We need encouragement in sermons, not only challenge

We need encouragement in sermons, not only challenge

What do you expect from a sermon when you go to a church service? What is it that you need to hear, and what is important to be included?

I have been listening to sermons my whole life, preaching for over 15 years, and now help to teach others how to preach as well. I have also been visiting churches from other traditions and denominations in the past few years to get a sense of the variety that is out there. Of course, every preacher has their own personality and style; there will always be a large variety in how sermons are delivered. There is no one way to preach faithfully.

When Christians come to listen to a sermon, we need to be fed from the word of God. This means that the sermon needs to be based on the Bible (and not in a loose ‘this is a proof text for what I wanted to say anyway’ kind of way). It needs to explain how that particular Bible passage applies to the lives of those present. And it needs to point people to Jesus.

It is that last point that I want to say something about. I have heard many sermons that are clearly working through a Bible passage but are devoid of grace and don’t mention Jesus. That’s not good news; that’s just a burden. But there is another danger we must avoid: always being negative and telling people how they are doing everything wrong. Some preachers fall into a pattern of constantly pointing out the sin of those listening and failing to encourage those who need encouraging.

Please don’t mishear this. You and I need to be convicted of our sin. We can always do better in all kinds of areas of our lives. We need to have the light of Scripture shone into the darkness we try to hide or don’t realise is there. That’s all true. Yet, after a difficult week living in a dark world and often being apart from God’s people, Christians need encouragement too. We need to know that we are deeply loved and that Jesus died for our sins. We need to be reminded of the goodness of God and the wonder of his plan. We need a boost of hope for the week ahead.

We need to be challenged and encouraged. We need hope as well as conviction of sin. Let’s do all we can, if we formally teach the Bible or informally meet with other Christians, to share the hope that we have. We need to hear the wonder of the gospel regularly to keep us going in a world where we don’t see a lot of hope anywhere else.