In a discussion about expository preaching with PreachingTodaySermons.com, Bryan Chapell explains the 3:00 an test, and why it matters to preachers:
“If your spouse or roommate were to roll you out of bed at 3 A.M. and ask, “What is the sermon about this Sunday morning?” if you cannot answer in one crisp sentence, the sermon’s not ready to preach. You need an idea people can grasp. If the sermon’s idea is, “In the Babylonian incarceration of God’s people, they suffered for seventy years to determine what God’s plan was and never could determine it…” and you keep talking, that idea is not going to pass the 3 A.M. test. We need something like “God remains faithful to faithless people,” something that’s crisp.
Remember, we are speaking to listeners, not to readers. In an oral medium I need to speak to people in a way they can readily hear what my main ideas are. Presenting crisp ideas will help.
We also need to think, What will make people have to listen to what I am saying? I encourage preachers to include in the introduction the “fallen-condition focus.” Namely, what aspect of this fallen world requires us to hear what this Scripture is addressing today? I’m going to ask of a text not only, “What’s the main idea?” but “Why was it written?” and “How are we like the people to whom it was written?” By asking, “How are we like them?” I begin to think of my people: What are they struggling with? What do they have to confront? I want to state that in crisp and particular ways to make them think, I’ve got to listen to this; this really is something that I’m struggling with, and I want to know what the Word of God has to say about it.” (Click here to read the full interview)