My preaching could be better, and so could yours. Here are just a few ways that we might improve our sermons.
Apply more – The upsurge in recent decades of expository preaching has seen a welcome focus upon explaining the Bible. At the very same time, biblical application has been arguably in decline. Of course, application must be done biblically, carefully, and sensitively – but application must be done. I would suggest that we shouldn’t wait until the sermon’s conclusion before we start showing the relevance of the text. Start early. Show people right from the off that the passage lands in the street where they live. And keep showing them throughout the sermon.
Don’t just make the obvious points – Many sermons suffer from stating the obvious. We preachers tell people what they could easily pick up themselves with only a superficial reading. Now its true, we do need to explain things simply. And yes, we must remind people of the truths they know. What I am suggesting, though, is that having spent hours studying the passage, we help people see some things which are less obvious. Don’t just explain the easy parts. Explain the hard parts. Could it be that some sermons aren’t very interesting because they don’t go deep enough?
Work harder at the logical flow – The best sermons are clear sermons. And one of the things that makes a sermon clear is the fact that its easy to follow. Putting a negative spin on it, some preachers are like butterflies. They hop from flower to flower but there is no obvious connection between each leap! Preachers who speak with clarity are less like a butterfly, and more like a locomotive train: they progress sequentially from one station to the next, with a clear sense of direction and a steady sense of development. To help us strengthen this area, we should revisit our manuscript prior to preaching. We should review our manuscript and ask questions like: do the topics arise in order? Does every sentence, paragraph, and main point naturally flow from the one before? In addition, periodic ‘summarising’ will also help our listeners follow the movement of the sermon.
Use everyday language – JC Ryle’s little book Simplicity In Preaching argues for plainness in a preacher’s language. Ryle talks about using simple Saxon words rather than words which come from either a French or Latin base. He also generally counsels us against using long words. Reading the newspapers, and simply talking to people, can help us in using everyday language, and not just the language of the commentators.
Tighten up your illustrations – Illustrations are great slaves but poor masters. Used rightly they can illuminate; used wrongly they can confuse. One preacher I used to listen to had a habit of using illustrations which were encumbered with details. Some of these details were tangential to the point he was making. The result: confusion! At other times his illustrations didn’t seem to even make the point he was drawing out of them. I noticed this about this brother, but I dread to think how often I have done the same myself!? A further danger, peculiar to illustrations, is that they can shine a positive spotlight on the preacher. The “when I was doing my quiet time the other day…” illustration is probably not the most endearing thing to say to a congregation! Equally bad is “During our family devotions….”! The church will naturally assume the preacher is engaged in these things, but when said (even in passing) such illustrations can appear self-serving.
*I recommend the writings of Bryan Chapell on the subject of transitions.