What constitutes a ‘good’ sermon?

The answer to this question is subjective, although it ought to be objective.

The difficulty in making it objective is that everyone has a different idea of ‘good’.

The preacher will have a different assessment from his hearers, and the hearers will differ according to their readiness to receive instruction from the preacher. Even Jesus said: ‘If I say the truth, why do you not believe Me?’ John 8:46.

Sermons are preached for people to hear, read, note, learn, remember, digest and put into practice Christian teaching explained from the Bible. Thus there needs to be sufficient content to satisfy these.

Some sermons are so unbalanced that they are purely didactic, giving information, with no suggestion for action. However, these are not as common as those sermons that have no didactice content but are entertainment to create ‘a feel-good’ factor, to qualify as a ‘good’ sermon. Sometimes the action suggested is purely repetitive and simplistic – such as the preacher’s hope and expectation that his hearers will return for more the next week. If they do so, some preachers are content. If they don’t, some preachers don’t notice. Some notice but don’t care – at least their failure to follow-up suggests that they don’t care. Unlike the shepherd who goes after lost sheep, they assume that their sermons are good enough and they have nothing to learn from why the sheep went astray.

Spin
In the 1980s I became aware of people spinning sermons. Spin did not begin with the Tony Blair Government although the concept was popularised at that time so that people began to understand the concept. In the ecclesiastical context, spin is that activity whereby those who have listened to a sermon are influenced in their judgment of it by others going around afterwards and commending it with leading questions such as “Wasn’t that a good sermon?” or “Didn’t he get on well?” in order to pressurise others into the same assessment or at least not raising any criticism of its inadequacy.

So what?

So what if the preacher got on well? We did not go to church to discover if the preacher got on well. Neither are we there to make him feel good. We are there to worship God and to learn more about Him.

Indeed, so what? is a good question to ask and to answer about any sermon and a good sermon will address this question on a regular basis.

Dealing with spin

So when someone asks me a leading question such as “Wasn’t that a good sermon?” I reply, as the Saviour often did, with another question: “What did you get out of it yourself?” After all, they thought it was ‘a good sermon’, so let them share the good things they got from it, and then there may be a profitable discussion.

“What did you think of the sermon?” is an open question, which is worthy of a judicious answer. If there were more questions and answers after sermons, congregations would be better informed, sermons would effect more good, and possibly every sermon could be turned into ‘a good sermon’ if for no other reason than that everyone learns something through the question and answer process.

‘Because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge’

Ecc 12:9.

Update:

1 Jun 2016: what constitutes a ‘good’ minister?

9 thoughts on “What constitutes a ‘good’ sermon?

  1. Donald Macaskill

    Good thoughts Donald. I agree with all you say here.

    I have discovered that a good sermon is not necessarily one that had good doctrine and application and was enjoyed (although these things ought to be present), but rather a good sermon is one which actually caused the hearers/readers to change their behaviour for the better. The power of the Spirit brought about change in conduct. Blessings, Don

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  2. How does one actually begin to work out what “constitutes a good sermon”? Is it one where the speaker has it written down in front of him and reads it to his congregation? Or is it one where the speaker spends a while looking for a text of scripture and then meditates upon it? Or is it one where the speaker writes a few heads on a piece of paper or card? Recently when our minister has been away we have had both versions of the above. One end of the day the speaker has several full scrap sheets of paper with his sermon written on it and at the other end of the day we have a speaker who writes a few thoughts on a particular verse of scripture or verses of scripture and speaks on that for a short while.

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    1. Donald

      David,
      You have demonstrated that the answer to this question is subjective. Each person has their own idea. The reason for the question and the blogpost is because of those who ask the leading question afterwards: “Wasn’t that a good sermon?”

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  3. I have often wondered what constutes a “good sermon” myself. The reason I say that is that you often see strangers walking in at the start of the service and within say an hour or so, they are looking at their watches etc and wondering should we get up and leave? Or should we just wait till the end of the service.

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    1. Donald

      David,
      You’ve raised the question whether a preacher should tell the congregation how long the service lasts. I remember an elder saying that if the congregation is looking up then carry on; if they are looking down, prepare to stop. People can listen for a long time if the sermon is interesting.

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  4. Sometimes when the speaker is reading their sermon you can barely hear what they are saying because they are not looking at the congregation and sometimes its as if they are mumbling! That might also put people off too.

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  5. What I meant was some people might not like listening to a long drawn out sermon especially if they are a stranger who may have walked in off the street after the service had commenced.

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  6. Re the comment posted on 12 April at 12:28pm. What I meant was strangers walking into a service once it has commenced don’t realise that the service could last approx 90 minutes. Therefore after say an hour or so they start to wonder who long to go. At no point was I suggesting that the speaker conducting the service should indicate who long he plans to speak for.

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