One Sunday morning I left my sermon notes on my desk at home. That wasn’t the worst part. I didn’t realize my sermon notes were missing until, in the middle of the service, I stood at the pulpit and began preaching! Initially, I hesitated to preach. What was I to say? How can I remember the content of the sermon?
As an additional blow to my ego, after the sermon, more people mentioned to me that today’s sermon was my best. What had happened? Without my notes, I was forced to stick closely to the biblical text. I couldn’t remember every point I wanted to make, but I could remember the basic outline because it followed the text. The main point of the text was preached, I gave a few illustrations, focused on God’s redemptive actions, and closed with thoughts on knowing how God engages our lives and how his saving power directs us in glorifying him. I had escaped my worst preaching fear–preaching impromptu.
3) Can you perceive the main point of the sermon?
Many preachers lose the forest for the trees or place more emphasis on the details of the text rather than centering all points around one main idea. The central point of the text must be clearly understood before the details are explained. Saying too much in a sermon is as bad as saying too little. To lose the biblical focus of why the passage was originally written often leads to the misuse of a text or causes a preacher to overemphasize an idea that is not fully established from that text.
Because God is the main author of the Bible, he is the primary person speaking through the text. He had a specific or primary thought to communicate, which is now written down for our benefit. That’s the reason for having that text written in the first place. When the sermon title accurately describes the main point of the basic text it’s a sign the preacher understands why God took the effort to have those words written down. Sermon titles should reflect God’s purpose for revealing himself as seen in the chosen text.
Notice what thought the preacher spends most of the sermon time on. Is the sermon primarily explaining the actions of God or of a person? Remember, the Bible is God’s story. People are secondary actors in God’s story. God acts and people receive from his actions. The verbs reveal God acting in time and space. Human beings are receptors of God’s acts. Biblical authors, inspired by the Holy Spirit, had as their main idea what God was doing among them and not what God’s people were doing to help out God (2 Pet 1:20-21).
It’s helpful to summarize the main point in the sermon through a final prayer before you end the worship service. That will aid in walking away with one strong useful and memorable thought about God. A strong biblical concept can feed your soul for a week. If we want to feast on steak every time we hear a sermon, then we must order a steak. In other words, look for the big idea in every sermon and talk to God about that big idea before you leave the church. That will ensure you take it home.
4) Can you identify and apply a biblical redemptive theme to the sermon?
Good biblical themes have three aspects to them. They are 1) clearly developed from the biblical text, 2) related to the hearer in practical ways, and 3) delivered with conviction and insight (warmth and light). If every sermon included these aspects I wouldn’t have to write an article on how to get the most out of a sermon.
Every sermon should have one biblical theme. Each sermon is to be grounded in one primary Scripture. If the minister is not clear on the theme or is sloppy handling the main theme he might mix and mingle too many ideas. This makes the sermon more difficult to grasp than a singularly well-articulated concept. If you hear this happening in a sermon, don’t let it distract you. Pick one redemptive theme that catches your imagination as the preacher speaks and stick with it throughout the sermon– even if he doesn’t.
Remember, you are here to mined gold from God’s Word. God’s gold is his ability to redeem the worst of sinners. His power of redemption is the ability to transform a lump of coal into a diamond (2 Cor 3:18).
Once you identify a biblical theme, meditate on it and look for illustrations and explanations of it throughout the sermon. Ask yourself, “What can or should I do in light of this theme?” “How does this idea affect the way I think, feel, act, and believe?” If the theme is overly complicated or confused with multiple concepts then the pastor’s applications (if there are any) may also be unclear.
Try to figure out why the minister felt the need to speak on this particular theme. Discovering the motive behind a sermon helps us find a sticky place in our hearts for this message to cling. What touches our feelings, emotions, and desires from the Bible passage used in the sermon? What insights or instructions can we realize as we contemplate this redemptive theme? Sometimes the audience is not adequately directed to the practical implications of God’s Word. We must take that last step and generate our own response to God’s Word. Don’t leave a sermon, even a bad one, without asking God what he wants you to do in light of what you learned about him in the last thirty minutes.
Sermon applications come from 1) understanding God’s Word aright, 2) comprehending the redemptive contexts of God’s Word, and 3) applying the Word in context to where you need to change to become more like Jesus. If you stick to the main point and understand it in light of God’s gracious saving ministry to you in Christ, then making the most of an otherwise disjointed or confusing sermon can end up being as magnificent a moment with your Savior Jesus as I had when I preached without my sermon notes.