"A mist in the pulpit is a fog in the pew." ~ C.H. Spurgeon
With each sermon you preach, you should be absolutely crystal clear on what you want your people to take away from it. If you are murky about how they’ll be able to use your message, you can be sure they’ll be clueless. Not to mention they’ll pick up on your uncertainty and check out because their time is valuable and you have chosen to waste it.
Clarity must be a top priority in every sermon. But it’s easy, and sometimes necessary, to focus most of your prep time on your content and not your listeners. This makes it so crucial to think through how your listeners will receive and use your message. I want to give you three simple tests that will help you ensure that your sermon is ready to go in terms of its impact on your listeners and their ability to apply it.
This is drop-dead simple, and it’s meant to be. At this point in your prep, you have already done the complicated stuff. This is the icing on the cake to help you ensure a strong, focused delivery that accomplishes what you want. These three tests did NOT originate with me, but they will be another tool you can easily put to use as you prepare.
Three Things That Must Be Clear Before Your Sermon Is Ready to Preach
1. What you want your listeners to KNOW (information).
When you get up to preach, you need to be clear about what information you want to get across. Paul, in Romans 12, says we are to be "transformed by the renewing of our minds." This means the Word of God should continually be changing the way we think. Your sermon is one of the building blocks of this transformation for your people.
People can’t remember everything you say, but they will remember some of it. You should determine the most important thing you’re saying and ensure that you communicate it clearly. For your listeners to walk away knowing what you want them to know, you must avoid information overload. One way to prevent this is to not preach too long.
Information transfer alone is not enough, because people can know what they need to know and still be completely comfortable doing nothing with it. There is more to preaching than making ideas clear.
2. What you want your listeners to FEEL (inspiration).
How will your sermon connect with people’s hearts? Think of the sermons that have had the biggest impact on you. You probably don’t just remember the facts that were shared but also the way you were made to feel. It wasn’t the facts but the powerful story beautifully told that truly moved you, right? Your listeners are the same; they want to be moved at an emotional level. They want to be inspired, to be lifted up, to be encouraged, to be challenged.
You should determine exactly how they should feel as a result of your sermon and aim to create that feeling.
3. What you want your listeners to DO (application).
You need to put handles on your messages that people can grab onto. You need to be crystal clear on what it looks like for your people to apply your message in real life.
Sermons must have all three of these elements to be effective. Information without inspiration is boring. Inspiration without application is useless. Here’s a simple equation to make sense of it all: Information + Inspiration + Application = Killer Sermon!
What other things do you ensure your sermon will accomplish before you preach it?
Lane Sebring is a teaching pastor, speaker and author. He leads The Current, a worship gathering of young adults, in Northern Virginia. He created PreachingDonkey.com, a site to help preachers communicate better. He has a B.A. in Communication from the University of Central Oklahoma and a Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. He lives in the Northern Virginia / DC area with his wife Rachel and their daughter, Olive. You can connect with him at twitter.com/PreachingDonkey and facebook.com/PreachingDonkey