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.
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 became 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 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.
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 has learned something through the question and answer process.
‘Because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge’Ecc 12:9.
1 Jun 2016: what constitutes a good minister?