Aroldo F. de Andrade is Ministerial Secretary of the Rio de Janeiro Conference, Brazil.

When the preacher has a Christ-centered objective, the Spirit will guide him during the preparation and presentation of the message, thus blessing the congregation.

Many years ago, a sports program on television presented an interesting account in connection with dog racing. When the animals were released from their cages, an electronic machine was ahead of them carrying an artificial rabbit. That kept the dogs running at full speed trying to catch it. The speed at which the electronic machine was traveling dictated the rhythm of the race. At that time, evidently, the person in charge of keeping up with the speed wasn't watching and one of the dogs caught up with the fake rabbit. The animal must have been greatly frustrated when he bit into the decoy and tasted nothing but cloth and grease. Dejected he abandoned the race, and was quickly followed by the others thus ending the contest.

Is it possible that some preachers are also preparing and delivering their sermons, and in the meantime searching for false objectives? Is it possible that some are running in vain and beating the air, without definite objectives? Why do some preachers, at the end of the worship service, feel that their preaching didn't reach the people? Why do some experience during their sermon a feeling of emptiness and uselessness? In order for the preaching to reach the listeners, it is necessary for the preacher to fulfill three needs: the need to know, to prepare and to apply.


The preacher must have a general knowledge of the human being and his basic needs: isolation, financial difficulties, family problems as well as health problems. Uncertainty of the present, guilt for the past, and fear for the future are modern man's worries.

The preacher must also know the needs of his congregation. In each meeting there are those who come with a multitude of problems and are searching for a balm to soothe their wounds. Visitation programs and counseling are other means whereby the preacher can know the members and their personal problems, thus identifying points that should be discussed during the presentation of the message.

Another method that could be applied very efficiently is the inquiry in every congregation of the doctrinal points in which the members have difficulty understanding. Through an anonymous survey, quarterly or yearly, the pastor can evaluate his congregation and thus find out if the spiritual food offered each week is producing the desired results.

If the preacher doesn't know the needs of his listeners, in all probability his sermons are bullets from a shotgun, where the lead is spread everywhere, without knowing where it's going to land or if it's going to hit somebody.


The need to prepare involves three aspects: preparation of the preacher, the message and additional resources.

Personal preparation

The way in which the messenger presents himself before the public will enhance or reduce the efficiency of his message. The personal preparation of the man whom God will use as His instrument includes communion with Him and His word, and also a good reputation before the congregation as well as the community. That means for him to live what he preaches and practice what he teaches. It's been a long time since people were respected because of their knowledge and eloquence. Family life, interrelationship and the way in which business is conducted destroy or validate a sermon. Sermons, apart from life as an example, have been the downfall of many talented men of the Word. People perceive when the preacher is not sincere.

Another aspect of personal preparation includes reading. The preacher needs to be well informed. Much reading is needed especially of current topics. We can make another application of the apostle Paul's recommendation: "Test everything. Hold on to the good" 1 Thess. 5:21. If that is essential for a Christian, so much more for a preacher.

What about the personal appearance before the congregation? Adequate dress for the environment, and also to the climate, must be observed. 

Sometimes ill-fitted or mismatched clothing can produce great harm. An exaggerated gesticulation, a loud voice or a shriek spoils the presentation. Such things attract the attention of the listeners, and they are so distracted that the entire message is lost.

We must not overlook oratory. We only learn by doing. A great public speaker was not born an orator, but becomes one through personal effort and practice.

Preparation of the message

The illustration of a cook preparing a meal to be enjoyed is an appropriate one in the preparation of a sermon. The way in which the cook selects the ingredients, is also the way the preacher prepares his message. He should read good books for orientation as he prepares his sermons; choose the type of sermon he wishes to present; know the type that best suits his personal style; put forth every effort to obtain his goal: that of feeding his flock, and put his shoulder to the task.

The topic of the sermon must be chosen with a prayerful spirit and a desire to satisfy the needs identified among the listeners. The outline is the sermon that, after complimented with other information, will become a powerful instrument to reach souls. Each part of the sermon deserves attention: the introduction, the body with its division, and the conclusion with the call. From the tools for research such as biblical commentaries, dictionaries and concordances, the preacher must look for answers to understand the chosen text. It is also of interest to be familiar with other versions of the Bible.

A presentation without a biblical foundation is not a sermon. It may be given any other name except a sermon. Many preachers are taking many strange ideas to the pulpit and the strangest thing is that they are called sermons.

The excessive use of any type of material must be avoided. If a source must be quoted more than any other, it should be the Bible. In the past, the church suffered considerably with too many quotations from Ellen G. White. Some preachers did so in such an exaggerated form that, many times, the Bible was not opened during the entire sermon, nor quoted. It seems that today we have gone to the other extreme. The writings considered inspired have been set aside and, for some preachers, it is as if they did not exist or were a source without any reference value. These tools must be used in order to discover what the biblical writer intended to communicate to the primary audience, and then they must help us understand what that text means for us today. If we don't find the objective of the Bible text, it should not be used in the sermon.

On the duration of the sermon, it is generally believed that it is not the clock that should determine its length. The lengthy sermon is what appears to be long, and concerning the short one, it's the one that ends when people want to listen. However, 30 minutes is a relatively good length.

Preparation of additional material

It is true that the first preachers used their body gestures and their voices as aids. Very few elements were incorporated into the sermon, basically only some music.

