Today, a few reminders related to content. First of all..
1. Good content includes your own personal reflection and experience with the text.
The sermon is more than a history lesson or a study in Greek grammar. It’s also more than just telling your listeners what they need to do.
The sermon needs to be — to some extent — a testimony of how this Biblical truth has played itself out in your life.
Sometimes it may be a testimony of victory, as in: Let me tell you how today’s message has helped me to live a more victorious life in Jesus Christ.
Other times it may be a testimony of confession, as in: This is an area in which I struggle, too, and I’m working on it.
Your listeners need to know that you’re not merely teaching a subject, and you’re not merely telling them from a distance what they need to believe and how they need to behave. Your listeners also need to know that the message you preach and the principles you teach have a personal component.
For this reason I encourage pastors to include personal reflection on the text and at least one personal illustration in each message.
When you’re talking about how to deal with discouragement, for example, share your own story of discouragement.
When you’re talking about persistence in prayer, tell your listeners about your own prayer journey.
Make sure you include a part of yourself in each sermon you preach.
On the other hand, keep in mind that…
2. Good Content Requires Layers of Research.
Occasionally I will hear a sermon in which the first point above is taken to an extreme, as in: the message consists exclusively of the preacher’s personal take on the text, and how it relates to his or her own life experience. There are no references to Biblical commentary or scholarship, no quotes or insights from theologians or preachers, and every illustration is taken straight from the preacher’s life.
This is not so much a message as it is a memoir: “Let me tell you all about me and what this verse means to me and how this makes me feel.”
While the sermon needs to include some amount of personal history, it needs to include much more. Your listeners need to know the background of the text, they need to hear what scholars have said about it, and they need to see how the principles taught in today’s message can be found elsewhere in Scripture.
When it comes to illustrations, they need more than vignettes from your daily life. Personal illustrations are good — as well as essential — to an effective message. But by themselves they’re not enough.
When you can, use Illustrations from the world of sports, business, history, or entertainment. Use examples from the lives of others. Use quotes from leaders and thinkers to summarize your best ideas.
In other words, make your message about something more than your own perceptions and life experience. Let the wisdom, knowledge, and experience of others contribute to your sermon preparation.
Here’s a third content-related principle to remember.
3. Good content is as much about the listener as it is the topic.
In order to become doers of the Word, your listeners need to understand how the Biblical text connects to their daily lives.
The story of Abraham, for example, is not just a story of a righteous man who lived long ago. His story teaches us the principles of faith and obedience.
The Parable of the Prodigal is not just a lesson in ancient Jewish family dynamics. It teaches us the principles of sin, repentance, mercy, and reconciliation. Listeners need to understand the principles driving this parable, and how they relate to our daily lives: ie, Our God is not aloof; he goes so far as to run in the direction of our redemption.
I’m saying that your listener needs to understand — with each and every message — that this sermon is about me, the listener: What Christ has done for me, what Christ is calling me to do for him.
Therefore, we need to avoid the temptation to make the sermon about the absent “they”, as in: Let’s talk about what others are doing wrong and how they need to make things right. An effective sermon challenges the listener to take his or her own step of obedience.
In addition to going as deep into the text as time will permit … in addition to sharing your own personal experience with the text and topic … make sure that you include your listener in your sermon. Give them reason to say every week, “The preacher is preaching to me.”