Even in my role as a preacher, there is information in old sermons that I have preached and have forgotten. The reality is that we are not able to remember all the truth and information that is shared in a sermon.
This doesn’t mean that people will never learn something new or hold on to a bit of truth that is shared through preaching, but it does mean that teaching is not the primary purpose of a sermon. If you view preaching as primarily a vehicle for teaching, then your preaching will be ineffective.
The primary purpose of a sermon is to provide people with an opportunity to respond to God’s Word.
Sermons must be developed to highlight a passage of Scripture, provide a relevant connection to the audience, and make appropriate application to real life. A preacher must explain why the words of the Bible matter, and how a person is able to live out those words in their lives.
The sermon…is therefore designed to make men feel, and feel so deeply that they will resolve. It is designed to make men resolve and resolve so strongly that they will act. And the impulse which thus issues in action is directly begotten under the compelling influence of the truth by the immediate operation of the Spirit of Truth, who is the Holy Spirit, moving upon the moral nature of the hearer.
Charles Brown, The Art of Preaching, 1922, pp. 2-3
Rather than being a vehicle for transferring knowledge, preaching provides the Holy Spirit an opportunity to work in the lives of people. The reason that preaching continues to be an essential part of discipleship is because it creates space in life for people to hear God’s Word, for the Holy Spirit to guide their thoughts, and for them to act on the truth that they were given.
Effective preaching begins with the preacher doing the hard work to understand what the text means, discovering the best way to communicate the text to his/her audience, preparing so he/she can deliver the truth smoothly and concisely, and providing a way for the audience to respond to the sermon. The high calling of preaching requires the preacher to be in prayer through the entire preparation process, because effective preaching is a combined effort between the preacher and the Holy Spirit. The preacher needs to ask for guidance and wisdom as he/she develops the sermon, and to pray for receptive hearts for the hearers. Remember, at the end of the day, what is going to change the hearts of people, is not the clever way the preacher put together the sermon, but the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. If the preacher ignores the Holy Spirit in sermon preparation, then his/her preaching will be ineffective.
The sermon provides the Holy Spirit with the opportunity to speak to people, and convict them to take action. The sermons that people remember are not the sermon that were filled with a bunch of information, but sermons that moved them to respond to God’s voice. Preachers need to work hard to develop sermons that urge people to take action. What the world desperately needs are Christians who act on the truth that they hear.