Do Sermons Really Make Much Difference?

Being a preacher who makes my trade in sermons- sometimes I wonder.

Do sermons make much difference?

I preach for a church who is very supportive of preaching. Every Sunday I feel greatly encouraged by many positive comments. I do not think anyone is being less than sincere. But still the thought stays with me- during the week, at work, at school, during those moral decision times- does anything presented in a sermon stick? Does any of our (me and my preacher pal’s) well-meaning Biblical guidance make a practical difference in lives?

What say you?

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26 Responses to Do Sermons Really Make Much Difference?

  1. Danny Holman says:

    Hey Danny,

    I imagine all of us in preaching have wondered this at times. Is anything even being remembered? Every once in a while someone will mention a “snippet” from a sermon, and every once in a while someone will remember the overall of a sermon…but even then, how do you make it stick? These questions have puzzled me and challenged me as I try to make sure what I’ve said lives on past the church door.
    When I get a little discouraged by all this, I remember the observation one person noted. He observed, “Have you ever noticed that within 4-5 years a congregation will resemble the preaching?” Since that time I have observed how true that is. After just a few years, a congregation’s temprement, and spiritual atmosphere reflects the preacher’s pulpit work. So evidently there is more happening there than we often give credit. Perhaps the Holy Spirit does more with our sermons than we know. This realization helps me to approach the sermon more like preparing the family dinner than pushing towards a “Fourth of July Cookout” every Sunday. It also is very encouraging on those days when try as I may the sermon just doesn’t want to come together.
    Danny

  2. It depends on the preacher and his presentation style as well as the learning style of the listener. Preachers sometimes tend to forget that adults still need visual aids (some of us are visual learners). Our preacher started a series yesterday on “reframing how we look at Jesus” and he had a great big picture frame on the stage…he is requesting that people bring picture frames with which he is going to build a giant cross. He’s basing this series on Luke. I’m really looking forward to it and I think I will remember at least some it it.

  3. Mark says:

    Interesting thoughts Danny…how do people learn? I once was of the mind that reading was “good enough” (2 Tim 3:16, 17). You know, read the Bible, study, memorize and that was all that was really needed.

    Then, I thought about preaching. People only need to “hear” a powerful, dynamic sermon, a impactful, spiritual message on a weekly basis (maybe more often if they are dense) and that should do the trick – you know, motivate people to action – pardon the analogy, but it worked for Hitler.

    It wasn’t until I spent a few years in the Navy developing curriculum and teaching people how to facilitate, that I grasped the idea that it ALL methodologies reinforce the other and ALL are necessary.

    God, through the Holy Spirit, could have just written the Bible and said “read it, it’s all you need.” He could have said, “just listen to my Son to know how to worship, praise and honor Me.” And, He could have even gone so far as to just encourage us to “watch” what His Son did and follow the examples and THAT would be enough.

    In reality, God has given ALL of these, the reading, listening and seeing to reinforce the other. Why? One, because He is the Master Teacher, and because we all learn differently and I believe God knows that repetition is the mother of all learning. We need to hear it, read it, write it, see it and live it, before it becomes “real” for us. For some of us we “get it” a little quicker, others it takes a little (a lot more) time.

    “Preaching” isn’t enough. “Reading” isn’t enough. “Seeing” isn’t enough. It takes it all – you’ve got the gift and you use it well.

    God bless and keep up the great work!!

  4. Rodney Livingston says:

    Danny,
    Some days I wonder if people are even listening. I am sure that some are not but others are. I like the explaination of it taking all things to help people learn but first we must impress the need to listen, read, and see. If they don’t begin those things there is no way that preaching can make a difference. The apostles were preachers. Paul even till mid-night, try that at Gateway. It worked in the 1st century it should work in 21st century. We have the same message that Paul did. Thanks for the thoughts.

  5. Karol Lee says:

    Danny,

    There are moments when you hear, read or experience something that will make a lasting impression. I know that the first sermon I heard you preach was on the issue of Christianity in a Post Modern World. Your sermon was just the thing I needed to hear to understand the importance of serving outside the fellowship. It has since been reinforced through other sermons, bible studies both independent and as small groups. Through that lesson and my own growth I am continuing to develop the “Cross Culture” in my home and neighborhood.

    I do believe, like Danny Holman, that from the pulpit you can set the course of the congregation. I also believe that from the support of the eldership you will see the church grow and thrive. So, keep on preaching the good news.

    Thanks, Karol

  6. TCS says:

    I would echo that it depends on the one preaching and the one listening.

    Having said that, it also depends on what someone is trying to do with the medium. Spoken voice is a great thing for achieving certain goals. But not for others.

    For instance, you can give information, tell stories, and teach (most) people by speaking. But it isn’t really very good for spiritual formation (in my opinion). I don’t think it is very effective as a purely evangelistic tool either. Speaking one on one is, but not to a group.

    that is my 2 cents.

