Practical preaching is a good thing. A preacher should explain the biblical passage so that listeners can apply it in the power of the Holy Spirit. When a sermon strays from God’s word, or wanders from His purpose for preaching, it cannot be practical.
What we mean by “practical” is everything. In our zeal to be practical, preaching can easily deteriorate into something impractical. Here are five guidelines I try to follow as I seek to keep preaching practical.
1. The subject preached must be the Bible.
I understand that depending on where you are in the Christian tradition, this first guideline might be controversial. When Moses was reflecting on Israel’s sojourn in the wilderness, he said the Lord taught them that, “…man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3, ESV). People can go many places to hear the opinions of experts. They come to church because they know they need God’s word. They come to find sustenance for life.
2. The diet of preaching must be rich and varied.
I am not against topical preaching. However, as a pastor the Lord will hold be to account for feeding His sheep a healthy diet. The danger of dwelling constantly upon pet subjects is real. We can easily become one trick ponies. It’s one reason that I regularly preach through books of the Bible. Even with consecutive preaching, it’s possible to climb on one’s soap box. But to the extent that we deal with the text, it will constrain us to cover subjects we might otherwise avoid.
3. The impact of preaching must include knowing the Bible.
A sermon’s impact should be for tomorrow as well as today. As congregants take part in worship week in and week out, and those weeks turn into years, they should have a growing knowledge of the Bible. Like a master docent who leads listeners through the wonders of the museum sermons should orient people to the Bible. If the docent does a good job, the next time those listeners return the museum, they will know their way around.
4. The call of preaching must be to action rooted in faith.
The word of God sometimes confronts, sometimes comforts, and sometimes calls for specific action. But it always calls for faith. The apostle Paul writes, “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). If all people need is seven steps to successful children, or five steps to a happy life, they can find it elsewhere. A sermon should not only tell people what to do, but must also direct them to the power by which they can do it.
5. The content of preaching must be Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.
On the road to Emmaus Jesus walked and talked with two of His disciples. “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27, ESV). The whole Bible is about Jesus. People aren’t the heroes of the Bible. The hero of the Bible is the Triune God. Sermons ought to present God as the hero also.
How would you define practical preaching? What do you appreciate in hearing a sermon?