Preaching Articles

The English suffix -nomics is derived from the Greek ??µ?? nomos, meaning “law.”

What are the laws that define a sermon as good or bad, effective or ineffective, memorable or forgettable? How can you, as a communicator of the most life-changing message in history, use these laws to transform your ministry?

These laws are not a list of dos and don’ts, but rather theoretical principles derived from facts that govern the sermonic process from development to delivery.

We have all heard messages that we thought were epic. While there is a great deal of subjectivity related to defining a great message, what are the questions we as preachers want to have answered? How can I replicate it? How can I make my sermons great?

The following are Four Laws of Sermonomics. This list is far from complete, but it does represent the beginning of a conversation about great sermons of which I hope you will be a part.

Law 1. What is biblical will be relevant.

Often, at least in North America, there is a trend to sacrifice the biblical on the altar of the relevant. While it is important not to answer questions that no one is asking, it is equally important to have a fresh and innovative experience for which the lost can find Christ. That being said, it is also critical to understand that God is perpetually relevant because He transcends time.

The Word of God does not have to become relevant, Jesus is the Word, and the word remains relevant in any context in any culture. The Bible is more living than literary, more prophetic than preferential. As such it is beyond trends of the temporal because it speaks to the eternal part of our being. If it is biblical then it will be relevant.

Law 2. What is memorable will be repeated.

While biblical is relevant, often what are not relevant are the man-made methods by which we present that message. We should take our cues from the Creator on what is sticky. If you have not read it, there is a great book called Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath. Although not about sermons, this book will help you refine your sermonic process.

It dissects why we can remember lines from a movie we watched five years ago, but perhaps not important information. What if we learned to communicate through the grid of the memorable?

Because none of us are as smart as all of us, bring people into your sermon before you teach it. Once you have done the diligence of the exegetical process, run your message past a couple of people. Some call this a creative team. The goal is to create memorable moments during the service that are tied to a life changing principle.

By sitting down with other minds and going through your message, you can look to structure illustrations, drama or video around key points that you want the church to be able to remember. In doing this, we mirror the majesty of our Maker; “He declares the glory of God with the heavens” (Psalms 19:1–6). God uses the greatest canvas imaginable upon which to paint the greatest message. We, too, should seek to find memorable ways to illustrate key points that we want our hearers to encounter throughout the week. What is memorable will be repeated.

Law 3. What is mosaic will be refreshing.

As you are preparing your message, you should be aware that people are expecting the same thing as the previous week. While consistency is important, there is an excitement that cannot be replicated that comes from not knowing what will come next.
Here are a few things that we have done to keep it refreshing.

*We have used full-grown African lions in the service to tell the story of Daniel and the lions’ den.

*We did a Back to the Future-themed Vision Sunday and I drove a DeLorean into the sanctuary.

*While doing a series on Noah, I rented an exotic petting zoo, and had a forest on one side of the sanctuary and an ark on the other. We walked through the sanctuary a kangaroo, a zebra, a bearcat, an alligator, and on and on it went. Then we projected a giant, holographic hand closing the ark door, and the greatest indoor storm ensued. We had eight giant wind fans blowing, strobe lights for lightning, the whole thing.

Of course, we can’t do those types of events all the time, and we shouldn’t. The principle is, excitement is magnified when people experience the unexpected. When we do that, we are simply mirroring the majesty of our Maker and people are refreshed. What is mosaic will be refreshing. For more thoughts on a mosaic approach, see my article here.

What are some ways that you have made the message mosaic?

Law 4. What is truthful will be life changing.

In the politically correct induced coma in which our society seems to live, there is real pressure to be ambiguous where God has been obvious. However, we must remember that great sermons are great not because they dance around the controversies of the heart, but because they compel us to look into the perfect mirror of God’s word. Great sermons demand change from the core of our spirit to the countenance of our faith. They lift us from the complacent to the commissioned, from the passive to the passionate, and from the reluctant to the radical.

Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). The Greek word for truth, aletheia, means both objective and subjective truth. Our life is changed when we come face to face with the objective and subjective realities and compare lack with Jesus’ love. Redefining our reality never changed anyone. Life change takes place when the Spirit of God within us connects with the Spirit of truth in the word of God. What is truthful will be life changing.

