The Place of Theology in Sermons

The recent State of Theology study by Ligonier ministries puts into quantifiable results the fact that the Evangelical Church is astoundingly ignorant and misinformed about the basic doctrines of the Christian faith. It isn’t hard to understand this when sermons continue to get shorter and substance grows thinner. Moralism, stories, pop psychology, and video clips fill up the time given for preaching and the results are predictable.

How can we beef up the theological content of our sermons while not overwhelming our congregations with long dissertations and dry lectures? As in many things in life, we must strike a balance. How can we do that?

  1. Preach the text. Expositional preaching is not the same as a theological diatribe. Every text contains theology, but not every theological message is expositional. Stick to the text and explain the passage by making the theology in it clear.
  2. Make sure you understand the depth and breadth of the theology in the text. As the one expounding the passage, you must know the greater concepts of theology inside and outside of the passage. Pull out that systematic theology and refresh yourself with the broader and more full ideas involved in the particular theological concept you are addressing. This will guard you from saying something contradicted elsewhere in Scripture.
  3. Be clear about the theological idea before you preach on it. Nothing makes a muddy sermon than not knowing what you are talking about. If you can explain the main idea of a theological concept to a 10 year old, you understand it well. Break it down into bite-sized ideas and use illustrations or similes in order to communicate to different levels of spiritual maturity.
  4. Don’t be afraid of using theological terms, but be sure to define them. Don’t avoid using words like justification, atonement, even hypostatic union, but make sure that you define the word and idea. But be careful that in defining a word, you don’t oversimplify a complicated concept for the sake of being clever.
  5. Connect the theology with living for Christ. God places theological concepts in his Word because they are important, but it is the job of the expositor to mine the riches and point out the practical application of each idea to life. Show them the riches of theology and make them thirst for more. The Puritans were masters at this!

As we add theology each Sunday we will serve up rich, meaty spiritual meals that will satisfy and strengthen the congregation. Your church doesn’t have to be near a seminary, highly educated, or even made up of mature believers to do this. Start at whatever level your church is at spiritually, and then move them toward greater maturity and theological precision with patience and love. Not only will they thank you for it, you will be inoculating the church against false doctrine and false teacher as well, making your job as a shepherd so much easier.

A Tool To Sharpen Your Preaching

If we want to improve in any skill, we must practice. This axiom is also true for preaching. If you don’t get many opportunities to preach, them you won’t be able to grow as an expositor. But there is an additional tool beyond practice that is also needed. As a matter of fact, it goes hand in hand with practice. It’s feedback. We need help with seeing our blindspots and our weaknesses in our sermons and delivery. One good place to get helpful feedback is from our church–those people that love us and want us to grow in our skills.

Now I understand that going to someone in your church and asking them to critique your preaching is a scary prospect because we are opening ourselves up to someone when we are very vulnerable. But we need the feedback if we are to get better and improve our preaching skills. So here is how you can being:

  1. Find two or three people you trust will be both kind and honest with you as they critique your preaching.
  2. If you have an idea of where you might need to improve, try working on this skill set for a month. Don;t try to change too much too fact or you will freeze up with the “paralysis of analysis” syndrome. Once you get a skill under your belt, you can move on.
  3. Explain to those people who are giving you feedback what they should be looking for. They need to know how to identify weakness in you beyond what they like and don’t like. It needs to be defined and measurable.
  4. After they give you feedback, thank them and assure them that you will take their comments into consideration and work on these things. Then do it!

I have created a simple form to give to those in a church with helpful areas for them to take notes. I would suggest that you not only explain what they are looking for, understand that they are helping you out, so don’t demand that they spend too much time distracted with the critique so that they get nothing from the message. In fact, you might want to rotate those that help you with feedback so it isn’t the same people week after week. Here are the questions I include on my form:

Sermon Evaluation

  • Preacher’s name: _____________________ 
  • Sermon title: _________________________
  • Sermon main text: ____________________
  • Date preached: _______________________


  • Did the introduction lead to the main idea of the text?
  • Was it interesting?
  • Did it include enough background info to give context without bogging down the sermon?

Sermon Body:

  • Was there a clear outline?
  • Was the outlining of the sermon choppy?
  • Did the preacher point us back to the text to prove his point?
  • Did he stray from the text or explain it?
  • Were there sufficient illustrations to make the abstract ideas concrete? 
  • Was there appropriate application given?
  • Was the main point of the text the main point of the sermon?
  • Was there doctrinal error?
  • Was the explanation of the main doctrines clear?

Sermon Conclusion:

  • Was the gospel somehow included in the sermon or conclusion?
  • Was this message God-centered?
  • Was this message overall clear, somewhat clear, muddy, or confusing?
  • Was the hearer given something to do or believe?


(The one giving feedback should be instructed to write out your outline as they heard it. This should help you evaluate how successfully you gave out the outline in regard to repetition, and clarity.)

7 Take-Aways From Jesus’ Discipleship Lesson in Matthew 10:15-25

“Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town. “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.” (Matthew 10:15–25, ESV)

  1. Be courageous as you go into the world because you go as an ambassador of God (vv. 16, 20).
  2. Cruel hatred is often a part of a faithful witness (vv. 17-18).
  3. Through great trials will come great opportunities for the gospel (v. 18).
  4. In the pain and fear, never forget that God has not left you (v. 19).
  5. Faithfulness to Christ can drive a wedge in a family (vv. 21-22), but you must stand firm with Christ.
  6. In the midst of persecution, don’t lose sight of the Second Coming of Christ (v. 23).
  7. Being like Jesus is not only reflected in love and holiness, but it also includes great suffering (vv. 24-25).