The sermon is regularly the highlight of a worship service. Worship services are designed around the sermon’s content and theme. We attend hoping to hear a good message and leave inspired. If the sermon was good then the worship service was worth attending. If the sermon was bad, well hopefully, it wasn’t a total waste of time.
Good sermons are important because people are looking for direction for the coming week. They come to church hoping to hear from God through the message. They want to find meaning and purpose in either the past week’s events or the coming week’s activities. Unfortunately, it’s possible to leave the church finding little or no direction, challenge, or motivation. We didn’t or couldn’t connect with the sermon. It didn’t make an impact.
Are there ways a listener can benefit from any kind of sermon, even a poor one? Does our spiritual development depend on the quality of a preacher’s communication skills? Are our understanding of God and His ways limited due to the style or mannerisms of the preacher? Not necessarily so.
I’m reminded of the time when God spoke through a donkey to communicate to the disobedient prophet Balaam (Num 22:28-30). I don’t know what is most odd, the donkey taking or Balaam arguing with a donkey! None the less, if God can get his message effectively communicated through a donkey, he can certainly speak to you and me even when our pastors don’t speak well or clearly.
Have you left a worship service and by that afternoon can’t remember what the sermon was about? We all have had that experience. But it doesn’t have to be. God can speak to you even through a poorly prepared and ineffectively delivered sermon.
The intellectual abilities, personality, communication skills, or teaching style of a preacher doesn’t have to restrict your ability to learn something about God during the sermon. Your ability to find godly inspiration doesn’t depend on the sermon delivery style. This article will encourage church members as they listen to the expounding of God’s Word by equipping them with six tools for digging out the gold within a sermon even if it appears on the surface to offer little value to their life.
1) Can you see Jesus in the sermon?
All sermons should have at their core a God-centeredness. Unfortunately, some sermons only moralize or point us to a human ability that promises to make us better people. Sermons are to be about divine promises, not self-awareness (Eph 3:6).
Each sermon directly or indirectly should point to Jesus and his work. God’s Spirit is the one who transforms us, using the sermon, to be like Jesus and to do the works he does. The first step in finding value in a sermon is to ask, “What did Jesus say about this topic?” “How does the main idea relate to Jesus’ saving work?” “What did Jesus do that empowers us to respond and become more like him?” “Can I see Jesus more clearly because of this sermon?”
A sermon that forgets to focus on Jesus isn’t a good sermon. If Jesus isn’t proclaimed then the listener will need to direct their thoughts to how God relates to the ideas within the sermon. To redeem an otherwise poorly designed sermon, focus the mind on Jesus and what he has accomplished for us. The least we can get out of a sermon is to be reminded and grow in appreciation that Jesus is our Lord and Savior. Every sermon should help us see Jesus more clearly.
2) Can you hear a gospel of grace in the sermon?
God’s sovereign grace is to be a fundamental element in every biblical sermon. God’s power to redeem is the most inspiring thought we can use to direct our weekly activities. We are to be daily directed to trust in God’s mercy and grace.
Ask yourself these questions of the sermon if the gospel of grace is not prominent in a sermon. “Knowing what is being preached, how can I trust God more?” “How does my lifestyle lack conformity to God’s sovereignty?”
If the elements of the gospel are not preached weekly, pray to the Lord that he would inspire the preacher to make it a priority to preach gospel-centered sermons. This doesn’t mean a salvation message every Sunday. The call to conversion is only one of many applications of preaching the gospel. Preaching the gospel means the content of every sermon is on what God has done to redeem us and how he currently works in this world to call us to faith and repentance. It is preaching the Kingdom of God in contrast with the Kingdom of Self. The gospel is the only good news the Church has to speak of. Without it, the sermon will not dispense courage or hope.
God’s grace toward us should be a repetitive underlying principle for everything taught over the pulpit. The Bible is a record of redemptive history. It teaches how God’s sovereign grace affects every part of our lives. This perspective causes the gospel to be preached with force and conviction. The good news from the Bible is that God has the ability to save and that he saves graciously. We can’t save ourselves or sustain our spiritual lives on our own strength. We are dependent people on the grace of God.
Also included in preaching a gracious gospel message is the divine themes of mercy and forgiveness. When a sermon consists of a list of requirements that must be met to remain justified before God (i.e. three steps to…) the sermon dilutes the power of the gospel. The gospel isn’t about what we must do. It’s about what God has done for people who are dead in sin and can’t help themselves (Col 2:13).
The duties to obey and respond to God are not grounds for acceptance before God. Willful obedience is a response to God’s grace in accepting us who are unworthy of his love. Spiritual growth comes from developing gratitude for God’s grace. We grow in Christ as we value his forgiveness. We mature our faith by realizing just how much mercy God bestows on us.
The gospel is one of grace. Sovereign grace is the essence of the gospel. If you don’t hear it clearly proclaimed in the sermon, then preach it to yourself. You don’t want to leave a worship service without hearing the gospel (Rom 1:16-17).