    I do agree that the tone of the pulpit effects the congregation.

  7. Les Ferguson, Sr. says:

    Danny,

    I’m sure just about every preacher wonders about that. I know that I do. But when I really think about it, I remind myself that it is not my business about how every individual worshipper listens. It is my business to be truthful with God’s Word and to present the message to the very best of my ability. I think about the prophets of old. They preached and preached and not many people listened. But their job was to present powerful, prophetic messages. I believe that is our responsibility – not that we are going to utter prophecies – but our lessons are presented in that style. When we do that (and I believe you do it in a great way), it is God’s business to work on the heart of the worshipper through His preached word.

  8. E. Walker Myer says:

    What matters (as far as I can tell) is more than simply words. It is the PASSION that is most important. If the preacher is passionate about what he is saying, it makes a bigger impact; in other words, he must deeply believe first what he is saying to others. If a speaker is passionate, I listen.

    There are other important elements for you preacher guys….like structure of the sermon and the “take home” you give your listeners, but for me all of this doesn’t matter if the speaker doesn’t appear to truly believe what he is saying.

    Keep up the good work!
    EWM

  9. mkjergaard says:

    What?
    I’m sorry. I wasn’t really paying attention.
    What were you saying?

  10. Teresa says:

    My answer would be “You never know!” (and yes, even a non-preacher can have a story to drive home the point!)

    Several years ago at the ACU Bible Teacher’s Workshop I heard Glen Owen preach a sermon titled, “Giving More than You Have.” This heart-changing lesson pointed out that we can give more to others than we have, because we give from God’s reserves and not our own. It was moving!

    About 3 years later, I returned from a 2 week mission trip tired and needing to devote some time to my family. The next day I received a call from a friend who had met a Ukrainian family that was new to the area . Since they lived near me, she wanted me to make contact with them. Being exhausted, it was difficult to make the call, cook the dinner, and have them over. That sermon came to my mind and spurred me on! I was reminded that I’m not dependent on my own strength. And I was so glad that I reached out. A beautiful friendship developed that blessed the lives of both of our families.

    Here is the God part of the story: As I got to know the family, they mentioned that a family from Abilene had helped them come to America, get settled at ACU, and arrange to stay here after graduation. Any guesses who the family was……..that’s right! Glen Owen and his family! Glen’s lesson helped his friends in a very roundabout way. Isn’t God the Master of the details! So, my preacher friends…………..you never know!

  11. dannydodd says:

    Fantastic story Teresa! What an illustration of God’s power of the spoken word.

    Terrific input from everyone! I had to laugh out loud at Mike though.

    I am honored to have Eva give her input. She is passionate about good preaching.

    Obviously I believe that sermons can make a difference or I would not do what I do. Yet, like some of the other preachers who have posted I have had some experiences that make me wonder- hence this post.

    I remember once when a guest speaker came to the church where I preached. I heard a member commenting about how she was glad to hear a sermon on that topic preached. Well, I had just preached practically the same sermon a couple of weeks before. I know that is not typical though.

    It is almost intimidating to think your congregation becomes like your preaching! lol But I have heard this before.

    And- in my opinion- there is no excuse for a preacher to not be prepared. That not onlymakes it tough on the preaching profession in general but it fails to glorify God.

  12. odgie says:

    The sermons that I remember are almost all expository; preaching a text with respect for the Word and able to bring a fresh perspective; giving the listener something to mull over and something to sustain him/her all week.

  13. mattdabbs says:

    If the sermon doesn’t cast a vision, doesn’t lend itself to encouraging people to draw closer to God, and doesn’t offer a positive alternative to the negative world we live in then I would say it doesn’t do much good. But if a sermon is pushing forth a kingdom agenda, casts a vision for the future of God’s people in its particular context (congregational and surrounding unchurched community) and offers people hope through the Lord Jesus Christ then I cannot help but say it does make a difference.

  14. You know this is a good question. I wonder frequently if anything I say or do makes any difference in the slightest. Lots of folks compliment a lesson after Sunday morning but does it really hit home with anyone? Perhaps most of the time not in the way I like but they have an accumulative effect. Yet a sermon can have dramatic effect too. This past week with my lesson on John 8 the response throughout the week was very positive. Enough so for a number of people to both email or call. It is nice of the Lord to give us those little blessings from time to time.

