past comes into the present. People sit frantically in their stalled car. The
ground shakes as the inevitable draws nearer. In the rear view mirror is the
notice, “objects in mirror are closer than they appear.” Suddenly
the face of the T-Rex materializes in the reflective surface. Panic ensues.1

sometimes feel that panic on Sundays.2 Soon after services
are over I’m inexplicably drawn to the mirror. It lures me and repels me; seduces
me to look, yet I fear what I might see. It isn’t fear of T-Rex; it’s the realization
of the enormity of the responsibility.3 Was I faithful
to my calling? Did I get the job done? Was what I said in any way helpful?

everywhere know the feeling. They enter the pulpit and before them is an audience
of listeners – listeners who have come wanting to know if anything the preacher
says will make a difference in their lives in the coming weeks and months. They
have come seeking a word from the Lord (though often they don’t know that’s
what they are seeking).

is an awesome responsibility. As preachers we stand on sacred ground. We wade
into a hallowed stream.

like to once again bring the past into the present. Not the T-Rex and his counterparts,
but the shepherds of Israel. Specifically I’m interested in those shepherds
addressed in Ezekiel 34.4 Ezekiel does not present a flattering
picture of Israel’s leaders. However, his words prove beneficial when we learn
from their failures.

must be noted that “shepherds” in this passage are Israel’s leaders,
primarily their kings.5 They have failed in their responsibility
to care for Israel. In verses 1-10 they are soundly condemned for those failures.6
The remainder of the chapter is God’s remedy for their failure. In essence He
says, “I will do it Myself.”7

we are not “leaders” in the same sense, we find the image of shepherd
to be used widely in the New Testament for those whose role is to tend to the
flock of God.8 And it is those shepherds who labor hard
in preaching and teaching that bear the greatest burden of responsibility (1
Tim. 5:17-18; James 3:1). Therefore, those categories of concern expressed by
Ezekiel may prove insightful for those of us who preach.

learning from the failures of Israel’s shepherds we may well find helpful questions
which can aid in the construction of sermons which “get the job done.”
If we ask the right questions in the context of our sermon preparation, we may
preach sermons that accomplish what Israel’s shepherds did not.

suggesting that asking appropriate questions during the preparation of the sermon
will keep our sermons in line with the desires of the Chief Shepherd. Examining
a sermon in the light of the following questions may prevent us fearing what
we may see in the rear view mirror as we reflect on our Sunday morning experience.

questions are as follows:

1. Does this
sermon supply nourishment? Does it feed the flock?
2. Does this sermon bring healing? Does it recognize the pains of the people?
3. Does this sermon empower continuation? Does it encourage the broken to
keep going?
4. Does this sermon enable restoration? Does it let me know where I should
5. Does this sermon provide orientation? Does it allow me to come to faith?

Does this sermon supply nourishment?

too many occasions I’ve heard parishioners say, “We’re not being fed.”
It’s the common complaint of those who go church hopping. Whether it’s true
or not, I’ve never been able to determine. Often those who visit one church
because they weren’t fed at another end up visiting yet another church because
they were not fed at that one, either. However, the very fact that they say
they’re not fed is disturbing – disturbing enough to make a preacher reevaluate
the fare.

is preparing nourishing, appealing meals. Our concern is both preparation and
presentation, nutrition and appeal. Jesus’ instruction to Peter was “feed
my lambs” (John 21:15). In reflecting on a life of preaching and teaching
Peter could say, “I have written both my letters as reminders to stimulate
you to wholesome thinking” (2 Peter 3:1). Peter had given them what they
needed in order to think correctly. He had fed them.

condemnation of Israel’s shepherds was for self-care. God’s response was, “I
will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be
their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there
they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel” (Ezekiel 34:14).
The Psalmist said, “You prepare a table for me . . . ” (Psalm 23:5).
The preaching we advocate and practice must be preaching that provides “good
grazing” and “rich pasture,” i.e., nourishment for the sustenance
of the listener.

