What Makes Good Preaching? What to Listen for From the Pulpit


Lord’s Library contributor Jared Helms offers a minister’s perspective on what makes good preaching, with key Scriptures. Check out Jared’s YouTube channel and two blogs: A Light in the Darkness and Blind Faith Examples. Lord’s Library’s Ministry Leaders Series is a collection of contributed articles written by ministry leaders on key Christian topics.

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Now that we know what preaching is, we might ask what good preaching is. We have already touched on the answer, but it is worth further consideration. Good preaching is a great blessing to us in our walk of faith, and knowing how to recognize it can spare us many hardships in our walk with Christ.

First, good preaching is always faithful to the Word according to 2 Timothy 4:2: “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.”

It doesn’t just quote a passage and then move on to other things, it stays in the Word throughout. A good sermon will be founded in the bible, and steeped in Biblical content. The Word of God will be ever-present and will be the mean source of content. Everything else will exist only to highlight, draw out, and enhance our appreciation of the Scriptures.

The Gospel

What Makes Good Preaching?

Please understand we are not saying a preacher cannot share an illustrative story from history or their own experience. We are not saying there cannot be quotes, statistics, or analogies. We are simply saying that the Word of God should always be the main thing. Quoting faithful theologians, sharing bits of Church history, and giving practical images are all very helpful when they are there to serve the text. What must be avoided is having these things for their own sake.

As good preaching is faithful to the text it will be Christ-centered. It will be Christ-centered without allegorizing, or manipulating the text. The good preacher will find the Lord in the text organically. In finding Christ, we find the Gospel, and it is good for the Gospel to be in view every time we gather. None of this should be forced, and none of it should detract from the point of the text. Faithfulness is the first order out of which all else flows.

Now there is certainly morality taught in the Bible, but the purpose of good preaching is not to moralize. Though the Bible touches on many areas of intellectual inquiry the purpose of good preaching is never to theorize. The purpose of good preaching to edify the hearers by presenting the glory of God in Christ. The point needs to be emphasized because it is so easy to fall into the stale old formula, “here is something you don’t do, this is what you should do, and here is how you do it.” That kind of talk places the burden on the listener.

We want the burden taken away by the Grace of Christ. So, the better formula would be, “Here is what Christ has done for us, and this is the goodness of it, and this is what is made possible by it.” Even when one is preaching straight from the law of Moses, the Gospel is still there.

See Romans 15:4: “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.”

Second, good preaching is motivated by love. The preacher’s first love is due to God, and it is expressed in his reverence for the Word, and the work itself. The preacher’s first love requires him to love his flock second, and to always seek their greatest good in his preaching. Seeking the greatest good for the congregants means that man will not try to please them, but to help them. It does not mean that every sermon will be a gentle, unoffensive, petting of the believed sheep. On the contrary, sometimes the man might have to cut open a sheep to get at the disease that is threating to infect and kill the flock. At another time he might have to raise his voice to ward off a wolf that would devour his flock.

What will always be true is that the man will care deeply about what he is saying, and who he is saying it to. Every man will express his passion a bit differently, some may weep and roar, other may maintain an even tone; some may pace and gesticulate, and others may stand perfectly still. Regardless the passion will be evident: we have more to say about these things later. Let us not forget that without love all we have is so much meaningless noise. See 1 Corinthians 13:1-2.

  • 1 Corinthians 13:1-2: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.”

Third, good preaching is honest. Sugarcoating does not belong on sermons. A good preacher will never promise things God has not promised. A good preacher will not attempt subversion, or shameful manipulation. Good preachers are not interested in personal gain. We haven’t got anything to sale, we have a truth to tell.

In being honest, a sermon must also be clear. God is not the author of confusion, and vague language, ambiguous terms, and uncertain verbiage do not serve His purposes. Preachers must say what the text means as plainly, and precisely as possible. Failing to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth is as bad is lying.

Fourth, good preaching is local. There is a trend of pastors on a screen preaching to multiple locations at once. Some churches even play recorded videos of a sermon each week. There have also been disturbing revelations of pastors using sermons from other pastors, or purchased from sermon writing services: we have more to say on this in a later section. In all of these situations, the preacher is not directly addressing God’s Word to the people he is called to serve. He is not personally present with the flock or engaged in their immediate situation as part of their particular community. He is not tailoring the nourishment to the specific needs of these sheep.

This goes against the precedence of Church history, and we would argue the grain of Scripture. The testimony of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 indicates that each local congregation is to have its own designated preacher called of God, equipped to the work, and faithfully feeding that local flock. There is a place for iterant preaching (traveling from place to place) and for the broadcasting of sermons, but it is supplementary to the regular ministry of preaching and not in place of it.

A faithful exposition presented with genuine love, and honesty to a local congregation is a good sermon. There are other features we might look for, but if we have these four elements it is enough. We will find these four elements of good preaching present in all kinds of sermons.

Style is not the substance of good preaching. Delivery may vary without affecting the quality of a sermon. The only thing we would about the style of delivery is that it should never obscure the message itself. The delivery is a box, we want it to hold the contents, and present it well; but we are not here for the box, we want what is in the box. We must be careful not to conflate our preferences with Biblical mandates and make our standards the final word of judgment. It is very easy to latch onto this or that obvious form and make that the rule of good preaching.

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Jared Helms
Jared Helms

Jared Helms

Jared received his Bachelor of Arts from Bryan College in 2012, and his Masters of Divinity from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2017. He has pastored churches in Kentucky and Tennessee. Most importantly, Jared has walked with Christ most of his life. His interests extend from theology to church history, but he is particularly passionate about ecclesiology and homiletics.

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