The Faculty of Calvin Theological Seminary is committed to helping students become excellent communicators of God's Word. As part of the process of founding the Center for Excellence in Preaching, the faculty of CTS worked together to create a statement on what constitutes excellent preaching. Reflected in this statement are key values that CTS seeks to instill into its students as well as key questions to ask of any sermon. We present this statement here as a tool that preachers can use to evaluate their own preaching. However, the nature of this statement is such that this could become a tool for Elders, Deacons, and others to use when called upon to evaluate sermons.
Faculty Statement on the Nature of Excellence in Preaching
Excellent preaching is biblical, authentic, contextual, and life-changing.
By the power of the Holy Spirit, preaching moves from the text through the preacher into a specific situation toward the gospel's goal.
Preaching is an exposition of scripture that proclaims the revelation of God and the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ with fidelity to the creeds and confessions of the church.
Through a historical, grammatical, literary study of a passage in its particular context and in a broader Trinitarian interpretive framework of Scripture as a whole, the Christian preacher must arrive at the textual message and goal with a view to proclaiming the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This message must reflect not only exegetical engagement with the biblical text but also theological engagement with the broader historical and doctrinal conversation surrounding the text.
Deeply biblical preaching proclaims a transcendent and divine Word from the Lord. In a secular world that believes it can live without God, preaching brings radical news about a bigger world, a new world, the real world. Christian preaching deals with profound, life-and-death matters that have eternal consequences. It is momentous.
Questions to ask of a sermon:
- Was this sermon rooted in a particular text of Scripture?
- What was the main point of the sermon? What was the main point of the text? Did the sermon say what the text says (theme) and do what the text does (purpose)?
- What did this sermon tell you about Jesus Christ? What did it tell you about what Scripture says about our situation and about God's work of redemption?
- How did this sermon deepen your knowledge and/or appreciation of God's Word?
- Was the sermon faithful to the central doctrines of the Christian faith and the creeds and confessions of the church?
Preaching reflects the preacher's commitment to embody the preached word.
In union with Christ and in the fullness of the Holy Spirit, preachers themselves must be suffused with "the life of God" (Eph. 4:18). This deep union with Christ must manifest itself in the form of godliness and integrity on the part of the preacher. Christian preaching has authority, conviction, and passion because its source is not merely the preacher but Christ making his appeal through the preacher.
Questions to ask of a sermon:
- In so far as you know this preacher, is there integrity between the preacher's words and life?
- Did the preacher's tone and demeanor fit with the message of the text, the purpose of the sermon, and the preaching situation as a whole?
- Did the preacher exhibit passion and conviction through the message? (This is not a question about the decibel level of the sermon, but about its power, its resonance, and the sense it gives the listener that this preacher deeply believes the message of the sermon and strongly desires that listeners will know and follow God more as a result of this sermon.)
Preaching must be sensitive to the cultural and congregational context in which it takes place.
Every congregation lives in a specific habitat, with distinctive sensibilities about appropriate dress, language, ways of talking, music, art, and length of sermon and service. Preachers must be diligent students not just of Scripture but of the culture into which they seek to proclaim the gospel so that the sermon truly engages the listener, creating a true meeting of meanings.
Preaching must demonstrate a deep empathy with the broken condition, the "trouble," the needs, the human situation of those who listen, and proclaim the good news in ways that effectively address that broken condition.
Preaching must be communicationally effective, i.e., clear, interesting, suspenseful, well-organized, poignant and effectively delivered. In a culture where people are saturated with mass media stimulation that sizzles communicationally, preaching must be communicationally designed to win a hearing and move human hearts. Put negatively, preaching should not be boring.
While authentic Christian preaching must be culturally appropriate, it must also challenge and confront cultures and religions whose worldview is at odds with the kingdom of God. Christian preaching is in the world, for the world, yet not of the world.
Questions to ask of a sermon:
- Did the sermon give evidence that the preacher knows this congregation as well as the broader cultural context of non-Christians in the audience? If so, please give examples.
- Did the preacher give evidence of a deep understanding of the broken condition, the "trouble," the needs, the human situation of those who listen, and proclaim the good news of the gospel in ways that effectively address that broken condition? If so, please give examples.
- Was the sermon communicationally effective? Was it clear? Interesting? Well-organized? Did the sermon keep your attention? Were there any distractions in the preacher's delivery?
Preaching proclaims the gospel of grace, calling people at once to believe it and to live a new life that fits with it.
"So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new" (2 Cor. 5:17). Preaching seeks our continuing conversion, our "dying and rising with Christ" (see Ro. 6:1-11), always acknowledging that this new life comes as a gift of the Spirit and in the context of Christ's body, the church.
Preaching is always connected with the church. Preaching seeks to be part of the Spirit's work in creating a new people and a new community. Preaching is an act of the church and is one of the means of grace by which Christ gathers and builds his church. Preaching is integrally related to Christ' s purposes for the church, namely, "to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ" (Eph. 4:12-13), and that "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Rom. 10:13).
Preaching ultimately goes beyond the church itself and proclaims the kingdom rule of God over all things and mission of God "to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. " (Col. 1:20).
Questions as ask of a sermon:
- What was the purpose of this sermon as you heard it?
- What did the sermon encourage or empower you to do? What behaviors or attitudes did it confront?
- What grace and hope did you hear in the sermon?
- In what ways did this sermon build up the body of Christ and you as a part of it?
- How did the sermon relate to unbelievers in the audience?