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How to Bake a Good Sermon

5 ingredients for a biblically substantive and culturally relevant sermon.
How to Bake a Good Sermon

What makes a sermon good? That has been a notoriously difficult question to answer. There are really only four kinds of sermons: biblically shallow and contextually irrelevant; biblically substantive and contextually irrelevant; biblically shallow and contextually relevant; biblically substantive and contextually relevant. The last option is the one preferred by the preacher, listener, and, no doubt, God. But what does it look like look for a sermon to be substantive and relevant? Here are five essential ingredients for the baking of good sermons.


The angel said to Joseph about Mary, "that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 1:20). If the same thing is going to be said about the preacher, as it should, the sermon must say something of substance about God—Father, Son, or Spirit. I admit with shame that too many of my sermons were shallow. They might have offered good advice about marriage, parenting, finances, or time management, but they didn't speak much of the will and way of God. It was the kind of stuff my people could get from a popular talk show. God is what they should have gotten from my sermons.

A good sermon is baked when substantive content is effectively communicated through a person of character in a way that connects with listeners and incarnates Christ.

In order to combat this shallowness, before it became a terrible trend in my preaching, I developed a series of questions to guide the sermon toward a theological bull's eye. What will the sermon say of substance about God? What part(s) of the biblical meta-narrative (Creation, Fall, Salvation, Mission, Restoration) will the sermon illuminate? How will the application of this sermon depend on one's relational connection or submission to God? How will this sermon proclaim the gospel in a way that is honest about the human problem (sin, struggle, shame) and divine grace (reconciliation, redemption, restoration)? What might someone conclude about God based upon this sermon?


The good sermon not only speaks of God, it is spoken by a godly person. Good sermons are proclaimed by people of character. Cruciformity is one of the most indispensable traits of the preacher. Egotism is hazardous to preachers. Paul wrote, "I (Greek: ego) am crucified with Christ" (Gal. 2:20a). Preaching is perfectly designed for the crucifixion of the ego and if our ego doesn't get crucified, our ministry will. The cruciform preacher does not seek to impress people and elevate self, but to transform people and glorify God.

Compassion is another essential characteristic of the preacher who preaches good sermons. If we love the Bible and preaching more than we love the people to whom we preach the Bible, something is seriously wrong. Jesus was the compassion king. Compassion for Jesus was not some warm fuzzy but a deep in the bowels of the soul love that moved him to act on another's behalf. Compassion is the capacity to put ourselves in the situational shoes of the listeners so that we feel their pain and address it through preaching.

Courage is a must. Paul asked the Ephesians to pray for his preaching of the gospel. He wrote, "Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should" (Eph. 6:20b). Christian preaching is not for cowards. Preaching requires the courage to follow a biblical text wherever it leads, even if it leads to places the preacher would rather not go. Do we have the moxie to preach not only against injustice in the world but also injustices in the church? Do we possess the courage to preach on war in a way that offends the sensibilities of both Republicans and Democrats in the congregation? Are we brave enough to preach on sexuality in a manner that is redemptive enough to offend legalists and honest enough to challenge those with liberal leanings? Again, preaching is not for cowards.


Sermons are not only good when they contain substantive content and come through a person of character, they must also connect to listeners. The preacher must find creative ways to put the gospel in a container from which particular listeners can drink. It is challenging, to say the least, to connect to a room full of people with a diversity of spiritual needs and listening capacities. That doesn't let us off the hook. We must, by God's grace, find ways to appeal to the variety of our listener's listening styles.

Some people listen primarily with their mind for exegetical information. They care deeply about the meaning of words and the historical background of the text. They really want to know what happened to the Jebusites! They love sermons with titles like "3 Conflicts in the Corinthian Congregation" and "Principles of Love from Ecclesiastes 4." Dave wanted my sermons to drip with exegetical juice. When I preached, I considered how Dave would listen to the sermon.

Others listen to sermons with their heart for illustrative inspiration. They need stories for the heart that inspire them to live for Christ. They might be the only people who can't get enough of the preacher's testimonial stories. They crave sermons with titles like, "You Matter to God" and "Comfort for the Broken-Hearted." Rene accessed sermons through her heart. When I told stories about the life-transforming interactions of people with God, Rene leaned in. I pictured Rene when writing my sermons.

There are others who listen mostly with their soul for theological reflection. Theologically reflective listeners want to focus on the forest not the trees, unlike those who listen for exegetical information and want to dig down deep into one passage. The want to explore the thread of God's nature and will as revealed through the biblical long-view. These listeners want sermons on "Implications of the Incarnation" and "The Trinity as a Model for Community." Lynda listened with her soul for theological reflection. She didn't want simple answers to complex questions. She felt at home in conceptual language. I pictured Lynda when crafting my sermon.

Then there are people who listen with their hands for practical application. They want to know how to live for God at home, in the workplace, at school, or in the neighborhood. They are doers who want life-application from every sermon. "How to Develop Healthy Relationships" and "Five Traits of Financial Faithfulness" are the kinds of sermon titles that appeal to them. Rich worked on Wall Street and was a bottom-line kind of guy. I imagined how Rich would access my sermons.

If I was going to connect with a diversity of people in my congregation, I had to include in each sermon elements that would connect to the mind, heart, soul, and hands.


Of course, substantive and relevant content must be delivered well. Having something to say but saying it poorly will diminish the power of the sermon. If preaching is an oral not a written form of communication, why do so many preachers spend almost all of their time writing and almost no time speaking the sermon? A rule of thumb for me, and one that I encourage my preaching students to adopt, is to devote 25% of the overall sermon preparation time to delivery. So, if you have 10 hours to prepare for the sermon before the preaching event, spend 2.5 hours prayerfully practicing what you will preach. I internalize the sermon by memorizing the entire flow and the key parts like the introduction, conclusion, and illustrations. Although I write a complete manuscript, I preach from a one page outline, one picture mind-map, or without any notes. If I spend adequate time practicing what I preach before I preach it, I can really be present in the preaching event.


Ultimately, what makes a good sermon good has much more to do with God than with the preacher. A good sermon happens when Christ comes through our words to listeners in a manner that transforms the substance of our lives into something extraordinary. Just like Christ comes to us through the common bread and cup of Communion, so Christ comes to us through the common words of some common being we call preacher. With Paul, "we preach Christ" (1 Cor. 1:23a).

There is no way to force Christ to come through the words of our sermons. God is not bound by our rhetorical rules. Christ does, however, seem most present when the ingredients of content, character, connection and communication are added generously to the preaching event.

A good sermon is baked when substantive content is effectively communicated through a person of character in a way that connects with listeners and incarnates Christ.

Lenny Luchetti is the lead pastor of Woodland Church (Battle Creek, MI) and the author of Preaching Essentials: A Practical Guide and Preaching with Empathy: Crafting Sermons in a Callous Culture .

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