With the rise of technology, there are now so many places online to hear people teach the Bible. There are podcasts, websites and social media platforms pushing an overwhelming amount of content. How do you discern what’s worth your time to listen to? How do you prevent yourself from wasting time on bad or mediocre content? How can you ensure you’re getting the most you can in what time you have? What should you look for in a pastor’s sermon when trying a new church? In upcoming posts, I will address some marks of a good sermon that you can look for to help discern whether it’s a waste or investment of your time to keep listening.
The number one thing you should always look for in a sermon is how biblical it is. Here are a few questions that will help you analyze just how much the sermon you’re listening to is based on the Bible.
1. How quickly does the teacher get to the biblical text?
This is a quick indicator for me whether I will keep listening to a speaker. While an introductory “hook” is helpful, if it takes a while to get to the text a teacher will be explaining, that is a clue that the sermon you’re listening to may not be very biblical. For example, if you know the sermon is 25 minutes and it takes them 15 minutes to tell the opening story, it’s likely that the rest of the time will not be well spent in biblical instruction. While there are exceptions, the way a sermon opens often sets the stage for the rest of its content.
2. Are the points based on the passage or does it seem like they started with an idea and made the passage fit that?
Can you clearly see where the points come from in the passage or does it take a while to connect the dots? One mistake teachers can make is determining what they want the sermon to be about and then looking for a passage to fit that topic. Often this can lead into imposing an idea on a passage that the verses weren’t really saying. In expository teaching, or teaching what the Bible says, a teacher should always start his preparation by looking at the text to see what it’s saying and not with a topic he wants the text to prove. This by nature lets the text of Scripture speak for itself instead of forcing it into the agenda of the preacher.
Sometimes a sermon can feel biblical when it’s really not. A teacher can use a lot of Bible verses but really not be communicating the same idea that the Bible is. When you look at the points or main idea and compare them to the text, you should be able to see how they connect. It shouldn’t feel like a stretch to you to get from the content of the passage to the ideas of the sermon. If you can’t make it fit, you may not be listening to a sermon that’s based on the Bible.
3. How much does the pastor explain the text?
Does the teacher spend more time illustrating the points with stories than explaining the Bible? While stories and illustrations are very helpful to explain and enliven biblical points, they should not be the main content of the message. Most of the time should be spent considering what the Bible says. Great preachers talk about the meaning of words in the text, connect that passage to the narrative of the Bible, explain how the text relates to Jesus and the gospel, and talk about the context of the passage. There is more than enough treasure to mine in every passage of the Bible to keep you busy.
4. Do you have to keep your Bible open?
How often does the teacher refer to the verses? This is a huge indicator of how much of the sermon is based on the Bible. When you sit through the sermon and never ponder a verse long enough to want to read it again, that’s not good. Sitting through a biblical sermon will make you want to refer back to the verses to see if what the pastor is saying is really in there. The pastor of a biblical sermon will often refer back to the verses himself, even re-reading them so that they’re fresh on the listener’s mind when he explains them.
5. Do you leave with a better understanding of what the Bible said?
Did you learn something new about the Bible when you’ve finished listening? A good biblical teacher will do enough study to bring fresh thoughts or give new insights or make you think of the text in a way you haven’t before. Maybe you understand a word more deeply or the passage’s connection to the rest of Scripture. Maybe there’s a fresh application or conviction by the Holy Spirit. You should walk out of the time more in awe of God and His Word than when you started.
While the Bible’s message remains the same through the centuries of time, it is still the only book that is alive and active. It promises that its words won’t return without accomplishing what God sent them to do. No teacher, no matter how gifted or engaging, has the same kind of power in his words. Let’s look for teaching then that is based on God’s Word and not man’s ideations. Let’s not waste our time on empty philosophies but invest it in learning more about the Bible.