What Good Is Preaching? Vs. What Is Good Preaching?

What yardstick can we use to measure good preaching? Is a sermon good because people compliment you after the service or because the offering increases 30 percent over last week? Here are three road-tested, biblical principles you can apply to your sermons to help you answer these questions.

by Tom Lindberg

It's amazing how the same four words arranged in a different order create an entirely different question. As to the first question — What Good Is Preaching? — I will let the New Testament and 20 centuries of transformational preaching answer that. Let's think together about the second question — What Is Good Preaching?

What yardstick can we use to measure good preaching? Is a sermon good because people compliment you after the service? Or is your preaching good because the offering increases 30 percent over last week? There is a saying that is not only true, but exceptionally helpful:

“Methods are many, principles are few;

Methods always change, principles never do.”

Let's apply three road-tested, biblical principles to sermons and see if they help us crystalize good preaching.

Good Preaching Always Stirs the Mind

Have you ever said, “That's the craziest thing I've ever heard. I'm going to commit to that,” after listening to someone preach? Me neither. A good sermon always stirs the mind. Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (emphasis added). The Book of Acts reveals that Paul reasoned and persuaded people as he preached. You cannot do that without stirring the mind. And remember Romans 12:1, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed”? Ok, but how? “By the renewing of your mind,” the Bible teaches. Good preaching always stirs the mind.

Stirring the mind takes time, hard work, and clear thinking. Remember, if you have foggy thinking in the pulpit, you will have mist in the pew. Turn on the left half of your brain and go to work. People do not come to church to hear your opinions. They want to know what God says in His Word. Remember this, God never promised to bless your word, but He made a guarantee He would bless His Word.

Jeremiah nailed it when he wrote, “Let the prophet who has a dream recount the dream, but let the one who has my word speak it faithfully. For what has straw to do with grain?” (Jeremiah 23:28). Let your preaching stir up people's minds to love and serve God.

Good Preaching Always Warms the Heart

If all a preacher does is stir the mind, then you do not have a sermon; you have a classroom lecture. Do you remember when the Lord Jesus spoke to the two disciples walking on the road to a town called Emmaus? When the Lord finished His message, the two said, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” That's good preaching!

Every Sunday your church is filled with people who have questions in their minds and aches in their hearts. Therefore, you need to turn on your left brain and stir their minds. But why not also turn on your right brain so you can soothe and warm their hearts?

Let me give you a couple practical tips. First, preach in the present tense. Don't spend most of your time telling people what God did for Moses, Joshua, David, Peter, and John; tell them what God can and will do for them today! The Bible is far more than a museum or a history book. It is the wisdom and comfort of God for people in 2014. Let's realize this:

  • The person of Jesus delivers salvation and peace.
  • The principles of Jesus deliver success and prosperity.

Another practical tip is this: When I'm preparing my heart and sermon, I imagine 6 to 8 chairs around my desk. In one chair is a man who recently found out he has cancer. In another chair is a junior in high school who dreamed of making the varsity basketball team but didn't, and now he's crushed. In another chair is a 70 year-old lady whose husband died last month, and she's both lonely and afraid that she'll run out of money. In the other chairs are…. (I think you get my drift.) To successfully warm and comfort the hearts of people, picture a half-dozen people around your desk as you prepare and ask yourself, “What can I say to each of them from this text that will encourage their hearts?” As the old expression goes, if you'll preach to broken hearts, you'll always have a full church.

Good Preaching Always Challenges the Will

In Acts 2:37, Peter preached his first recorded sermon. When he finished, what did his audience ask? “Brothers, what shall we do?” Case closed — Peter challenged their wills. And good preaching always does.

You see, a sermon that explains biblical truth but makes no personal and practical application is only a theological lecture. And a sermon that exhorts and encourages Christian duty without basing that duty on doctrine is really little more than a piece of religious propaganda. Likewise, a “devotional sermon” that warms the heart will have little lasting effect if it has no doctrinal foundation and practical application. That's why good preaching…

  • Aims at the mind (doctrine).
  • Aims at the heart (devotion).
  • Aims at the will (duty).

My test of good preaching is when the people leave your worship center, they don't go away saying, “What a perfect sermon,” but “I learned something, I feel something, and I will do something!” When you inject those three elements into your sermon, you'll have good preaching. I guarantee it!