(The following post is a lightly edited version of a pastoral article I wrote for my church a few weeks ago.)
There is something strangely odd about “evaluating” a sermon. Oh sure, we all joke about how the menu for Sunday lunch is always the same… roasted pastor. But are there good, solid ways that we should evaluate preaching?
Both ministers and congregants alike can all benefit from the task of thinking about a sermon through an objective lens. But whose lens should that be?
The Apostle Paul had a stern warning to his young apprentice Timothy. Look with me at what he told him:
[4:1] I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:  preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.  For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,  and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.  As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:1-5 ESV)
Paul didn’t mince words. A preacher can “sound” good, and be saying nothing at all. At the same time, a preacher can be “saying” the right thing and yet under the hood not believe a word of it. So what can we do? How should we as ministers seek to self-reflect and improve our craft, and we as congregants be reflective and discerning in how we determine what a “good” sermon is?
I want to give some diagnostic criteria for listening to sermons. I have borrowed these from our brothers in the Acts 29 church-planting network. This isn’t an exhaustive list (they never really are). And there may be some you don’t agree with, and there may be other things that you think should be on this list and aren’t. But let’s consider this list as a starting place.
1. The preaching assertions (points) were clearly rooted in the text and squared with the whole teaching of Scripture.
2. The central theme was an illustration of Christ – the message was clearly all about Jesus.
3. The speaker seemed in awe of God, not merely focused upon his sermon and the audience.
4. The speaker avoided moralizing or psychologizing, and distinguished these from the gospel.
5. The goal was to get people face-to-face with God, rather than merely instruct.
6. Christ and His finished work were applied as the practical solution to any problem.
7. It was clear where the preacher was driving – and the progression of points was traceable.
8. The points were presented in a fresh, wise, and striking way as opposed to boring & cliché.
9. At the end of the preaching, the main point was both clear and persuasive.
10. It was clear the speaker understood the hearers’ hopes, fears, problems, concerns, etc.
11. The central metaphor or “hook” was gripping.
12. Jesus was made visible, not just taught about.
13. There was a balance of warmth, love and humility on the one hand and force, power and authority on the other.
14. The notes followed the message and enhanced comprehension.
(taken from the Acts 29 Church Planting Network: http://www.acts29network.org/acts-29-blog/characteristics-of-good-preaching/, accessed 10/18/2012)
So why are these questions important? The point of a sermon is supposed to be moving our hearts to see and worship Jesus. No minister does it perfectly. Some sermons are better than others. But the overall thrust of a preaching ministry must be the marriage of a man and message that are enthralled with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.