we preach the Bible. Never has it been more important to preach the Scriptures.9
Therein is food for the sheep. It is in Scripture that we find that by which
“the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2
Timothy 3:16). As the Psalmist says, “How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth” (Psalm 119:105).

would argue that the best preaching for “feeding” people is Biblical
preaching; preaching that begins and ends in the text. The preaching that nourishes
our listeners is preaching that exposes the meaning of God’s word to the listeners
in a way that they can fully comprehend and apply that meaning to their lives.
If they are given scripture to think about, when they are done digesting our
comments, they still have something worthy of their meditation.

we don’t prepare meals with nutrition alone as our guide. We all want to sit
at a table where the chef has also been concerned with presentation. It should
appeal to the senses. Sermons, like meals, satisfy most when they are both nutritious
and appealing. The presentation should appeal to the listeners, inviting them
to hear. The way the meal appears is nearly as important as what the meal consists
of. When what we say is substantial, and the way we say it is interesting, then
we can affirmatively answer the question, “Does this sermon nourish?”
And when it is delivered with appeal, we can rest assured people will sit long
enough to absorb the nourishment.

what might we ask? Here are some sample questions to prompt our evaluative juices:
Is the sermon appetizing? Is it healthy? Does it energize? Is it tasty? Does
it have sensory appeal? Would I want to eat it? Is it balanced? Is it hearty?
Will it stick with me? Will it bring people back to the table? Will it encourage
trying other new foods? Did it satisfy? Did it leave me wanting more? Do I walk
away, only to be hungry again too quickly? Do I feel as if I’ve over-eaten?

Does this sermon bring healing?

Sunday people walk in the door and sit in the seats, weak and ill. They are
in serious need of healing and strengthening. The food the world has fed them
has poisoned them and left them without strength. The constant onslaught of
misplaced values and misleading lies weakens and drains them of spiritual health
and energy.

cried, “the weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed”
(vs. 4). God replied, “I will strengthen the weak” (vs. 16). God will
see to it that His people are energized to carry on. If there is spiritual illness
or weakness, He will see to it there is healing and strength. Jesus said it
this way, “come unto me, all you who are weary, and I will give you rest.”
Paul said to the Thessalonians, ” . . . encourage the timid, help the weak . . . ”

serves to heal and strengthen. In the context of “proclamation” and
“a door for our message,” Paul says we are to let our “conversation
be seasoned with salt” (Col. 4:2-6). For the rabbis, “seasoning with
salt” was a figure of speech for applying the word of God to the needs
of men.10 This image is one of finding a person’s need,
their hurt, and applying the appropriate scripture to that need.

live in a world that specializes in tearing them apart. The sermon, in the context
of worshiping a loving God, should build and heal. Perhaps the words of Paul
(spoken not in the context of preaching, nor specifically to preachers) might
yet be good for preachers to hear, “do not let any unwholesome talk come
out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according
to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).

Scripture both diagnoses and prescribes. There is something about the Word of
God that allows the Holy Spirit to find the source and not merely the symptom
(Hebrews 4:12). Nearly every preacher has had the experience of listening to
parishioners reflect on the message they’ve just heard. One will say, “you
can’t believe how helpful it was when you said . . . ” At that moment we
realize we did not say that; but God did. Through the power of the preached
word, God spoke (1 Thessalonians 2:12). A disease was diagnosed, a weakness
was identified, and healing begun. Such is the incredible power of preaching
the Bible.

do people hear when they come to that portion of worship we call preaching?
Do they hear a word of grace (Col. 4:6) or a word of condemnation? Do they leave
feeling more mauled than mended, more rebuked than reborn, more hurt than healed?
Was there a word of grace in the sermon that echoed the healing words of God,
“I will heal their waywardness and love them freely . . . ” (Hosea

questions do those of us interested in a healing, strengthening message ask?
Does this sermon diagnose, or merely prescribe? Am I aiming at causes or symptoms?
Will the listener feel better when they leave? Will they understand the disease?
Will they know the cause of their weakness? Will they have something practical
they can do? Will they have a realistic solution? Do they know how much and
how often? Have they been warned of the side effects? Do they have a sense of
how long it might take to heal? Do they know it’s okay to hurt? Are they aware
that some sickness is self-induced? Will they be stronger? Do they sense the
physician cares?

