What Makes A Good Sermon?

marriage and ministry
MARRIAGE AND MINISTRY: KEEPING IT IN CHECK to KEEP IT INTACT, PART II
December 4, 2017

What Makes A Good Sermon?

sermon

The podcast “What Makes A Good Sermon?” shared with kind permission from the Table podcast.

In this episode, Drs. Darrell L. Bock and Abe Kuruvilla discuss what makes a good sermon, focusing on preparation, sermon structure, and application.

Excerpt from transcript below:

Darrell Bock
Welcome to The Table, we discuss issues of God and culture. I’m Darrell Bock, executive director for cultural engagement at the Hendricks Center of Dallas Theological Seminary, and my guest today is Abe Kuruvilla, who is professor of preaching here at Dallas Theological Seminary. He gets to listen to lots and lots and lots of sermons.
Abe Kuruvilla
Student sermons.
Darrell Bock
Student sermons, and do you have any idea about how many it is in any given semester, what the range is?
Abe Kuruvilla
Depends on the load, but I have heard up to 96 a semester.
Darrell Bock
Ninety-six sermons a semester, so that’s packing two years worth of church preaching in one semester.
Abe Kuruvilla
That’s exactly right. Sometimes it worries me about the church.
Darrell Bock
I understand, so how did you end up being a professor of preaching?
Abe Kuruvilla
Well that goes back a long way. I was working on a PhD in a medical field about three decades ago in Houston –
Darrell Bock
Okay, so you were a medical doctor to begin with, correct?
Abe Kuruvilla
That’s correct, yes. I was working on a PhD on immunology when I happened to be thrown into a church plant situation, didn’t have anybody to teach, and so I was it without any theological education whatsoever.
Darrell Bock
And it’s actually not that unusual a situation to be in parts of the world.
Abe Kuruvilla
It leaves me with great sympathy for those people. And I just enjoyed what I was doing. It was probably some of the most formative years in my life. Thoroughly enjoyed the churchmanship and everything that goes along with it. Particularly preaching, and that’s when I decided someday I want to go to seminary and study more about preaching and do some writing about it, and end up teaching it. So here I am.
Darrell Bock
Now did you do any formal theological training before you came into seminary, or how did you get exposed to your interest in pursuing seminary?
Abe Kuruvilla
The churches that I attended when I was in Houston were pastored by DTS Profs, and that influenced my direction.
Darrell Bock
So you came here for your studies?
Abe Kuruvilla
Yeah, about 10 years I decided I wanted to go to Seminary I ended up here.
Darrell Bock
Well that’s good, you acted quickly on that decision, that’s good.
Abe Kuruvilla
Yeah, it started late.
Darrell Bock
And you were just drawn to the preaching while you were going through, is that what happened?
Abe Kuruvilla
Preaching was an interest, as I said, when I was in that church plant situation. And I got more interested in the hermeneutics of preaching while I was going through seminary. And as I was doing more pulpit work, there were issues in preaching that stuck in my mind and said, “I want to work a little bit more on this, and maybe spend the rest of my life working through this.” Which led me on another pathway to Aberdeen, another PhD, but yeah, the end of it is I’m still here and still working on preaching and trying to learn from my students.
Darrell Bock
So your doctoral dissertation was on the hermeneutics of preaching, or hermeneutics?
Abe Kuruvilla
Yeah, how to go from text to praxis, the movement from text to application.
Darrell Bock
Okay, very good, well that’s a theme that is beloved to both of us, so we could have a great time here. So let’s talk a little, our topic is what makes for a good sermon. Which, I guess you formulate in part by hearing a lot of mediocre sermons.
Abe Kuruvilla
Well there is no such thing as a perfect sermon, I tell my students that all the time. I’m happy if I can do a B+ week after week, I’d be very content with that. But yeah, there are some criteria that we as a department use to grade sermons, and accuracy to the text, and relevance to the audience, and is it interesting and clear are the four criteria that we generally use.
Darrell Bock
Okay, well let’s work through those together, and then I imagine also there is some, with the emphasis on relevance to the text, there also is the issue of how you rhetorically at least attempt to draw in an audience and gain their attention in what’s going on.
Abe Kuruvilla
Yes, the last two parts, the interestingness and the clear aspect of the evaluation, are sort of the rhetorical aspects.
Darrell Bock
Okay, so I think the way I want to go through this is rather than use the criteria of the department, which we can talk about as we go through each part, is maybe to go through kind of the structure of the sermon, which would be, really oversimplified, but introduction, body, and conclusion. But before you even introduce a sermon, you obviously, you gotta have some idea where you’re going.
Abe Kuruvilla
Exactly.
Darrell Bock
And so let’s talk little bit about before you even take a breath and pray at the beginning of the message. What do you see involved in the preparation of the pastor who’s going to give the sermon?
Abe Kuruvilla
I think the best way to start is of course with the text. I know we have chatted a little bit about that in the past, but understanding the text or what the author is doing with what he’s saying is critical. And that is the first step toward moving towards a sermon. Once that is covered, then you start thinking of how can our lives be applied to that text, to the call of that text. Or the other way around, how does the text apply to the audience. And once those are clear, then at that point you start thinking about now applying and organizing things.
Darrell Bock
Okay, now obviously one of the challenges of communicating to a sermon is the variety of people that you’re dealing with in your audience, that not everybody’s coming from the same place. Fortunately, we have a text that we believe is inspired, so we think that the text addresses people where they need to be addressed. So there’s a very famous book on preaching by John Stott called Between Two Worlds, in which his metaphor is, you know, you’re trying to connect the world of the text with the world of your audience. What – again, even before you get up and speak and prepare, in the text, how do you begin to think about those two parts of the sermon? The world of the text and the world of your audience.
Abe Kuruvilla
Let me address the second one first. I really think that preaching ought to be pastoral. By which I don’t necessarily mean the office of pastor, but someone in a shepherding capacity, whether that means a large church, a small group, a Sunday school class, youths, young adults, whatever that might be. So you cannot divorce preaching from pastoring. The ideal is that the two should go together, because preaching is a form of shepherding and spiritual formation. So knowing your audience is therefore very critical to that aspect. And that’s where I try to bring in the audience factor, claiming that preaching ought to be pastoral. That’s critical.
Going back to the other aspect of the preaching, the call of the text is usually something very general and generic, so to speak. It may not necessarily deal with 21st century life in specific terms. The task of the pastor, then, is to say, “In view of the fact that I am your spiritual director, mentor, preacher, pastor, elder, parent figure, so to speak,” exercising pastoral wisdom at that point, “I think this is what we should do in light of the call of this text. These are the specificities that we should engage in.”


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Abraham Kuruvilla is Senior Research Professor of Preaching and Pastoral Ministries at Dallas Theological Seminary. Captivated by the intricacies of the interpretive movement from Scripture to sermon, Dr. Kuruvilla centers his ministry around homiletics: exploring preaching through research and scholarship, explaining preaching by training the next generation of church leaders, and exemplifying preaching in regular pulpit engagements. He has also served as interim pastor of several churches.
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Darrell L. Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has authored or edited more than 40 books, including Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels, Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King, Who Is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith, and Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence.

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