If I preach a good sermon on a Sunday service:
I didn’t do it right.
Yes, I want to research hard. To study up, do the exegesis, dig up the Greek and Hebrew, get into my historical-grammatical exposition, find the redemptive purpose. I want to speak in a dynamic tone, find the best stories, sharpen my metaphors, keep it relevant, be self-aware and self-deprecating, know my people and give them permission to laugh.
All this is good.
But if people are saying, “You’re good” or “Great sermon!”—then I totally messed it up.
You know why, pastors. Because our job is to point to Him. To step out of the way so that instead of the hearers saying, “Isn’t our pastor great?”—they say, “Isn’t Jesus great?”
I understand though. Many churchgoers hear a sermon like they’re watching a movie, reviewing its contents and checking for internal consistency and mentally debating whether they like it or not. For many, it’s entertainment. Just a guy with a mic to inspire everyone.
And it’s very difficult to turn the tide on consumer consumption. Especially when most of our churches are set up like disposable theaters.
It’s also tough to get rid of that manic, desperate, sweaty demeanor that is begging for validation from the whole room. It’s not easy to stop saying with your body, “Do you like me? Am I cool? Is this working?”
With all this mixed in, it’s not easy to preach a good sermon. And certainly you don’t want to preach a bad one.
I’ve found that only one thing works.
And it’s exactly because you can’t “make it work.” It’s completely beyond formula, fashion, crafting and content.
My first pastor preached these extremely emotional sermons that left him sweaty and breathless by the closing prayer. I was an atheist then, and I didn’t know what to think except “He really believes this stuff.” But I still graded him on a performance scale, by how much he told good stories and whether he was saying helpful things.
My pastor continually reached out to me. I saw in his own life that he was living what he was preaching. I began to see the work of Christ in his life. I saw a love that compelled him that was greater than any love I had ever known.
The more I knew my pastor, the more I knew he meant it on Sundays. He was in tune with God. Not perfectly, but passionately. And against my objections,God drew me in to Himself through the work of my pastor.
No single sermon can do this. You can only wow people so long with skill and argumentation. Soon they will look for sincerity. This takes much longer than just hitting a home run in your pulpit, because it means you need to be at the hospital after a widow’s diagnosis and you’ll stay up until 3:00 a.m. crying with the family who just lost their baby and you’ll need to visit that prodigal in jail and you’ll have to comfort the high schooler who wants to kill himself.
This will cut into your sermon-writing, and thank God for it.
It’s right to craft good content. But the power is in Christ pouring through your rolled up sleeves, hands in the mess of beautifully broken people, restoring one fragile heart at a time. It’s in the pulpit just as much as on the ground in the trenches, creating lasting memories and loud laughter, swords drawn against the devil, tears and hugs and prayers our shield.
It’s where Jesus is, and where I want to be.