I believe a preacher is effective when he is faithful. Faithful not necessarily to his tradition nor to the people but to the Gospel he was called to proclaim. As a young preacher wrestling with being faithful I have given some thought to what faithfulness to the Gospel in preaching looks like. This top ten list is what I use to evaluate myself so, it may not apply to you but, nevertheless I felt the need to share it given the state of pulpits today. I feel that most sermons nowadays among the most famous evangelical preachers of our days could be preached by Dr. Phil, Deepak Chopra and, Oprah without a problem. Not because of common grace but because there’s no room for special grace. Enough said, here’s my top ten list to know if you are effectively preaching the Gospel.
You know you’re preaching the gospel effectively when…
1. In your prep you are able to see Jesus in light of every text and every text in light of Jesus. Jesus is the hermeneutical key to unlock every text because every text fulfills its main purpose when it reveals Christ. He said so himself (Lk 24:25-27,44).
2. Your reasoning sounds deep to mature christians and simple to non-christians.Both groups of people are not used to see Jesus in the Bible. The “mature christian” is not trained to read the Bible through Jesus and even when they are, they constantly need to be reminded because that’s how they grow. The non-christian on the other hand does not read the Bible and generally has a very negative view of the Bible (slavery, bigotry, violence…). Which means that, if you’re able to show Christ in the text there will be “a-ha” moments for both groups of people.
3. Change is taking place in the heart of the one who preaches before it takes place in the lives of those who receive it. When you’re able to see the Gospel in the text your heart cannot help but to burn and melt (Lk 24:32). You will begin to see your own idolatry, hopefully repent of it and, allow the truth of the Gospel to work in you before you hit the pulpit. If you allow enough time between your prep and your delivery your words will have depth. I usually give it about 2 weeks to marinate.
4. You’re able to share more out of failure than out of virtue. This one is a consequence of the previous point. When the Gospel becomes real to you there’s no shame in sharing weakness because the power of the Gospel is only made true in weakness (2 Cor 12:9). If you do this often people will not only relate more but grace will be made more real to them. Romans 7 is another great example of how this works.
5. You find yourself relying on the power of the gospel instead of relying on the intellect and emotions to be effective. I find that most preachers feel the need to quote dozens of people smarter than everybody else, cry like a baby in front of people, yell like a drill sergeant, act like a comedian, among other things, out of insecurity. Deep inside they feel the Gospel does not have enough power to do the job. (By the way, I’m not saying these things are bad in themselves, just that you should check your motives of why you keep doing it.) Part of it is that they do not have a Christ-centered hermeneutic, do not think through the deep implications of the gospel (in that particular text) for their lives and other peoples' lives, and do not go the length to explain the gospel clearly to people. I find myself constantly in this tension because I come from a cultural background that worships feelings and a tradition that worships the intellect. I find Scriptures such as Rom 1:16, 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 extremely helpful to keep the right perspective.
6. The implications of the Gospel are communicated beyond being right with God.We are made right with God so that things in the world will be made right. Part of the reason why God justifies sinners is so that everything would be redeemed (Col 1:15-20) through the power of the Spirit at work in the lives of redeemed individuals. If people are going forward and being baptized but your community is not becoming more grace-based, more sacrificial, more giving, more missional and your city is not becoming more beautiful, safe and just as a result of the people in your church, chances are that the whole gospel is not being preached.
7. There’s full emphasis on what Christ has done for change instead of what needs to be done to change. When the whole gospel is not being preached you have moralism mixed in with evangelism. So even though the “plan of salvation” may be presented at the end of every sermon, the part about “living the christian life” is based either on moralistic applications of the Bible text or on motivational/ self-help principles. This weird dichotomy produces the best kind of pharisees.
8. People are compelled by grace to believe instead of being coerced by guilt to behave. The gospel promotes an inside-out change, not an outside-in change. Behavior modification has all to do with religion and nothing to do with the Gospel. So, don’t guilt people for not changing, nor force change upon them. Preach the Gospel and allow the third person of the Trinity to do as it pleases.
9. There’s greater satisfaction that you’ve pleased God and that God is pleased with you than that you’ve pleased people and that people are pleased with you. We often measure success in preaching by the number of compliments we receive afterwards. I’m not saying that compliments are not good in terms of feedback, nor am I telling you not to accept them, but when you’re depressed the next day because you didn’t get enough, you’re motivation might be sightly out of line with the Gospel. And, if you’re not drawing your motivation from the Gospel you will find yourself being less and less willing to be faithful to the Gospel message and more and more willing to be faithful to your audience. At the end of the day if your motivation is not right, you will either grow in pride or succumb in sorrow.
10. Both religious and irreligious people are believing the Gospel. When the Gospel is preached faithfully and consistently in a community, you will experience an interesting dynamic. Both the “churchy” and the unchurched will often be offended while at the same time both will be encouraged with the hope they’re able to find in the Gospel. Meaning, in a Sunday you might get two completely different feedbacks from same demographic unchurched folks. Same with “churchy” folks. Mainly because the Gospel will be doing its job to humble the prideful and uplift the humble at the discretion of the Spirit. You’ll see both types not only mixed in the crowd weekly but coming to Jesus often. There’s no way around it.