SAGADA, PHILIPPINES—The pastor of a large church recently asked me if I would be willing to provide sermon coaching to help his youth pastor. After a couple of phone conversations about ministry and preaching, I sent a stream-of-conscience email to the fledgling preacher that included nine somewhat random preaching tips.
1. INTRO. Concerning a sermon introduction, shorter is always better. Get to the text as fast as you can. Long introductions are rarely helpful, and often become a distraction. Move all non-essential stories, words, ideas from the intro, and if those stories, words, or ideas deserve to be in the sermon, you can always insert them after reading the text.
2. READ. While preaching, never speed-read your text, or shorten it by only reading a small portion. Read the whole text with passion, pauses, emotion, energy, and emphasis—with no comments until you finish reading the whole text. Let the text speak. Approach the reading of the text as the most important part of the sermon.
3. TEXT. After reading the text, preach the text. Stay in the text. Go deep in the text. Make sure everything you say is coming from the text. Remember that life-changing power is in His word, not in your words.
4. CONTEXT. Do not bore your audience with contextual trivia. While explaining the context is necessary, resist the temptation to say everything you now know about ancient Middle Eastern food, geography, and religion. Delete every context comment that does not directly contribute to the your main point. Leave it on the editing floor, or save it for another message.
5. STOP. Prepare how you will stop your sermon, and plan to stop five minutes before your time limit. A rushed ending is not a good ending, so make sure you plan plenty of time to end properly.
6. HEART. It is more important for people to catch God’s heart about the text/topic than to remember your points. If they catch God’s heart, they will be transformed. If they remember your points, well, they actually won’t remember them, so focus on the heart.
7. LOVE. Effective preaching requires more than properly exegeting a text, it also demands a proper exegesis of the culture and community. In other words, good preaching requires loving the Bible and loving the people listening. Don’t preach until you are certain that you actually know, understand, love, and care for the people who will hear your sermon. Preaching is supposed to be a “speaking the truth in love” thing, therefore love is somewhat important.
8. ACTION. When we want to move people to action, especially evangelistic action, it is better to emphasize what Christ did for us rather than what we do for Him. My favorite seminary homiletics professor said it like this, “Preachers either guilt or gospel their people to action.” Since most church people already have more than enough guilt, preachers might want to pick the gospel option.
9. AUDIENCE. God is your ultimate audience. Preach to honor Him. Do not preach to please the senior pastor, the first-time visitor, the big tither, or the know-it-all critic. The best preaching is done to please the Lord, even if no one else is pleased.