knowing where they are going before they leave and not making up the “landing strip” as he goes along. You would not want an airplane pilot who did not know where he was going to land, neither should a teacher not know such a thing.

6. Point- Dabney means that a sermon should have an overall intellectual and emotional place that it is trying to move the listener torward. It is the “what do you want me to do?” that should be clear at the end of every lesson or sermon. When asked by students how many points a sermon should have I usually reply “hopefully at least one.”

7. Order- Dabney doesn’t mean that every sermon should have three points in an Aristotelian fashion. He simply means that every lesson should move along in a logical and orderly fashion. Not everyone thinks in a linear fashion, for some random point here and there are the way that they go through life. For those who do think in outlines, giving information in random fashion will drive them crazy. For those who think randomly, giving them information in an outline will not bother them at all. Thus, why not always give a lesson or sermon in a clear, orderly fashion. Usually three or at the most five points is as much at anyone can take away. Make it easy for the listeners, keep the ideas in order.

Let me close by saying that whatever you do don’t use these things to judge my sermons. While I try my best, my efforts are at times OK and at most times pretty pitiful. The only hope I have in my sermons is that the Lord uses whatever gifts we have to His glory. I have tried to do my best these past couple of years at CRPC and the Lord has done the rest.

If you have gotten this far down this post, let me ask this: Who is the best preacher that you have ever heard? Not read, because we can all turn to Spurgeon or Edwards, but actually heard. I’ll throw my vote in for Joel Gregory, a truly fine expositor who has had some troubles along the way. What about you? Who is the finest preacher that you have heard? I’ll be anxious to hear your responses.

Lifting up the Christ,