For those of you who don’t know it, I’m primarily a preacher for a Baptist church. I also do other things, but that is a pretty substantial part of every week. Now, there are dozens upon dozens of how-to preach books out there in the wild, but I thought I’d spend a little time here walking through part of how I do it.
The first thing about a sermon is this: purpose. This where some of what I learned in speech classes comes into play. Speeches come in many shapes, sizes, and forms. Some speeches are to education. Some are to inform. Some are to persuade.
Sermons are primarily intended to persuade, but they are not just a subset of the classic “persuasive speech.” While a sermon is intended to persuade the listeners of a truth, it is also intended to inform and to motivate to action. A sermon will typically also include the desire to inspire and encourage hearers in their faith.
The purpose, essentially, carries aspects of many types of speeches in it. That purpose is driven by the Word of God, because a true sermon is also a very niche type of speech. It is a speech intended to advance the cause of the Kingdom of God and not for anything else.
It is not intended to motivate for an earthly cause, even if it is a good cause. Political speeches, for example, are not sermons and sermons ought not be political speeches: while I could write a speech telling you who I think you should vote for (NOT THAT GUY!), and I could even use elements of Christianity to support that purpose…but that would not be a sermon.
Within a church, a speech could be made about how to make the budget or why a plan should be adopted, but that speech is not a sermon unless it is actually aimed at the Kingdom of God itself. It may be a good cause speech. It may be a speech about the need for organizational development. It may be a good cause.
After all, no reasonable person would object to someone suggesting we find a way to eliminate cancer or feed the hungry or end war and everyone be nice to each other. Those are not bad ideas, bad causes, bad speeches.
A sermon, though, highlights the Kingdom of God and calls people to live in it. It may include that the Kingdom will be cancer-free, because the Great Physician will heal. It may include that there will be no hunger there, for there will be no more curse on the ground or corruption to keep people from food. It may include that the swords will be plowshares and the spears pruning hooks, because the Prince of Peace reigns over all.
The sermon does not fail to include the responsibilities of the hearers to act, but it puts the focus on acting in response to the Kingdom of God. The sermon aims at results that are seen in the Kingdom. Not in church growth—though that may happen. Not in measurables about this week’s deliverables…
But in people, both individually and collectively, having one more encounter with the Risen Jesus so that they are drawn that much more to be like Him in the core of their being and the actions of their lives.