*Editor's Note: This was #3 on our Top Posts of 2012. _
There are plenty of great resources explaining the best way to preach a sermon. One can find many books, articles, podcasts, and more to help with sermon preparation and delivery. In fact, we have a great conversation and an in-depth series on preaching on this blog that more than cover all the bases.
As I've preached many times and coached others, I typically come back around to a few major points. My hope is that these practical tips add another helpful wrinkle to the topic:
1. Be faithful to the text - Often times, God will draw you toward a particular passsage of Scripture. Own it. Let your study of the text bring out the truth in it. I have been guilty of forming an opinion about a text despite the text itself. Be careful. Extra study may challenge your opinion, but it will cause a deeper appreciation for the passage. Do not make the mistake that I have made several times by milking the verses to fit a particular illustration or point that you want to make. People will notice if you're stretching the truth to make a point. Even if it isn't as "exciting" as you had hoped, God did not waste a word. Pay attention to context and flow. Trust God with the results; you be faithful in preparation.
2. Make Christ the hero - If your sermon lacks Jesus, you're doing it wrong. Of course, there is ample Scripture that seems totally unrelated to Jesus, but he is the culmination of it as he explained to two people on the road to Emmaus. Again, don't stretch the text, but be aware of how the gospel either applies or enhances the practicality of the message. At the very least, end each sermon challenging your audience to trust Christ for whatever practical application is needed.
3. Think about the lost - No matter the venue, there is a chance that people who don't know Jesus will be present. Plan for that. Ask yourself the question time and again, "If this is the first time that someone heard about Jesus, would I answer the initial questions that will arise from this message?" We too often speak as though everyone listening is aware of the Christian "lingo" and references. Tim Keller argues, “If you don’t preach like there’s lost people present, there won’t ever be any.” Even if your audience is 100% regenerate, you can strategically build apologetics into their minds by making logical points and answering questions within the message itself.
These may seem like very basic and obvious pointers, but they are neglected every Sunday from the pulpit. If nothing else, apply these techniques to your preparation to make a more well-rounded sermon.