Does this sermon empower continuation?

speaks of shepherds failing to “bind up the broken” (vs. 4). Undoubtedly
he has injured sheep in mind. Rather than leave the injured to fend for themselves
(vs. 8), God promises to “bind up” the broken. He will see that they
are able to continue the journey. They are not to be left behind nor forsaken.

were responsible to watch the sheep. They were to notice when one of the sheep
appeared to be having trouble. Shepherds looked for wounds from thorns and attacks.
They checked to see that hooves were in tact. They monitored the terrain to
short circuit any attempts by the enemy to separate the weak. Shepherds carefully
assessed every sheep to ensure it was able to continue.

that is worthy of the name enables listeners to continue, to go another day,
to take another step. Preaching, pastoral words from a pastoral heart, binds
up the broken and gives them the power to continue the journey. Preaching addresses
the multiple issues in every audience and recognizes that no two sheep are exactly
alike. Preaching takes into account the varied needs of the injured. Preaching
warns of the dangers inherent in leaving the pasture or the path. Preaching
provides adequate direction for the journey.

Sunday people enter community worship with hearts broken by unfaithful spouses,
unfair employment practices, inhumane business dealings, unbelievable life circumstances.
They come hobbling into worship victimized by unfortunate miscalculations on
their own part. Some have suffered injury due to no responsibility of their
own, while others have been their own worst enemies. Yet they come, looking
to the Great Physician’s assistant for some sense of hope and courage.

concerned preacher will ask, “Will this sermon encourage or discourage
those who hear? Will this message mediate healing in broken lives? Does the
message inflict more guilt than grace? Does it provide the needed crutch to
help carry the load? Does the sermon communicate the community concern? Will
the listener know that God extends grace even to our poor judgment? Does the
sermon bind a wound or wound more deeply? Does the sermon enable me to keep
going? Are the directions clear? Is there motivation to continue? Is there encouragement
that justifies the effort? Is there warning of the dangers? Is there honest
assessment of the difficulty inherent in the journey? Is there adequate guidance
to know the boundaries and the destination?

Does this sermon enable restoration?

fail to look far beyond their faces while they eat. They simply go from one
tuft of grass to another. As a result they sometimes find themselves separated
from the rest of the flock. However, if the shepherd is doing his job, they
are never far from their sheep. Sheep may wander, shepherds don’t.

was not a phenomenon known only to Israel. The early Church faced the problem
too. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “I am astonished that you are so quickly
deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a
different gospel” (Gal. 1:6) Again, he warned Timothy that “some have
wandered from the faith” (1 Tim. 6:10, 21) and some “have shipwrecked
their faith” (1 Tim. 1:20). Jude, the brother of Jesus, instructed his
readers to “be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire
and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear-hating even the clothing
stained by corrupted flesh” (Jude 22-23).

problem continues to exist. People are distracted by the things of the world
(Matthew 13:22; 2 Timothy 4:10). They are enticed by the lure of greener pastures.
They have a hard time staying connected to an ancient gospel. And in today’s
world there are multiple pastures being proffered. Multiple messages come everyday
that there is grass for the taking, if only the person will . . .

says more about this than any other concern. “You have not brought back
the strays or searched for the lost” (vs. 4); “so they were scattered
because there was no shepherd” (vs. 5); “My sheep wandered over all
the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth . . . ”
(vs. 6). Ezekiel’s vocabulary may even reflect having been “driven”