But today, there is a solid technological structure available to the preacher. He, as well as the churches, must be aware of the changes. The way in which society reacts to such changes also requires our attention. The slide projector, which had great success years ago, today has been overtaken even in the most rural areas. Videocassettes and computers are the tools of this generation, increasing the reach and effect of the message. 

Music, as an element which contributes to make decisions, has not been used wisely as it should have been. The preacher may, with the help of the music leader, join the spoken and sung messages in such a way that the results may be more meaningful.

A method utilized by Jesus with great benefit for the listeners was the use of illustrations.

Appropriate to the environment and pertinent to the topic, illustrations are the window through which the light enters thus helping the listener to understand the message. There are many books of illustrations that can be carefully used. None of these illustrations should be used, as if they were original, since someone may have used it previously and that can destroy the confidence of the listeners. The best illustrations for a sermon are those that can be obtained from the daily life or from the preacher's personal experience.

The use of illustrations must be done judiciously. A building with only windows may fall for lack of reinforcement. The anecdotes only told with the purpose of making the congregation laugh must be avoided, since the reason for the sermon is not to amuse people. It is also necessary to avoid the use of illustrations that portray some member's peculiarities that were confided to the preacher. Before creating constraining situations, the preacher must obtain from the members their approval to make public or not such experiences.


After the preparation of the messenger and the message has taken place, there is another factor that must be considered so that the sermon may be efficient. How to apply the message to the congregation? Some people listen to beautiful biblical passages, but later ask themselves: What does that old story have to do with me and my problems?

The challenge faced by the preacher is to reach the congregation. "A sermon is a sermon only when it has accomplished its mission. Some anonymous definitions can help find that objective." A sermon must comfort those in trouble and trouble those who are comfortable. Or, "a sermon is not a piece of art to be admired, but a piece of bread to be eaten." The classical definition of Pattison stands out among others by its brevity and symmetry. "Preaching is a verbal communication of divine truth aiming to persuade the listener."

Here are the three elements of the sermon: the theme or the material to be preached (the truth), the method (verbal communication) and the goal or objective to be reached (persuasion). If the congregation didn't feel satisfied, or was not challenged to surmount the obstacles, their time was stolen and their hopes destroyed. In order to reach the objectives of the sermon three things are necessary: obtain the attention of the listeners, apply the biblical message in a current context, and lead them to a decision.

Obtaining their attention

It is not an easy task to obtain the attention of a congregation for 30 minutes, even for the most experienced preacher. After the sermon, as it's common any Sabbath, after an hour and a half of previous programming, the task is almost impossible to accomplish. Therefore, the preacher needs to use all the resources previously mentioned, in order to be heard and understood.

It is not possible to catch the attention of a child when threatened with punishment but promising him a reward. Can it be that the adults are different? The attention is natural when the theme is relevant and presented in an interesting way. Besides, the listeners need to have a feeling of cost-benefit. Will I derive any benefit by listening to this sermon? What benefits can I receive by listening to this pastor for 30 or 40 minutes? Nobody withstands listening to a boring sermon or to a preacher speaking with a monotonous voice.

Applying the message

The next challenge before the preacher is how to make the sermon current. So with the sermon that has been presented several times, it ought to be and must be revamped. The best change that can be introduced in a sermon is a sense of updating and usefulness. The preachers are the only ones to think that when people come to church it's because they are anxious to discover details of ancient stories. Very few are interested in those topics that many people need to hear. Many preach to fill an empty space in the agenda of the church.

The preacher must keep the people in mind. Unless he thinks about the people, he will never find divine solutions for human problems. Each person listening to the sermon is facing some type of problem, and the preacher has the opportunity to make the biblical message real to the listener. People are interested in hearing about their needs. But they also need to hear that which God needs to tell them. This is the double task of the preacher: to speak what God wants men to hear, and, at the same time, fulfill human needs.

Leading to a decision

Finally, how do you guide the listeners to make a positive decision for the truth that was preached? It would be a frustrating experience to come to the end of the sermon and not know what to do. All sermons must end with an appeal to the listeners, but it is necessary to be aware of their reaction in order to apply the proper call. The preacher who uses the same type of appeal can end up tiring his audience. When the people are not keeping up with the theme, or when they are tired of listening, they can be tempted to respond to the appeal in order to put an end to the sermon and feel free from undue punishment.

The appeal must not be an obligated portion at the end of the sermon. It must be felt throughout the entire sermon leading the listener to think reflexively on each part of the message: "Before the facts presented, what must I do?" We must remember: some of the listeners may be listening to the last sermon of their life. What kind of sermon would you preach if you knew that in the audience there is a person who will not have the opportunity to listen to another sermon?

Christ, the center

As a general rule, when people go to church they want to be taught. When a preacher is invited to deliver a message, at an appointed day or hour, he needs to surmount all obstacles in order to comply with the charge. All preachers, whether beginner or experienced, can learn to reach the objectives of his preaching.

Christ must be the center of every sermon. If the main concern of the preacher is to present Christ, certainly the listeners will be served and the goals reached. It is impossible to preach hoping to reach a goal without having previously made adequate preparation. Without Christ's presence no sermon will have positive results.

Aroldo F. de Andrade is Ministerial Secretary of the Rio de Janeiro Conference, Brazil.
Translated by Antonio A. Rios.