We've released a new version of SermonCentral! Read the release notes here.
Preaching Articles

Harry Emerson Fosdick wrote an article for Harper’s Magazine entitled What’s the Matter with Preaching?. In the article Fosdick, former pastor of the famed Riverside Church in New York, gives his principle for strong sermons. He states:

Any preacher who even with moderate skill is thus helping folks to solve their real problems is functioning. He never will lack an audience..

Solution circle in red with Problem text and pencil on textured paper

The basic idea is that a preacher should help the people solve a real problem that they are having. He continues:

Every sermon should have for its main business the solving of some problem–a vital, important problem, puzzling minds, burdening consciences, distracting lives–and any sermon which thus does tackle a real problem , throw even a little light on it, and help some individuals practically to find their way through it cannot be altogether uninteresting.

I find much to agree with and and some things to disagree with in these quotes. I agree that preachers must address people exactly where they are. This is a basic rule of communication. However, I do not agree that preaching is mere problem solving. Preaching must remind the people of another kingdom. Preaching must point to possibilities and realities that are even outside of the structures that seem to constrain us. Preaching must remind us of something that is even greater than our problems. That something is that kingdom of God that ultimately places our problems into a larger context.

So yes, address people where they are, but take them to another place to meet the Sovereign of the Universe. And then as our congregants meet that great God, hopefully, they will receive the vision as well as the tools to deal with the problems that this world gives us.

Sherman Haywood Cox II is the director of Soul Preaching. He holds the M.Div with an emphasis in Homiletics and a M.S. in Computer Science.

Browse All

Related Preaching Articles

Talk about it...

Tim Johnson

commented on Jul 31, 2015

Amen! Without Christ at the center, we are simply another fix-it conference. We all need to remember that Jesus is the answer to our lives, and be His witness every time we stand up to preach.,

William Howard

commented on Jul 31, 2015

Amen Preacher!

E L Zacharias

commented on Jul 31, 2015

Amen and amen! Every sermon should have Christ at the center--because redemption through Jesus (justification by grace through faith in JC) is the center of the Christian faith. If Jesus is not in your sermon as the "fixer-uper" for matters of faith AND life then you have a Law-and-not-a-Gospel sermon. Law does not save--it only condemns. Sadly, while Fosdick was a very good orator, many of his sermons did not focus on salvation through JC. Review your sermon: if it does not expressly say how and why Jesus is the answer to your problem (besides just saying that He died--and rose--for you) then get a Gospel handle so that you serve up a sermon that delivers the Bread of Life.

E L Zacharias

commented on Jul 31, 2015

Just a couple of notes to clarify what I just wrote. Note 1) Fosdick would be right in saying that every text presents both ?problem? and a ?solution.? If we don?t identify the problem, then our sermon might be an aimless wandering. Identify whether the text deals with a matter of FAITH (believing v doubt) or of LIFE (how we are to live our lives). Note 2) The reason we should make it a point to make Jesus central in our sermons/devotions is because Jesus is the central message of the Bible: everything points to Him, as Jesus Himself said?John 5:39?and the Letter to the Hebrews shows us. So trace the roots of every Scripture and you will find that it ends up leading to Jesus, the Vine. And as you do that, your sermon writing will be blessed?and your people as well!

Join the discussion