God never gives up. Ezekiel records His voice: “I myself will search for
my sheep” (vs. 11); “I will search for the lost and bring back the
strays” (vs. 16). Hosea says, “Therefore I am now going to allure
her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her” (Hosea

preacher asks, does the sermon on Sunday give the listener any hope that God
wants them back? Is there any sense that I am free to return? Is there any direction
given? Does this sermon provide adequate instructions for a return trip? Does
it sound a note of grace and mercy, inviting the wandering home? Does it signal
the right direction to move? Does it tell the sheep the location of the shepherd?
Does it help the sheep locate the safe pasture? Does it entice the wandering
sheep back to the fold? Is it clear? Is it inviting? Does it spell out what
is involved? Does the sermon communicate God’s broken heart? Does it sound the
voice of a waiting father?

Does this sermon provide orientation?

other side of restoration is attraction. Is it possible that we can preach in
such a way that people can find a new direction in life? Ezekiel speaks not
only of the “strays” but also of the “lost.” It’s one thing
to preach in such a way that those who are struggling can get reoriented. One
may preach in a way that those who are headed in a faulty direction can get
redirected. But it’s another matter altogether to preach in such a way that
those who are lost get found.

is not without its anxious moments. But it’s still not being “lost.”
Straying implies you can stick your head up, scan the horizon and realize you
may be off the beaten path, you may be separated from the flock, but you can
see your way back. “Lost” implies loss of any recognition of where
you are. There is no “reorienting” because you were never “oriented.”
There is the need for the complete redirection of one’s life.

preaching reach one who is out of touch with the shepherd? Is it possible for
preaching to provide enough persuasion to totally sway a lost sheep into coming
home? Apparently Paul thought so. He claimed it was “the foolishness of
preaching” that God used to “save those who believed.” Jesus
came “preaching.” He thought preaching would work to locate the lost
and give them motive to come home.

is our dilemma. Do we preach attraction or correction? And the answer must be
“yes.” We preach to feed and heal and guide the sheep. And we preach
so sheep are aware of the dangers. We preach in a way that keeps the sheep away
from the brinks of disaster. We preach in a way that the sheep know where and
what the dangers actually are. But sermons must also give a new sense of hope.
Sermons must redefine home. Sermons must spell out the necessary terms of reorientation.

preacher asks, does this sermon make the path so clear that even those unfamiliar
with the territory sense it’s the right path to take? Does this sermon cause
me to want to go in a certain direction, possibly unaware of where it may take
me? Does this sermon have the power to interest the disinterested? Can this
sermon take the sheep who doesn’t even know that it’s lost and convince it that
it lives in dangerous territory? Does the message mark the boundaries clearly
and convincingly? Does the sermon make known the character and nature of “sheephood”?
Will I know God’s expectations when I’m through listening to the sermon? Will
I hear the voice of God calling?

J.K. Jones, professor of preaching at Lincoln Christian College, maintains that
“a good question is worth a thousand answers.”11
I’m not suggesting the questions presented in this paper are of the magnitude
of those of Luther or Bonhoeffer (see sidebar). But I am suggesting that these
simple questions – “Does this sermon teach? Does it heal? Does it empower?
Does it restore? Does it reorient? – might help us prevent some unwanted post-sermon
trauma from occurring.

every sermon must answer all these questions. But every sermon should answer
at least one of them. And every course of sermons should answer them. If every
preacher would ask every sermon in every series these questions, listeners would
certainly not suffer the way the people of Israel suffered under their shepherds.
And if we, Christ’s “under-shepherds” did our job, God may not feel
compelled to “do it himself.”

last question: how will we know? We need some way to determine if we have succeeded
in preaching messages that accomplish the purposes of God. Allow me to suggest
these brief means of finding out.

