What is a Good Sermon?

It’s Monday, and a lot of preachers have spent some time self-critiquing what happened yesterday during the preaching moment. This weekly process of examination is nearly unavoidable, so it’s important we pay attention to what questions we ask.

It’s important a preacher know how to answer the question, “How’d I do?” I understand the danger in asking such a question. So, perhaps we can try this one on for size: In a sentence, what makes a good sermon? Obviously, answering that question is challenging on two fronts. First, one must come up with the extended play version of the answer…an explanation in however many words necessary of what makes a good sermon a good sermon. Then, there’s the simplification process. It’s tricky simplifying something nuanced like an answer to the “good sermon” question. We should do it anyway.

The reason this exercise matters is because when people tell you on Sunday after assembly, “Good message today!” we need to know what they mean. We also need to know what we mean by “good message,” so we have a target. Like it or not, we’re going to self-critique afterwards. So, let us self-critique the right way. Let’s know what a good message is versus a bad or a useless sermon. Let’s clarify what we mean and help the church understand what a good sermon is, as well.

That way, when they say, “Good sermon,” and you are self-critiquing later, it’s more than a feeling. You can say to yourself:

  • Was it anchored in the biblical text and Gospel?
  • Was it faithful to the text?
  • Did the congregation learn anything?
  • Did the congregation feel anything?
  • What did sermon answer the question: If we took that text seriously, what in our lives would need to change?
  • Did the church sense I really believed what I was saying?

The odds are, if you can answer, “yes,” to these questions, you preaching a good sermon.

Question: What do you think makes a good sermon?

Author: Tim Spivey

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

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7 Comments

  1. As someone sitting in the congregation and listening to the sermon, I think a sermon is good when I come away both convicted (having identified a place in my life that needs to change) and encouraged. Some folks preach in a way where I just come away feeling bad and powerless, or like there is a passive-aggressive use of the sermon (pastors who avoid conflict but then take it out on people through their sermons)…or others are so obvious and pat that I am not challenged or my thinking is not stretched.

    There is something really beautiful, though, when the sermon helps with the growing process, both in pointing out the weeds and in helping me rest in God’s provision and providence and strength through the sometimes painful weeding process.

    Of course, God can work through anything he chooses…and a pastor’s faithfulness to Scripture is the most important element of all, followed by the pastor’s authenticity and humility. Just sharing what I am feeling when I dub a sermon (or teacher) “really good.”

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    • Jessica, that was a fantastic comment. I couldn’t agree more, and your observation about the use of preaching as passive aggressivism is really insightful. I’ve certainly seen that happen.

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  2. Was it clear? Was it useful/helpful? Did it increase understanding of the text that will produce faithful following of Jesus? And, of course, was I funny? :-)

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