The difference between a good sermon and a great sermon

October 24, 2006 — Leave a comment

I was checking out Brian Jones’ blog ( and found a great blog on preparing sermons. I found this so helpful. Check this out:

The Difference Between A Good Sermon And A Great Sermon
A few weeks ago I spent the better part of my week going through 10 years of sermons – re-labeling, re-organizing, and re-categorizing them so I could share them with my staff on our computer server. It was enlightening to say the least. I saw larger patterns of things I was somewhat proud of, and not so proud of.Here’s a list of things I took noticed I wanted to change, continue, or forever expunge from my sermonizing ways:What didn’t work?Too many canned storiesAs I looked back on the sermons that seemed to fall flat, they almost always had too many canned stories from sermon websites somewhere. As I reminisced, the sermons that seemed to come alive were always the ones where I took the time and emotional energy to craft a personal story from my own life. Looking back I think I took the “road heavily traveled” because I couldn’t keep my butt at the desk for those extra four hours my messages needed.Too human centeredAs I looked back over the messages that seemed banal I was I struck by the way they always seemed to focus on “us.” Worry. Relationships. Stress. I noticed dozens and dozens of sermons on human-centered issues and needs. What I couldn’t help notice missing were the series on the character of God, key doctrines, and theological issues.Too tied to the church calendar and key growth initiativesI was struck by how what I taught was predicated upon or connected to some kind of growth initiative (ex. Friend Day, capital campaign, “preach on this now because giving needs to go up”). Right or wrong, I look back on those messages feeling like I’ve compromised in some way.What worked well?Jesus Torquemada MessagesTorquemada was one of the key leaders of the Spanish Inquisition. Over the years, these “defining moment” messages all seemed to have one thing in common: our church was at a crossroads on a key doctrine and I had the guts to stand up and say “This is what we believe. Hopefully you can get on board. If not, then maybe this isn’t the church for you.”Preaching expositionally through a book or key passageLooking through my files I felt a little emotional as I revisited the messages I wrote as I preached through the Book of Titus, Philippians, Romans 5 and others. I recalled the personal insights I gained and how refreshing it was to get away from my hobby horses and simply teach the Bible.Using quotes from the Christian classicsThough the examples were few, I felt that the messages that shared insights and quotes from the Christian classics (ex. Thomas Merton’s Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Kelly’s A Testament of Devotion, etc.) seemed especially potent. I felt like those messages really tied our faith community into the larger stream of Christendom and broke down denominational barriers.The biggest take away was this: I need to discipline myself to keep my butt glued to the seat until I feel “released” by the Holy Spirit. I know that seems too Pentecostalish, but I don’t know how else to put it. You know and I know when we’re “finished” or we’ve simply “cut prep. time short.” Too often, it appears, I’ve delivered sub-quality stuff simply because I was too tempted to check my email or walk out of my office and jump into something more fun.Four more hours.I think that’s the difference between a good message and a great message.


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