  15. D. Meadows says:

    Danny,

    Speaking as a school teacher, I know that putting the information out there is going to fall on fertile and rocky soil. It is my job as a teacher to use a variety of ways to reach my students. From that standpoint, I can understand your wondering whether or not you are getting through to your listeners. From the perspective of the listener, I can also attest to the fact that I don’t always get as much from each sermon as I could. Maybe I’m distracted a little by my little grandson sometimes or maybe I don’t feel well that day or maybe things are going on with me that prevent me from “hearing” as well as I should. But I also know that on many occasions the sermons have reached me at a level that seemed designed just for me. I have often wondered just how the preacher knew exactly what I needed to hear. As recently as two Sunday nights ago, our preacher preached right to my heart as if to say . “Donna, this one’s for you.” Yes, I try to take something away from each lesson I hear, but some are more meaningful to me personally than others. So don’t beat yourselves up wondering if you are getting through. You are. As Bro. Les explained. it’s your job to put it out there whether anyone is listening or not. It is up to us as your listeners to hear the lesson and do with it what we will. That s our responsibility. So preach on, brothers, and keep up the good work with the”foolishness of preaching…” ( Side note: I remember your very first sermon delivered in Indianola, Ms, about Rahab, Danny. You did well and you just keep on getting better and better

  16. Donna says:

    No offense…but I think it is overemphasized. It is important that the speaker be in tune with the congregation, but his role especially when done well makes for lazy church members.

    when it is done badly, the preacher becomes the scape-goat…and again creates lazy church members.

  17. dannydodd says:

    No offense taken, Donna. All voices are welcome here.

    Odgie, Matt and Donna M. all make excellent points. I too like to preach and hear expository sermons. As a preacher it is our role to put it out there and see what happens. It can be veiwed as a seed planting effort.

    Occasionally like Bobby shares- the seed will take root and the evidence of this will be visible and vocal. This is when we as preachers feel most fulfilled.

    I remember that sermon in Belzoni, MS too sis. It might have lasted all of ten minutes I think!

  18. Eddie Lewis says:

    Several years ago, a reader of “The British Weekly” wrote this provocative letter to the editor:
    Dear Sir: It seems ministers feel their sermons are very important and spend a great deal of time preparing them. I have been attending a church service quite regularly for the past 30 years and i have probably heard 3000 of them. To my consternation, I discovered that I cannot remember a single sermon. I wonder if a minister’s time might be more profitably spent on something else? Sincerely…”
    For weeks a real storm of editorial responses ensued. The uproar finally was ended by this letter:
    Dear Sir: I have been married for 30 years. During that time I have eaten 32,850 meals mostly of my wife’s cooking. Suddenly, I have descovered that I cannot remember the menu of a single meal. And yet, I received nourishment from every single one of them. I have the distinct impression that without them, I would have starved to death long ago. Sincerely…”
    Just a thought. lol Eddie

  19. Darren says:

    This is a good question, one with no easy answer. I have been preaching for 13 years and have wondered this many times. I do think, however, that people are more apt to learn in dialogue vs. monologue (read-sermon).

  20. Jim Miller says:

    ok guys! stop worrying. you are all touching someone if you are trying. I remember being disappointd after hearing one of the “great” old preachers. Boring!!! But, one day I played the tape and it was incredible. And, it gets better everytime I hear that sermon. I wasn’t mature enough to accept the simpliciy of the topic when I first heard it.

  21. dannydodd says:

    Good story Eddie- illustrates perfectly what we as preachers need to remember. Thanks for sharing it.

    And excellent insight from my old pal Jim. Hey, little did I know you possessed such wisdom! lol

  22. J D says:

    Interesting thoughts all the way around. Perhaps the greatest struggle the preacher has is discerning what the church needs to hear. I do not poo poo preaching as a whole, because the apostle Paul did not … and he reminded us that preaching the cross would be foolishness to the world. However, I’ve endured plenty of “sermons” that were like a long dose of icky cough medicine…and not as effective.

    The only thing I haven’t seen here is the role of the Holy Spirit in preaching. As Donna M. mentioned, there are times when people feel that the sermon was “just for me” … and in such a case I believe the Spirit is at work convicting men and women for the Kingdom’s glory.

    I have had people thank me for addressing topics I did not address … saying things I did not say… and remarking that a particular comment really touched them (a comment that I tossed in at the last second unprepared). In turn I have experienced the same thing.

    There is something bigger than any of us going on when we assemble to worship – and all the rest of our lives as well.

    Great subject Danny. Sorry I’m late to the race!

  23. wjcsydney says:

    Yes yes yes! The sermon last Sunday night was one of a series on “Joy Robbers” . It was on anxiety (anger and depression are being covered as well). I was facing a particular situation this week about which I was (not without reason) pretty anxious. (As if I don’t have enough to be anxious about in my life at the moment.. lol) My week was transformed by the message I heard! My life is being transformed too, and the sermons I hear each week are a very significant part of that transformation process. Don’t underestimate the role of preaching in the lives of those of us who come to be fed with the Word!

  24. Terry says:

    Hearing sermons has made a huge difference in my life. I may not remember where I have heard something or who may have said it, but often I think of something I have heard in a sermon and my life changes when the message finally “clicks.”

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