  • Create a group
    of respondents who provide feedback following the sermon. Every three weeks
    or so, meet to discuss what they’ve heard and how it has or hasn’t helped.
  • Appoint a key
    listener who will work with you in the final stages of preparation. Make that
    person aware of which question(s) you are hoping to address in a particular
    message and give you feedback.
  • In a team staff
    arrangement ask colleagues to provide written response/evaluation.
  • Create an interactive
    page on the church’s website to receive feedback from the sermon.
  • Provide three
    or four listeners critique sheets to fill out and return following the sermon.
  • Listen carefully
    to the anecdotes offered by your listeners.
  • Ask key leaders
    to seek input from the listeners and give you feedback.
  • Have someone
    transcribe your sermons so you see what you actually said.

any case, ask yourself these questions before and after the sermon in a kind
of pre- and post- evaluation process.



questions are as I have heard them, adapted from Martin Luther and Dietrich

Luther’s 9 questions:

1. Do you teach/preach
2. Do you have a ready wit (humor)?
3. Are you eloquent? (wordsmithing)
4. Are you caring for your voice?
5. Do you have a good memory?
6. Do you know when to end?
7. Are you sure of your doctrine?
8. Will you risk body, blood, wealth, honor to preach? (courage)
9. Will you allow yourself to be mocked and jeered?


1. Was the sermon
faithful to the scriptures?
2. Was the sermon faithful to this particular text?
3. Was the sermon faithful to the great doctrines?
4. Was the sermon faithful to the congregation?
5. Was the sermon faithful to the great commission?
6. Was the sermon believable?
7. Did the sermon cause the listener to want to look at the passage again?
8. Did the sermon proclaim good news?


Sackett is Professor of Preaching at Lincoln Christian Seminary in Lincoln,



Kenton C. Preaching with Conviction: Connecting with Postmodern Listeners.
Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2001.
Jones, J. K. Reading with God in Mind. Joplin, MO: HeartSpring publishing,
Lawson, Steven J. Famine in the Land. Chicago: Moody Press, 2003.
Ryken, L., Wilhoit, J., Longman, T., Duriez, C., Penney, D., & Reid, D.
G. Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (electronic ed.). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity
Press, (2000, c1998).
Shaddix, Jim. The Passion Driven Sermon. Nashville: Broadman & Holman
Publishers, 2003.


1. From the movie Jurassic Park.
2. In addition to my responsibility to teach preaching at Lincoln Christian
Seminary I have the privilege of preaching at Madison Park Christian Church
in Quincy, IL. Each week they graciously give me three chances to get it right.
3. For an interesting reflection on this dilemma see Anderson, 2001.
4. This paper is not an attempt to thoroughly exegete this text, but rather,
to allow the imagery to evoke ideas.
5. At this point one must be careful not to press the analogy. I’m not suggesting
the preaching minister in the local congregation has either responsibility or
authority like the kings of Israel. However, “{i}n keeping with the shepherd’s
role as leader and provider, biblical pastoral writings often picture civil
and religious leaders as shepherds and the people as sheep.” Ryken, L.,
2000, c1998, pg. 782.
6. Since the unworthy shepherds care more for themselves than for their charges
and have plundered them rather than searched for them, God will hold them accountable,
remove them from their posts and take away their livelihood (Ezek 34:8-10).
Out of this situation comes the promise of a shepherd from the line of David
who will genuinely care for the people (Ezek 34:23), Ryken, 2000, pg. 783.
7. Most scholars believe He is ultimately anticipating the coming of the “good
shepherd.” E.g., John B. Taylor, Ezekiel, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries,
1969; Daniel L. Block, The Book of Ezekiel, Chapters 25-48, The New
International Commentary on the Old Testament, 1998; Iain M. Duguid, Ezekiel,
The NIV Application Commentary, 1999.
8. Ephesians 4:11 (pastor-teachers); 1 Peter 5:1-4 (shepherds/elders); Acts
20:28-29 (shepherds).
9. Recent Homiletics books seem to emphasize a common message. E.g., see Shaddix,
2003, and Lawson, 2003.
10. According to Eduard Lohse, Colossians and Philemon, Hermeneia, Philadelphia:
Fortress Press, 1971, pg. 169.
11. Jones, 2003, pg. 33.

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