What Makes for Good Preaching?

What differentiates good preaching from mediocre preaching?

Surely you know it when you hear it, but it can’t be just a subjective thing – there must be some criteria that differentiate good preaching from not-as-good preaching.

I recently heard Timothy Keller differentiate between good preaching and great preaching. He said that “good preaching” is the altar and that “great preaching” is when God brings the fire upon the altar. In other words: preachers shouldn’t strive to preach “great” sermons, but should work to preach “good” sermons – because only God can take a “good” sermon and by the power of the Holy Spirit make it a “great” sermon within the hearer.

So what makes for good preaching?

Here are some thoughts:

  • A good sermon, no matter what text it is preached from, has to preach the Gospel. Just as every town in England has a road which leads from it to London, every text in the Bible has a road from it which leads to Christ. If all the Scriptures ultimately point to Him, a good sermon must preach the Good News of Jesus Christ.
  • Yet, a good sermon must be faithful to the text. It must not manipulate the text to simply be a “proof text” to back up the point that the speaker wants to make; it must be true exegesis, which determines what the author, and God through the author, intended to communicate through that text.
  • Furthermore, good preaching is an art form – it must be informative, it must be touching emotionally, and it must be moving inspirationally.  I heard Timothy Keller say that when you are preaching, people should be taking notes, but when you get to the part of your sermon that is about Jesus, you should seek to portray him as so captivating that people can’t help but stop taking notes when you talk about Him, and when they leave, they should leave wanting to do something because of what they’ve heard.
  • Another friend of mine – and an elder at White Fields Church – put it this way:
    • In our conversation he even put it this way: “A good sermon takes you to a place you’ve never been before, or it takes you to a place that is so intimate that you are emotionally moved”

What do you think?  What are other essential elements of “good” preaching? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

7 thoughts on “What Makes for Good Preaching?

  1. Recipe: Read the Word – Give Parables that accentuate the Word – Allow the Word to be lit on Fire by the Holy Spirit. All the work of the Heart is done by Abba Father. The Veil was torn by Jesus Christ. Nick is a very effective acceptable extension. His Natural talent is aided by His tremendous Heart for the Lord – Which in turn produces much study & preparation in delivering the Message.

  2. My comment is: I like the way it was said better than I like the way it was tweeted. I don’t know why, but the word “preaching” has always had a sort of negative connotation to me. It seems more pentecostal or charismatic to me for some reason – like you are exhorting someone to do something. There are certainly great preachers – I think of people like George Whitfield, Billy Graham, and maybe even Greg Laurie. I am more in love with the idea of sharing the Gospel than preaching it. If Gospel means good news, or glad tidings, I think that sharing them is more in line with what a good pastor would do. “I am sharing good news with you” would be the idea. As a pastor you would share what you read, share what you know, and share how it impacted you. I know this may seem like semantics, but I think it is more than that – it provokes that spirit of intimacy. If the scripture you are teaching from affected you – as it should – then share that with your congregation. The Holy Spirit should direct our studies, and in doing so we should experience each volume of scripture anew each time we read it. Sharing that experience is the biggest blessing a pastor can give his followers. Sorry about the rant, but this has been heavily on my mind of late.

    1. Certainly for all of us certain words carry baggage and connotations and evoke emotions. The word preach has certainly been around since before the Pentecostal movement and is used many times in the Bible.
      For me the word preach carries the connotation of proclamation. If you look at the etymology of the word, that is what it means: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=preach

      However, I do understand and appreciate your point – I like the idea of the spirit of intimacy in the message. And words do carry connotations and evoke emotions – and we must be sensitive to that. Probably many (most?) people would tend towards a pejorative understanding of the word “preach” – i.e. “Christians are always so ‘preachy'”, “stop preaching at me”, etc.

      Thanks for the rant 🙂 I always appreciate the dialogue and the sharpening that takes place through it.

  3. I think of good preaching, a.k.a sharing the gospel or teaching the gospel, is when you speak God’s word to others and they relate to it. Because I have heard some who obviously know the Word but try to sound so wise and knowledgable that they miss the point of sharing the Word, and it goes right over the heads of those listening.
    Know your audience I guess- what comes to my mind as a Sunday school teacher is you have to remember you cannot tell kids 9-11 the same thing you would tell an adult. No cookie cut sermons.

    Another example is “Let God do the Work”. If He is leading you cannot go wrong!

    Lastly the pastor must practice what he preaches. To give a sermon and those hearing know he doesn’t do so himself can only effect the quality of what was preached. By quality I mean the hearer could be distracted by this knowledge and then miss the message that was taught. This I would not call a good sermon.

    That is my thoughts….great discussions!

    1. Great points! – particularly the one about knowing your audience and relating to them. I think that’s hard for a lot of pastors and teachers because in a sense, they prepare their sermon in a vacuum (their office) where they read books which may be very interesting and intriguing, yet very distant and somewhat irrelevant to where their people are at.

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