Preaching Better Sermons -or- “what I’m learning about bettering my own preaching”

A really big part of my job as a pastor is preaching messages from the Scriptures. Half of that is because that is what my particular job entails… and the other half is because communication is one of my top strengths (At least that is what the *Strengthsfinder test told me).

But my question over the years has always been this: “How do I know if I am successful at it? How do I measure my effectiveness?” These are valid questions that I believe every preaching pastor asks themselves. We ask ourselves these questions, I believe, because we all want to get better at this thing called preaching. But the problem is this: “How can we get better at something if we don’t know what better means?”

Years ago I asked a colleague these kinds of questions… and their response began to shape how I viewed this.

They said: “It depends.”

I said: “It depends on what?”

They said: “It depends on what your goal is.”


Your goal in preaching will determine how you view your effectiveness.

At almost the exact same time as I was having this conversation, Andy Stanley taught on preaching at the DRIVE conference at his church (back in 2005) . You can watch that here.

And he said the exact same thing: “Your APPROACH in preaching should be shaped by your GOAL in preaching.”  

That became a profound moment in my growth as a communicator. Up until that point, I had not ever intentionally identified a goal for why I was communicating. I would pick a section of scripture, study it, glean a message from it, and teach it… and hope that something would stick or that someone would get something out of it. But that all changed once I was challenged to intentionally identify WHY I was preaching. (the other thing I discovered is that by not intentionally identifying a goal… I was going after a goal by default, and my approach was dictating that goal. I was perfectly set up to get the results I was getting.)

There are a few different reasons why preachers communicate:

  1. Some communicate/preach to faithfully teach the text/content. Their goal is to say in the end: “I was faithful to teach it all.”
  2. Some communicate/preach to help people intellectually understand the text/content. Their goal is that the people they communicate to understand the text. What they want to say in the end is this: “My congregation knows it.”

Now… those two aren’t bad goals. In fact, those two goals right there would be great for most pastors. But I wanted something different. I guess I wasn’t content to just TEACH something (goal #1) or to have people KNOW something (goal #2). I wanted something different… something more. I wanted reason number 3:

3. Some communicate/preach to help people apply & live out what they hear and know. The goal is that the people they communicate to live differently because of what they have heard. What these communicators want to say in the end is this: “My congregation LIVES it.”

Now, I don’t think that the communicators who fall into goals #1 or #2 wouldn’t say that #3 isn’t important. In fact, I’m sure that they would say that they hoped #3 would happen. But here is the difference… their approach to HOW they communicate highlights their goal of WHY they communicate. Let’s be honest: if your goal truly is life change and life application, your approach HAS TO lend itself to that end goal.

This was it for me. This is what I wanted to accomplish through my communication and preaching. And what it meant was this: I needed to completely shift my approach to get my desired outcome.

Next week I am going to highlight what I did and what changed for me… and what is continually changing for me as it relates to HOW I communicate.

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