Sermons That Direct People to God - Part One
Pastor Don Smarto

An effective sermon proclaims the gospel. There are many aspects to a good sermon such as exposition of a biblical text, distinct delivery, and careful organization. Most pastors follow these guidelines. But these are mechanics which can be developed. There is a more important factor I will discuss in this article. In seminary I studied exegesis and hermeneutics with excellent professors. They taught interpretation of scriptural texts. Historical context is important. They also taught literal and allegorical understanding. Likewise, these were useful principles but in many ways emotionless. These courses failed to teach a key factor in crafting a sermon which I discovered in time. That factor is the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

From 1980 to 1997, I had the privilege of traveling with Billy Graham. I studied his technique but soon realized the power of his preaching by watching him in private. He was a man of prayer. A member of his team, John Ackers, wrote outlines for many of Graham’s sermons. Dr. Graham chose the scripture and theme. I often sat with John during a crusade. But each time I heard Billy Graham preach, he went in directions not in his outline. Dr. Ackers would say to me, “He’s off script”. That was not meant as a criticism. Dr. Graham was allowing the Holy Spirit to guide him. So often I witnessed and felt the power of his preaching, like electricity filling a venue. Because Billy Graham allowed the Holy Spirit to guide his preaching, 2.2 million people received Christ. Of course God called him to be an anointed evangelist. A pastor who has a dozen people come to Christ is just as significant. Let me add, Millie Dienert, created prayer teams to support Dr. Graham’s preaching. Deacons and church members praying for you, the pastor, is very powerful, too. Create a church prayer team, if you do not have one.

This brings me to some practical guidance. Having been in ministry for forty years, I have preached many sermons. During my years with Graham, I preached in over 350 churches in 42 states and in 820 prison chapels in 18 states. In my home, I have a large tub of past sermons, literally hundreds. Since accepting a call to pastor Southside Baptist Church in Granbury, I have never used even one past sermon. On average, I spend ten hours a week creating a sermon. I begin Sunday afternoon praying for guidance. When the Lord puts on my heart a theme and scripture for a sermon, I use Monday to study the scripture and the context. By Tuesday, I have read commentaries and begin an outline. On Wednesday, I spend an hour praying for guidance and outlining the beginning and conclusion of the sermon so I have my key points. But several times mid-week, the Holy Spirit has instructed me to start over on a new theme. I have argued with God explaining my lack of time to start over, but God always wins. He makes it so clear to me He wants me to go in another direction, that I obey. This tells me my message (actually God’s message) is meant for the church or someone specific.
The reason I create original sermons each week is it keeps me fresh and keeps me in God’s Word. In one sense, I preach to myself. God continues to show me new insights from the scriptures even after forty years. As a redeemed sinner, I too need the power of His Word in my life.

Here are my key points:

1. Start with prayer and let God guide your theme and choice of scripture.
2. Study the scripture and the context.
3. Use outside readings and commentaries for guidance but do not use their words.
4. Use simple clear words to communicate in your own voice.
5. Allow the Holy Spirit to guide you by taking prayer breaks.
6. Write the sermon conclusion, first so you focus on your main points.
7. Next, write the sermon beginning which tells your congregation what they will learn and gets their attention.
8. Use an outline but do not write out your sermon or read it.
9. Pray again over your completed sermon adding for detail or deleting to reduce redundancy.
10. Rehearse your sermon so you know it thoroughly and time it (35 to 40 minutes).

In conclusion, I never use old sermons because I believe the Holy Spirit will give me new biblical insights and as a pastor I need to be fresh and relevant to my congregation’s needs.

© 2023 Pastor Don Smarto
Pastor of Southside Baptist Church
Paluxy Baptist Association | 1844 Acton Highway, Granbury, Texas 76049 | 817-579-5111
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