Write Your Best Sermon Yet: 23 Elements to Upgrade Your Sermon Content

preaching Mar 10, 2023

If you want to write a better sermon, you must improve one of these two things:

  1. Your content
  2. Your structure

Last week, I showed you seven different approaches to outlining your sermon. 

Having good structure to your sermon is a game-changer.

But what about upgrading your sermon content?

Let’s talk about it.

Isn’t biblically true content enough?

You might be thinking: if I’m preaching truth, isn’t that enough? 


And no.

Many of the people in your church have heard more sermons than they could count. They might have heard plenty of sermons on the passage you’re preaching on Sunday. And it could be, they’ve heard you preach a sermon on Sunday’s passage already. 

I love how Leonard Sweet puts it: 

Preaching is nothing less than the craft of making the familiar strange… When our usual ways of ‘knowing’ the Scriptures have become too cozy and comfortable, only defamiliarization enables us to hear the challenging stories of judgment and the hope that lies within and behind the texts. When we open the Scriptures up to new angles and locate them in different contexts, we allow people to become reacquainted with texts that can shine new light into their shadowed doubts and dilemmas.” Giving Blood: a fresh paradigm for preaching

When we work hard to communicate the living word of God in an active and fresh way, we are pastoring our people well.

When we come to a familiar passage from a new angle, we connect new dots in people’s hearts, minds, and lives.

In what follows, I want to show you potential sermonic elements that, I pray, spark new thoughts and new connections for your next sermon.

Write Your Best Sermon Yet: 23 Elements to Upgrade Your Sermon Content

  1. The text. Your best sermon will be the sermon that is rooted in and coming from and speaking through the biblical text. For most preachers this is obvious. But it must be said. We don’t need any more sermons that are rootless. There’s already enough of those.

  2. Takeaway(s). Call this your application, your takeaway, whatever you want. But a sermon that doesn’t call people to respond in obedience to God isn’t a sermon. It’s a speech. It’s a bible study. But it’s not a sermon. How can you make your takeaway, your application crystal clear for your listeners?

  3. Fears. What kind of fears does the text speak to that normal people might deal with on an everyday level? What fears does your takeaway conjure up that might be a barrier for people taking action? Speak to people’s fears and you’ll connect with their heart.

  4. Desires. What kind of deep desires, aspirations, and hopes does this passage speak to or speak against? Every person has deep godly desires as well as sinful desires. And often, our sinful desires are just a mask, a surface-level, a twisted version of our deeper godly desires. Speak to people’s desires and show that what they truly desire deep down is to know God and be known by God.

  5. Aches. This takes a desire and adds a level of pain to it. What’s something that people ache for? Their heart hurts for this. It keeps them awake at night. It brings them to tears. Speak to their aches and show them God’s heart on the matter.

  6. Ultimate truths. What is the big-picture ultimate truth that this text is pointing people to see? The incarnation of Jesus and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit show us God’s immanence—He is here. Not just that God came down. But God stoops still. Ultimate truth? You’re never alone. God is here. What ultimate truth does God want your listeners to rest in?

  7. True stories. Read a good biography or watch a good documentary that connects with the passage? Tell the story. And connect it to the text or the takeaway from the text.

  8. Fiction stories. Read a good novel or watch a good movie or tv episode that connects with the passage? Bring it to life and show the connection to the text or takeaway.

  9. Imaginative stories. This was Jesus’ favorite way to teach. The Prodigal Son. The Good Samaritan. The Lost Sheep. He painted a picture in people’s minds that taught them, through the story, something that wouldn’t have been planted in their hearts as deeply if he simply told them the truth he was giving them.

  10. Cultural realities. We are commanded to make disciples of Jesus. But every moment of the day, people are being discipled by other things and other people. We must point people to the toxic realities of the cultural stream we’re all swimming in. And show them how to discern what it means to be in the world without being of the world.

  11. Attitudes. What kind of attitudes does this text speak to, speak against, and speak for? The truth is, an attitude always flows from a deeper place. But pointing out what is on the surface can be a pathway to helping people open their hearts to God’s Spirit changing them from the inside out.

  12. Behaviors. Jesus calls us to teach people to obey everything he commanded. Sometimes, our behaviors are all out of whack. Point out those things that fall short of God’s best. But don’t just do that. Show them behaviors or practices, if you prefer, that are intended to conform them to the image of Jesus.

  13. Applied future. Paint a picture for people that shows them what a faithful life—in this particular way the text is showing them—looks like over the long-haul. How different would their family be twenty years from now if they prioritized this in their everyday lives? Show them. 

  14. Personal testimony. Has God worked in your life in a significant way in the area you’re preaching about? Share that. Have you struggled? Has God been gracious? Has He renewed your mind? Share your wounds. Share your progress.

  15. Transitions. Sometimes a message can come across as clunky and disorganized. Thinking through your transitions ahead of time helps people follow where you’re leading them. Transitions are the glue that keeps each piece of your sermon together.

  16. Strongholds. A stronghold is something that through someone’s experiences and/or practices, Satan has gained a grip on their mindset, their reactions, or their habits. What kinds of strongholds does God want to demolish through this message? By prayer, target them and speak God’s life-changing power against them.

  17. Bottom line. A powerfully crafted statement can set people free. How can you pack a punch within a single statement to help people take God’s truth with them beyond the preaching moment? Work hard at this. It’s worth it.

  18. Narratives. These are the stories people craft in their minds to help them make sense of the world, of their past, of their present, and what they anticipate the future to be. The Scriptures offer a far different narrative than the ones people tend to believe. What are the stories people tell themselves about themselves? About the world? Their family? Certain types of people? Etc. Show them God’s alternative narrative that is far better.

  19. Experiences. Sometimes our past can trip us up in our present. What kind of experiences could this passage speak to? Maybe someone was hurt by a close friend. That has kept them from plugging into Christ-centered community. Connect the dots to the truth of the passage and help them reframe their experiences through the lens of God’s goodness and God’s redeeming power.

  20. Quotes. Like the bottom line, people can be set free from a powerfully crafted statement. Not only that, but quotes from others can bolster what you’re teaching people. What have others said that is worth sharing?

  21. Images. Jesus loved preaching and teaching through metaphors. The kingdom of God is like… I am the vine, you are the branches… What kind of images can shed new light on the passage you’re preaching on? 

  22. Questions. A well-placed question can be one of the most powerful portable-izing elements of a sermon. A question necessitates participation. What’s a big question you can leave people with that will propel them to obey Jesus?

  23. Lies. What are the lies people believe that trip them up from taking steps of faith? Bring light to the lies and you’ll begin to rob them of their power. Replace them with biblical truth and you’ll equip people to preach to themselves and encourage others when they recognize lies.

So, what kind of elements can you add to your next sermon to give it a content upgrade?

Grow in Your Preaching

If you want to be faithful to the text, prepare efficiently, and craft your sermon memorably, I’ve got just the thing to help. It’s called the 10-step guide to writing a sticky sermon and it’s yours for free. Just click here to grab your copy.

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