A church with a healthy Bible study culture is a blessing to members and visitors alike. Though all aspects of a church contribute to this culture, the sermon is among the most noticeable.
Evaluating the sermon in this context demands that we move past the good-or-bad question asked over bowls of Sunday soup. How can a sermon help create a Bible study culture?
The Importance of the Sermon
In evangelical churches, the sermon is the centerpiece of weekly worship. Singing, giving, praying, testimonies—these are often seen as appetizers before the main course.
Without minimizing other elements of the worship service, the sermon is critical. For thirty or so minutes, God’s gathered people focus on hearing and understanding his word. The way the preacher handles the Bible communicates the church’s values and shapes the culture.
A Slight Departure
At Knowable Word, we’re committed to helping ordinary people learn to study the Bible. We rarely target preachers. But as preachers prize God’s word and encourage its study, “ordinary people” will flourish.
So, a word to non-preachers: This post is for you, too! Through the sermon, you can recognize a church with a Bible study culture. You should also find ways to pray for and encourage your preacher(s).
Enough jibber-jabber. Here are nine strategies for a sermon that can help create a Bible study culture in your church.
- Pray and trust God — A preacher should soak all his study and preparation in prayer, relying on God’s strength and grace. The preacher must recognize the power of God’s words, for the flavor of a sermon indicates whether he believes God’s power lies in the Bible or in his own words. Sermons lead people into greater reliance on one or the other.
- Choose the text carefully — When preachers expound a passage of the Bible (instead of hopping around based on a topic), they plant the sermon in rich soil. Over weeks and months, preaching consecutively through a book of the Bible builds familiarity with the author’s main point and helps God’s people to see the place of that book within the Bible’s big story.
- Show the work — A sermon should both explain and equip, but many focus only on the former. Instead, the preacher should communicate both his conclusions and the way he reached them. OIA (Observation, Interpretation, Application) terminology isn’t essential, but the preacher should have language to describe what he’s doing. One metric for the success of a sermon is this: Are people replicating the preacher’s Bible study process and reaching the same conclusions?
- Minimize quotation from commentaries — Preachers often consult commentaries when preparing a sermon, and this is valuable if one avoids common mistakes. But when a sermon is full of quotations from commentaries, the preacher teaches that Bible study is best left to professionals and academics.
- Study and prepare — Sermon preparation skills can be divided in two: getting it right (studying the Bible) and getting it across (public speaking). Both categories are crucial! If you need help in the first, start here.
- Include application — A sermon without application is like visiting the beach without touching the sand. A preacher should bring applications to his congregation that have already produced fruit in his life. In this way he avoids hypocrisy and his vulnerability (which is hard work!) shows that application is for everyone.
- Prune “proof texts” — A preacher shouldn’t pluck Bible verses and wave them around like so many garden flowers. If a preacher needs the support of another Scripture passage, he should take the time to read it and interpret it in context. We all need help with correlation.
- Warn against dangers — There are pitfalls associated with every step in studying the Bible. When appropriate, a preacher can highlight any relevant hazards. (Peter has written about the danger of familiarity when observing, the dangers of relativism, presumption, and observation when interpreting, and the dangers of insight and inertia when applying.)
- Make a resource sheet — Churches often tuck a sermon outline into the bulletin; why not use this to also recommend excellent resources? A preacher can encourage his people to study other relevant Bible passages and point them to the best commentaries, biographies, histories, and websites. Including the exact wording and source of any extra-biblical quotations from the sermon could also bless the congregation.
Many thanks to Peter for his help with this post. He uses the categories in point 5 but does not claim them as his own—he has seen them in places like the Simeon Trust.