3 Questions to Ask of Your Sermon

There has been a lot of talk in recent years about making the gospel announcement of Jesus Christ front and center in our preaching and teaching. As our society becomes increasingly post-Christian, it is critical for us to not assume lost people know who God is, what He is like, and what He has done for us. We need to be clear in what we teach, with a laser-like focus on Jesus Christ our Savior.

But how do we make sure that Jesus is center-stage in our church?

How do we keep other things from taking His place in our sermons, our Sunday School classes or our small groups?

In other words, how do we maintain Christ-centeredness when there are so many other good things vying for our attention and time?

As editor of The Gospel Project, I’ve wrestled with this question. It’s one thing to have “core values” like “Christ-centered” and “mission-driven” written on the page. It’s another thing entirely to make sure that these values are actually expressed in the lessons. To help our writers, we’ve put together three big questions we want them to ask of every lesson.

The more I’ve thought about these questions, the more I am convinced that pastors ought to ask these questions of every sermon they preach. Teachers ought to ask these questions of every lesson they prepare. The questions are a helpful guide to keeping Christ as the focus of our ministry.

1. How does this topic/passage fit into the big story of Scripture?

It’s not uncommon anymore for me to talk with lost people who have little, if any, knowledge of the Bible. Surprisingly, I even meet church-goers who know individual Bible stories and some of the morals taught in the Bible, but don’t know how they connect to the gospel. They don’t know the overarching storyline of the Bible that leads from creation, to our fall into sin, to redemption through Jesus Christ, and final restoration.

If we are to live as Christians in a fallen world, we must be shaped by the grand narrative of the Scriptures, the worldview we find in the Bible.

Asking the “big story” question will help you as a pastor or teacher to connect the dots for your people. We need to help people learn to read the Bible for themselves, to understand the flow of the narrative, how the different genres fit into that narrative, and how to apply the truths of the Bible with wisdom.

2. What is distinctively Christian about the way I am addressing the topic/passage?

Here’s the question that will lead you back to the gospel. The distinctively Christian thing about Christianity is Jesus and His grace. It’s the good news about how He died on the cross for our sins and rose from the grave on the third day.

So how do we ensure that our preaching and teaching gets to Jesus? I suggest three follow-up questions under this one.

  • Is there anything about my treatment of this Old Testament text that a faithful Jew could not affirm?

If we preach the story of Moses, for example, without ever pointing forward to our Passover Lamb (Jesus Christ), then we are preaching the Old Testament much like a rabbi, not like a Christian herald of the gospel. On the road to Emmaus, Jesus told His disciples that the Old Testament pointed to Him. The Baptist Faith and Message says “All Scripture is a testimony to Christ.”

So when we preach from the Old Testament, it’s imperative that we point people forward to the Messiah.

  • Is there anything about my treatment of this New Testament text that a Mormon could not affirm?

Ed Stetzer often says that this is one of the questions he asks of every sermon he preaches. The issue isn’t whether or not you talk about Jesus. Mormons talk about Jesus. Jehovah’s Witnesses talk about Jesus. Self-help preachers talk about Jesus.

The question here is about how we present Jesus. Is He Savior and Lord? Or is He just a helper? Is He God in the flesh? Or is He just a good teacher?

We must make sure we do not present Jesus only as a moral example, but that we present Him as the only Savior, the One who calls for repentance and faith.

  • Is there anything in my application that an unbeliever off the street would be uncomfortable with?

We’re not asking this question from the seeker-sensitive perspective that wants to alleviate any discomfort. We’re asking this question from the perspective of the pastor who wants to make sure that application goes beyond “be nice.”

In other words, if the application at the end of your message is “Husbands, love your wives,” we should ask: Would an unbeliever have a problem with that? Probably not. We could survey people from different religions and they’d probably agree that husbands ought to love their wives.

So how do we tighten up this application to focus on Jesus? By doing what Paul did. By saying, “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her.”

When we tell people to forgive, we ought to ground it in the gospel: forgiving one another, “as Christ loved and forgave you.”

When we tell people to be generous, we ought to ground it in the gospel: “for Christ, though He was rich, became poor for your sakes.”

Ground your application in the gospel.

3. How does this truth equip God’s church to live on mission?

There is no true gospel-centeredness that does not lead to mission, because the gospel is the story of a God with a missionary heart, a Father who desires that all come to repentance, a Shepherd who seeks and saves the one lost sheep.

The purpose of God’s Word is to reveal God and His plan to us, in order that we might then be empowered to fulfill His Great Commission. God’s plan is that people from every tongue, tribe and nation would bring glory to Him. When we study the Bible, we ought to see it in light of its purpose – to equip us to be God’s missionaries in our communities and around the world.

Be clear!

If there’s one thing we need to be clear about in our preaching and teaching, it’s the gospel announcement that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, lived a perfect life in our place, died on the cross for the sins of the world, rose again to launch God’s new creation, and is now exalted as Lord of the world. In response to this message, we must call people to repent and believe. And as Christians, we must continue living every day in repentant faith, witnessing to the love of our great God.

Read more from Trevin here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Trevin Wax

Trevin Wax

My name is Trevin Wax. I am a follower of Jesus Christ. My wife is Corina, and we have two children: Timothy (7) and Julia (3). Currently, I serve the church by working at LifeWay Christian Resources as managing editor of The Gospel Project, a gospel-centered small group curriculum for all ages that focuses on the grand narrative of Scripture. I have been blogging regularly at Kingdom People since October 2006. I frequently contribute articles to other publications, such as Christianity Today. I also enjoy traveling and speaking at different churches and conferences. My first book, Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals, was published by Crossway Books in January 2010. (Click here for excerpts and more information.) My second book, Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope(Moody Publishers) was released in April 2011.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
 
— Glenna Hendricks
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
 
— winston
 
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
 
— Russ Wright
 

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