I remember that when I was in college in communist Romania, pastors were very few. The government allowed only about two new seminary students a year, so most pastors could not retire. I was a member of a very large church, and the pastor was about 88 years old. He could hardly breathe or stand. He would speak so slowly that people could almost leave and come back between words! Most parishioners were either sleeping, talking, or reading.
Eventually he retired, and a new pastor came. He was spiritual, energetic, and creative; he used stories and parables. His sermons were profoundly spiritual. The church was packed, and new people kept coming every Sabbath.
That leads me to think about Jesus. Jesus’ sermons were full of power— not power because He screamed; He didn’t—but power because they transformed the listeners. His sermons were profound, spiritually charged, and captivating. People kept learning and growing, and they wanted to hear more.
I noticed that powerful, spiritual sermons such as those Jesus and the new Romanian pastor gave depend on three ingredients: fervent prayer, thorough preparation, and a connecting delivery.
Prayer is the most important ingredient. It does more than any research. A lot of work and planning may provide a very informed message, yet it may not change hearts. A much-prayed-for and Spirit-inspired sermon may be simple, yet have the power to touch and transform.
Pray to speak Jesus’ words. We should not worry about whether people like the sermon or not; our concern should be whether we allow the Holy Spirit to use us and whether people will be changed, revived, and saved.
Reflection and preparation are crucial. The best lessons come from real-life stories and incidents. They appeal to people because they touch real needs. While personal devotional time should not be used for sermon preparation, many times sermon ideas come from it.
Seek God’s message. Do not find support for your ideas; rather, find what the Bible says and adjust your ideas to the Bible. Use the Spirit of Prophecy and other books—read, read, read. Analyze the passages you read and compare them with others on the same subject.
Sermon preparation involves many aspects:
- Do exegesis if possible.
- Read the story in the Bible, the Spirit of Prophecy, Bible commentaries, and other books. Read several Bible translations.
- Ask yourself questions related to the subject!
- If you have access to Bible Works, Logos, or eSword, use it.
- Use commentaries, archaeology, history. Share what happened, what it meant back then, and how it is relevant for today.
- Give series of sermons because people need to hear subjects many times to understand, decide, and change.
- Sermons should not be too short—you will have no time to prepare the audience, present the lesson, and have an appeal. Neither should the sermon be too long. Listeners will get tired and forget it all.
- Stick with the main subject, do not get lost in too many explanations, examples, or secondary subjects. Stick with three or four main lessons.
- Sermons can have about five parts:
- Present a very short plot or story.
- Show many options or directions and perspectives.
- Give or help them see the good option or view.
- Give solutions.
- Make an appeal.
- Tell them at least a story or two, one at the beginning, one at the end. Stories touch the hearts, help people remember the lesson, and are not threatening or imposing.
Clear and heartfelt delivery is vital.
- Pray that people will be transformed and saved.
Read the sermon many times before you deliver it. Do not read it during delivery, but underline two or three key words in each paragraph to remind you. This method will allow the Holy Spirit to inspire you.
Use narrative, examples, images, charts, objects, and practical applications from daily life.
Engage, interact with, and challenge listeners to be part of the sermon. Use songs, interviews, and questions.
Ask questions that challenge the congregation and then help them discover the answers themselves.
- Make eye contact, and be aware of your body language.
- Change your vocal intonation. Make it feel like a real conversation. Do not speak too fast or too slow.
- Produce and distribute an outline for people to take with them.
- A sermon has no value unless it has an appeal. Challenge the listeners to make a decision today.
While preaching, we should let God speak and show Himself through us. Inspired by God’s Spirit, the sermon should touch, transform, and save. Sermons should lead to revival and mobilize the church. May God use our preaching to fulfill His purpose and hasten His coming.
1 Richard Littledale, Preachers A–Z (Edinburgh, UK: Saint Andrews Press, 2008), 181.
2 James Denney, The Death of Christ: Its Place and Interpretation in the New Testament (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1907), 326, 327.
3 Ellen G. White, Sons and Daughters of God (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1955), 247.
4 Littledale, Preachers A–Z, 101.
5 Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1941), 130.