What elements do you think make a great sermon and why?

Chris is the lead Pastor at Family Life Church

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David Swinney

commented on Nov 21, 2013

I realize that the poor quality (in my opinion) of the examples given under point 3 (Mosaic) does not necessarily nullify the "law", but I have to wonder if it is helpful to give examples of what can only be perceived as typical North American excess in support of a "law" which one supposes is meant to have universal application. The vast majority of pastors will never have the resources (or the space) to drive a DeLorean into the sanctuary or to hire a petting zoo. Many of us might even question whether such sensationalism actually serves to make the preaching of the word of God memorable, or if it just distracts people from the message. It might have served your point far better had you chosen to give examples that would be within reach of the vast majority of pastors who serve congregations of under 100 people which struggle just to keep the heat and lights turned on.

Derek Dicks

commented on Nov 21, 2013

David, i agree with you...take a look at the link at the bottom of point 3, i think it might be what you are looking for.

Chris Foster

commented on Nov 22, 2013

Derek, Thanks for taking time to contribute to the conversation.

Chris Foster

commented on Nov 22, 2013

David, Thanks for weighing in on the topic. I agree that I could have provided a broader range of examples. I have not always had the space to drive a car in the sanctuary. However that did not keep me from being creative with were I was. When I first came to Family Life Church there was 20 people and 1400 sq feet of rented space. I did illustrated sermons with 20 just like I do today. The goal of these examples was to get leaders to think outside the box. While that is an imperative priority to think outside the box, it is just as important to think inside the box. Outside of the box ask the question "What have I not used or thought of that would allow my preaching to mirror the majesty of our maker?" While thinking inside ask the question, "What resources do I have that I can use for God's glory?" I do think this is a universal principle. We have had the privilege of planting 8 churches in different parts of the world. I have had the honor to preach on five contenents, when I am in India I may use a cricket player to illustrate a well placed point. When in Africa, I talked about the rice fields or the animals, when in South America, I used local illustrations to engage them in a mosaic way. It is all about properly contextualizing the message in such a manner that the hearer can remember and relate. Thanks again for sharing!

Brandy Mcdonald

commented on Nov 21, 2013

"there is a trend to sacrifice the biblical on the altar of the relevant." This is a refreshing perspective. The Bible remains fresh and relevant in its own right. I love that we are able to start from the Word and reach people in the here and now with creative methods for the same message

Chris Foster

commented on Nov 22, 2013

Brandy, That is good. I often say our message never changes, but our methods must if we are going to reach new people.

Anonymous Contributor

commented on Nov 21, 2013

I am encouraged by this article. It does give me additional resources to use be even more creative. I write a blog and use pictures to reflect what i am relaying in my messages. This information is very refreshing and yes the word is aready relevant, yet we must continue to discover creative ways to relay His message. Bless you for this article.

Chris Foster

commented on Nov 22, 2013

I am glad you are encouraged, keep up the good work!

Jan Heiser

commented on Nov 22, 2013

These 4 laws are real and relevant. Pastor Chris brings "the black and white" truth to the pulpit every Sunday.

Chris Foster

commented on Nov 22, 2013

Thanks Jan, I really appreciate that.

Ross E. Edwards Iii

commented on Nov 22, 2013

I love the unknown approach of the message you bring to the church each week, although we do know series of the subject matter, we can almost rest assured the sermon will be dramatic. The biblical truth of the Bible is what is important, and to be able to reach a diverse multitude of people.

Con R. Howerton

commented on Nov 23, 2013

I appreciate the article - the truth is, as David says, we would never be able to do many such things - but praise the Lord Chris is using the venue God gave him for all it's worth! I pray I can do the same. My Sanctuary can only seat 165 but I still pray and beg God for meaningful, applicable, relevant delivery to the messages He gives me. It is His Word, after all, and my Pastor long ago taught me that it is a sin to bore people with the Word of God!

Sakhiwo Ntshiqa

commented on Nov 25, 2013

Ps. Chris, thank you so much for the impartation. God bless you!

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