The Essential Elements of Good Preaching

I believe in sequential, expository preaching, so much so that I wrote an entire book about it entitled Preach the Word: Why I’m Passionate About Expository Preaching (Xulon Press: 2012). In the first two sections of the book I try to show why felt-needs topical preaching should not dominate the teaching life of the church and why sequential, expository preaching should. In the last two sections of the book I deal with the development and delivery of expository sermons because I’ve learned that not all of them are created equal. For example:

  1. It is possible to develop a sermon that seems to be emerging from the text of Scripture when in fact the text is nothing more than a launching pad for the preacher’s pre-conceived ideas.
  2. It is possible for the preacher to accurately present the meaning of a text in a way that lacks passion or potency and is therefore dull in the lives of the people. His sermon might be faithful to the truth but for whatever reason it lacks life.
  3. It is possible for the preacher to preach with accuracy and passion, and yet live in a way that undermines everything he’s preached.
  4. It is possible for the preacher to get so high-minded that he places burdens on people’s shoulders that he himself is unable and unwilling to lift.
  5. It is possible for the preacher to handle certain aspects of the text well and yet neglect other things that should have been dealt with. Of course, more can always be said about a given text but sometimes preachers, due to laziness or lack of focus, fail to address aspects of the text that really should have been addressed in a particular sermon.

Five Essential Elements of Expository Preaching

These kinds of possibilities, which I’ve witnessed in my own preaching more than that of others, led me to meditate for some weeks on this question: what elements are essential—in the strongest sense of that word—for developing expository sermons that glorify God and transform lives? What aspects of preaching give such life to the sermon that, when they’re missing, the sermon, for all intents and purposes, dies or at least falls flat?

God was very gracious to me as I pondered this question in that it didn’t take very long to formulate an answer that has stood the test of time. I think I developed my initial list in a matter of hours and, though I’ve honed it a bit here and there, it is essentially the same today as it was twelve years ago. But before I disclose that list, let me acknowledge two things.

First, I am aware that my list is just that—my list. The Lord has really used this in my life and ministry but I will be the first to admit that others who are wiser than me have better lists. So, please just take my thoughts as the musings of a preacher who loves to meditate on the nature of his craft and who is engaged in a life-long process of learning.

Second, I’m also aware that effectiveness in preaching is a bit like the wind: sometimes it’s there and sometimes it’s not, and the difference between the two is not always easy to discern. God is sovereign over preaching and He seems pleased to display His power in it as He wills and not according to a strict equation like, “When the preacher does X, God will always do Y.”

In my own preaching ministry, God has blown the wind of His Spirit upon my sermons enough to keep me encouraged and He’s withdrawn that wind enough to keep me humble. My fellow preachers, can I get an “Amen”? In the end, effectiveness in preaching is in the hands of God and no process can guarantee that our sermons will indeed glorify Him and transform lives.

However, I must hasten to add that effectiveness in preaching is not a total mystery and that there are certain combinations of things that augment the value of sermons. This brings us back to the question: what elements are essential—in the strongest sense of that word—for developing expository sermons that glorify God and transform lives? I think there are at least five of them:

  1. Preaching the actual words of the Word of God.
  2. Seeking the presence of the Holy Spirit through prayer.
  3. Pursuing a life of holiness before the Lord.
  4. Developing genuine love for the people.
  5. Giving ourselves to plain, old-fashioned hard work.

My aim in this eight-part series of blogs is to consider each of these elements in turn but in order to do that well I need to lay a little more ground work in the next two entries. Until then, let me put a few questions before you: What is your view of the nature and necessity of sequential, expository preaching? How have you seen expository sermons go awry in your own ministry? What elements do you think are essential to developing sermons that glorify God and transform lives?

Next Post: Preaching to Glorify God and Transform Lives