Can your preaching hit a home run week in and week out? Sunday comes every seven days whether your sermon is prepared or not. Can a preacher be at peak performance each Sunday (or weekend)? Don Sunukjian of Talbot Theological Seminary thinks so. He says, “Preaching will always be effective if it does four things: One, it must have a biblical substance. Two, people must track with the preacher. Three, it must be interesting. Four, it must be relevant. Do all four and you will have good preaching. None of the four depend on ‘whiz-bang stuff.’”
1. Does my sermon have a biblical basis? Bryan Chapel, President of Covenant Seminary and professor of preaching, states, “I remain convinced that an expository approach is the most fruitful as the mainstay of a pulpit ministry (and I rejoice in the recent spate of books re-endorsing this biblically committed approach), but always we can learn from other communication fields how people hear and how better to minister God’s Word to them.” Ron Allen, professor of preaching at Christian Theological Seminary, Indianapolis, IN, affirms the resurgence of the expository model, “I am convinced that expository preaching continues to be the most reliable way for sermons to accomplish their fundamental aim. However, I also know that doctrinal messages, topical sermons, and various modes of experimental homilies can accomplish the purpose of preaching.” While there is not one right style of preaching, any more than there only one right style of Scripture, the emphasis on Scriptural authority is essential to hitting the sermon out of the park.
2. Are people tracking with me? The primacy of preaching must continue to be central in our churches, and the purpose of preaching must remain biblical in the truest sense of the word if it is to continue to make a difference in the world on this side of the apocalypse. Yet home-run sermons must come from the heart of the preacher delivered to the heart of the hearer. Preaching is still a face-to-face and a heart-to-heart encounter. The preacher, therefore, must be committed to integrity, authenticity, and transparency. People track with realness and authenticity. When the preacher speaks from biblical authority on real life issues from a broken and contrite heart, never will the preacher lack for an attentive audience.
3. Is the sermon interesting? The “whiz-bang stuff” that Sunukjian refers to is the use of technology. If anything has changed dramatically in preaching in the last 20 years, it has been the onslaught of PowerPoint, video clips from movies punctuating sermons, preprinted note-taking outlines, props, and anything to hold the listener’s attention. Sunukjian is not persuaded that people have short attention spans. “People will watch a movie for two hours and not get bored,” he asserts. Good preachers will hold the listener’s attention for 45 minutes. Sunukjian advises preachers to observe the preachers on television who are preaching to large audiences in their churches and even larger audiences through the television media, and none are using technology in their preaching.
4. Is the sermon relevant? Preaching has to be relevant, addressing the needs of the audience with an undisputed message and clarity. Granted, relevancy is not easy. It requires study, preparation, and concentration. But if people matter to God, and to us, then we will communicate with them so that the sermon touches them where they live. I have discovered that when I know my audience better than they know themselves and then address the issues and concerns of their lives, my message has a better chance of hitting home. My words, while not eloquent or grandiose, gain a hearing because I am speaking to the real life hurts, pains, and needs of the listening audience.