Christ Centered · Cross-Centered · Gospel Centered · Practical · Preaching · Sermon

What Makes a Great Sermon?

I have heard thousands and preached hundreds of sermons in my life. Recently, I joked about the fact that I think I preached a great sermon, and it fell flat. Then the next sermon I thought was flat, received a great reaction. A friend asked me, “What really makes a good sermon?”

This is not an extensive list but offers three basics of what makes a great sermon: a great sermon points us to Jesus and the Cross, is understandable, and practical. 


The famous 1800’s British preacher Charles Spurgeon once said, “No Christ in your sermon, sir? Then go home and never preach again until you have something worth preaching.” I agree with Spurgeon. Much preaching today is really theistic moralistic deism (morals and feel-good preaching) with a couple verses attached, which leaves Christ, who is the center of Scripture, out of the sermon.

Scripture should be Gospel-centered, cross-centered, and Christ-centered. We also should understand that there is “The Blessing of Christ-Centered Theology.”   

A great sermon points people to Christ, not themselves. An exceptional sermon leads unbelievers to the cross, and shows Christians how the cross is connected to that Scripture passage. A great sermon shows people how the cross not only affects their salvation, but how they are to live in light of the salvation they have received through Jesus through the cross. It answers the question, “Why Cross-Centered Preaching?”


A sermon must be understandable. This sounds basic, but if you do not understand what is being taught, how can you understand what Scripture and the passage say? How can you apply the passage to your life if you are unsure what the passage means? How can you see Jesus and the cross if you aren’t able to see how the passage connects to the cross? 

Good teachers explain the passage well to you. They will define terms. They will explain background information to enhance the passage, and illustrate how the passage can be understood.

Another thing to consider is that a great sermon will be engaging. Some people misunderstand the idea that not all engaging sermons are sermons that itch ears, which is warned about in Scripture. Itching ears has more to do with what is and is not being taught, not as much about how it is taught. If you want, you can learn “How to Bore People to Death with Preaching,” but I think that the message that changes the world should be engaging.


I have not written a lot on practical theology, but plan to soon. Let me say a couple things about it. First, the idea of Scripture being relevant is important, and we should not let the pendulum swing to either side. 

On one side, you have, “we just need Scripture; if it is practical it is man-centered.” I would contend that all Scripture is profitable, useful, or practical as II Timothy 3:16 says. Because it is, we need to show how it is. In many of the epistles, the apostles lay out the doctrine of Christ, and then talk about how that doctrine and Christ are practical to our everyday lives.

On the other side you have those who worship at the altar of practicality, not interested that much in Scripture. They are just there as consumers – what is in it for them. They end up missing Christ, which as we have said above, is of utmost importance.

The practical-centered crowd can also miss lessons for their hearts and minds. Scripture is not always teaching me something I “do.” Sometimes I can apply it to the way I think, or my heart – how to “be.” There doesn’t always have to be some hands-on action plan. A great sermon should leave you knowing how to think, believe, feel, or act more like Christ.

Does our weekly intake of sermons include church, or listening online? Are Scripture and Christ preached, or is it merely moralistic teaching? Are the sermons understandable and clearly taught and communicated? Are they practical to your heart, mind, and actions? 

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