Some sermons pop and some sermons flop. Some sermons soar–they take the congregation on a journey where grace and the hope of sanctification meet. Some sermons get stuck in the mud–they keep the congregation in the same place they were when they walked in. The wheels spun but no one moved.
What am I getting at?
The difference between powerful preaching and average preaching.
And before you object, this isn’t about being the loudest or most charismatic, it’s about doing the extra work to take any sermon from decent to exceptional. The good news is, any of us can do this.
Average preaching exegetes the text, generally illustrates it, and generally applies it.
Powerful preaching, though, takes what average preaching does generally and goes the extra mile to target the untouched walls of bad theology and underlying heart issues of those who listen. At the end of the day, powerful preaching convicts and offers hope. Powerful preaching helps people see more clearly.
But if you want to go from preaching average sermons to preaching powerful sermons, you can’t forget the following two things.
Two Sadly Forgotten Elements of Powerful Preaching
1. Powerful Preaching Distinguishes
2. Powerful Preaching Specifies
These two things go together so let’s talk about them together.
We must begin with the hard work of exegesis. We must know the context of the original audience and the author. We must know what the original AIM of the text was (Authors Intended Meaning). Then, we must explain (or expose) the text’s meaning.
But we’re not done there.
We must remember that we are not just focused on what the text says when we are crafting a powerful sermon. Powerful preaching considers the people who are receiving the message just as much as it considers the text. Average preaching thinks of the people receiving the message almost as an after thought to the text.
We must remember that every person who hears a sermon we preach is coming to the sermonic moment with bad theology and heart issues that are under the surface and largely untouched.
So, we must distinguish what the text means with what it doesn’t mean or what it speaks against that people in our hearing may believe or do.
Additionally, in every sermon, there are an assortment of real-life applications you can make from a single text. Where average preaching stays general, powerful preaching gets specific.
The specificity of a message is typically shown in the illustrations and applications of a message.
An Example of Distinguishing + Specifying
Let’s consider two key texts: Matthew 9:9-11 and Matthew 10:2-4.
Matthew 9:9-11 says:
9 As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office, and he said to him, “Follow me,” and he got up and followed him.
10 While he was reclining at the table in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came to eat with Jesus and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”Matthew 9:9-11 (CSB)
2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: First, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him.Matthew 10:2-4 (CSB)
There is a lot here between these two texts from Matthew’s gospel.
But let’s ask ourselves, what key point from this text needs to be illuminated for our day and time? Additionally, let’s consider, what underlying beliefs or actions of our people does the exegesis of this text go against?
Our exegesis would expose the fact that in the first century, for a Jewish Rabbi to call a tax collector to follow him was equivalent to calling a traitor of the Jewish people to follow him.
Additionally, it would expose the fact that Jesus called a very diverse group of Jewish men to follow him. Namely, we would see the opposite ends of the political spectrum represented within Jesus’ disciples. Specifically, if tax collectors were on one end, zealots would be on the opposite end.
Average preaching would take this and say that Jesus is a wall-breaker and bridge-builder. He takes people who don’t think the same and maybe even disagree with each other and brings them together.
Powerful preaching doesn’t stop there.
Powerful preaching would distinguish:
- Jesus doesn’t fit into the political or social boxes we’ve created.
- Jesus doesn’t fit into one political party or another.
Powerful preaching would specify:
- King Jesus didn’t play partisan politics in his day.
- Your belief that the people in the other party are the enemy doesn’t line up with King Jesus.
- Christ-followers are not to have their allegiance with the party of the elephant or the donkey, but the party of the lamb.
- Christ-followers are to engage in a different politic, one that is outside of both political parties. It is a politic that is informed by the word of God, motivated by the Spirit of God, and governed by the love of God.
- So when you see another moment of partisanship rhetoric, how will you respond? Will you resolve to hold both parties accountable? Will you see your allegiance as with King Jesus?
How do you make sure you distinguish and specify in your preaching?
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