Evaluating A Sermon – a pastor’s perspective
On any given Sunday, some will say, “excellent sermon” while another may not enjoy the sermon whatsoever (and that’s just on the elder board … lol, jk). People have different preferences for preaching styles, content, illustrations, methods, and deliveries. The taste for what makes a good sermon is as varied as the number of people listening.
Believe it or not, I love to receive feedback on sermons. I am always looking for ways to improve the delivery and content of my sermons. One of the great joys in my life is from my study in the word of God. I desire for others to share in my joy and grow in faith as I have (faith comes by hearing the word of God).
As a church, we must trust in the word of God preached to accomplish God’s work. I believe that if I am faithful to the text, first and foremost, I am faithful to God. I need to enter the pulpit prayerfully, acknowledging needs and weaknesses, and trusting God to empower the message with the work of the Holy Spirit. I hope that people in the church pray for the message, knowing I am fallible and weak. I hope they pray that God will work through me so His word will reach their hearts and minds.
With this in mind, let’s talk about how to critique a sermon. Below are ten questions to ask regarding a sermon. I listed them in the order I believe to be most to least important. We may differ on the order of importance, and that’s okay. The point is that these questions are to help you with sermon criticism and feedback.
If one of the criteria below is not consistently fulfilled (more than a onetime occurrence or blatantly failed), then perhaps there is a need for concern about the preaching. Otherwise, don’t be concerned. Expecting every one of these areas to be flawless every week is an unrealistic expectation. I will try, but I will fail.
Use the following questions to guide your feedback. I am interested in hearing what you think.
- Is the sermon faithful to the passage? – The message needs to be faithful to the text. It needs to convey the author’s intended meaning to the original audience. It must fit the historical and grammatical context, with proper observations made. The sermon ought not deviate from the context of the chapter, book, and the bible.
- Is the sermon Biblical? – The doctrinal truth conveyed from the passage must not contradict other biblical doctrines. If there are areas of seeming contradiction; they are to be explained and clarified.
- Is the sermon understood? – Concepts must be simple and straightforward. As much as possible, keep to one main idea and have the points support the idea. The information should not be too much for one message when it might be best given over multiple messages. The information needs to flow (e.g., Will changing sentences make the point clearer? Will changing paragraphs strengthen the argument?) Difficult terms and words need to be explained. Time needs to be taken to teach difficult doctrines arising from the text. When appropriate, illustrations, analogies, etc. to help clarify are to be given. Historical and geographic implications affecting the interpretation need to be explained. Literary (prose, prophetic) techniques employed by the author need explanation. Consider if similar passages from other areas of the bible will help explain and clarify the text.
- Is the sermon applicable? – By the end of the message, we need to know what God would have us do because of the text. The applications need to fit our culture and consider the varied audience (saved/unsaved; mature/immature; young/old; social, education, and economic backgrounds; vocations; intellect). Not every application for every age, social status, occupation, hobby, etc., may be made. Often, general applications are made, with the hopes of people understanding how to apply the sermon in their life. What is most important is the application is true to the text.
- Is the sermon challenging and convicting? – Unlike teaching, preaching is for the purpose of motivation. The sermon is to challenge people to believe, obey, and follow the principles of the message. The preacher is to provide personal leadership with his life. Strong arguments to be holy are to be expressed.
- Is the sermon uplifting? – People are to see the glories of Christ as it applies to the text. Seek to edify with divine truth. Provide comforting considerations. This often involves saving the edifying points for the end, so people leave on a positive note.
- Is the sermon appropriately conveyed? – The sermon needs to avoid being entertaining for entertainment’s sake. The emotions and expressions of the preacher must be appropriate to the text (a feeling sense for what is being preached). The preacher should not be a different person in the pulpit than everyday life. The preacher needs to convey love and care for the audience.
- Is the sermon interesting? – The message may not be boring. The preacher needs to avoid reading the sermon whenever possible and speak conversationally. When feasible, the sermon needs to have new ways to convey familiar truths. The preacher needs to use creative writing as much as possible. But, at the same time, realize entertainment is not the reason God ordained preaching. Preaching is intended to make you think, to reflect, to hear God’s voice and respond in humility and obedience. Sermons are to be critiqued for effectiveness in communicating God’s message.
- Professional – Maintain proper grammar and spelling in the manuscript. Maintain excellence.
- Timely – Keep within the expected timeframe (finish before it is time for supper).