Complete Guide to Selecting a Message for Sunday Service
Updated: Feb 14
Selecting a Sunday message for Sunday Service may be a bit more complicated than most realize.
I. Preaching the Gospel Saves Lives
II. Effective Messages are Relevant to Congregations
III. Don’t Select a Message You Don’t Live
IV. Preaching Biblical Prophecy
V. What About Preaching on Hell?
VI. Select a Sermon on Salvation
VII. Preach and Refuse to Lecture Like a Professor
Preaching the Gospel Saves Lives
Although our processes may be different, as preachers, our end in mind is the same. Feeding God’s sheep is the primary assignment of a local shepherd. These “mealtimes” saves lives eternally! We can talk about ‘visions’ for the ministry another time. However, I would remind us that there is only one vision Jesus cast for His church.
According to Jesus, the vision is: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”
You will not find another vision for Jesus’ Bride in scripture. How that vision is executed is another conversation, however. Here is wisdom: selecting a message for Sunday must be not done according to mood. Your heart may desire dealing with a subject, but the Holy Spirit may not. One of my most egregious acts of disobedience was doing this. There was a rogue associate minister, and I preached a sermon on hell. While preaching a sermon on hell is always appropriate, the reasons must be Holy Ghost.
I need not remind us: “the wrath of man does not work the righteousness of God.” Although it could be philosophically argued mood plays a part in delivery, it must not determine ‘content.’ Believing emotions are a matter of the heart, the Bible says: “the heart is desperately wicked and evil above all things, who can know it?” Preachers who allow mood to dictate content are in a dangerous place!
Nevertheless, when in a state of constant meditation, what should be preached will be revealed. When the revelation arrives is up to God, nevertheless. I cannot remember a time during prayer when He revealed what I should present. It is usually shown during ‘inconvenient’ moments.
At other times, when reading God’s Word, something jumped up off the page! I am sure you have had those moments as well. So capturing are these revelations it is if we stepped in wet cement, and it immediately dried around our ankles.
This is manner of receiving a message to preach is most optimal of course.
Effective Messages are Relevant to Congregations
There are other times when we are allowed to speak on things relevant to the congregation. Those who say everything they have preached was revealed, are not being entirely truthful.
My question is: “Yes, OK, but revealed WHEN”?
There are several biblical examples of this. Let’s review one. When speaking on marriage, the Apostle Paul said: “it is better to marry than burn with passion.” It is, however, what he said prior which bears mentioning: “I do not speak by command, but by the permission God has given me.” I will not patronize by explaining the intricacies of this theology. I will, nevertheless, remind us there are things which need to be dealt with in congregations. We may not receive explicit instructions to do so, but ‘wisdom’ through discernment is relevant.
As surprising as this sounds, in all the years I’ve Pastored, I’ve never received a revelation to speak on tithes and offerings. I have, nevertheless, spoken on it from time to time. Is this disobedience to the Holy Spirit? NO! I mean, seriously, did the Holy Spirit REALLY provide biblical revelation on your youth ministry? OK, He did? Where is that in scripture? Please direct me to text teaching on Youth Ministry.
Oh, “suffer ye the little children to come unto me for such is the kingdom of God,” right?
We involve youth because it’s wise and practical for church continuity.
Don’t Select a Message You Don’t Live
When teaching the words of Jesus, don’t choose something you cannot preach with integrity! Romans chapter 2 says: “you, man of God, will you judge someone else while doing the same thing.”
Here is a short YouTube clip on integrity:
Let’s examine one of my personal struggles. I NEVER preach on “patience.” Although I have been given great patience with God’s Sheep, church leaders are another matter entirely. Those, like you, who preach God’s Word, yet don’t possess the spiritual integrity to live it (or repent for not), makes my blood boil. I truly understand Jesus’ hostility to Pharisees!
Notice I said: “makes MY blood boil.” Even in confrontational preaching, patience is a part of the equation. However, I have exactly ZERO. Understanding it is not the Holy Spirit driving my wrath, have I the right to be impatient even with preachers? NO! Therefore, I do not live ‘patience,’ so I do not preach it. However, I will preach against ‘jealousy’ and ‘envy.’ I have never known a man better than me. Never. I have known people I admired, but that is a long way from being jealous.
I preach against jealousy because I don’t struggle with it. You get the idea.
Here is a question: do you have the integrity to judge yourself and repent? Judging either yourself or others isn’t wrong. Although many have been deceived into believing we are not supposed to judge others, nothing could be further from true. The biblical text used to promote this fallacy is the first 7–8 verses of Matthew chapter 7.
To righteously judge, is to keep the body of Christ spiritually healthy. Jesus was teaching ‘balanced’ judgment in this text. This is not a totally forbiddance to judge! For instance, in the same chapter, Jesus said: “give not that which is holy to dogs, and neither cast your pearls among swine.” If I’m not supposed to judge, at all, how do I know what either a dog or swine is? You do realize Jesus was talking about people, right?
Let’s get more theologically specific. The preaching of the gospel, whatever sermon you select, is judging a dying world! Therefore, preaching of the gospel is judging PEOPLE who live in that dying world. The difference is the gospel is righteous judgment on a wicked world. If you do not believe judging is right, why declare the gospel at all? The basis of the gospel is a need for the world to be reconciled to God. If the world requires reconciliation, that indicates separation exists.
Leaning into that a little further, that separation exists because of original sin. Sin is against the holy nature of God. It is anathema to His character. If there is something contrary to His character, and we are a part of it, we, then, become contrary bi-proxy.
Therefore, you cannot hold the position that judging is wrong, and at the same time, preach a gospel that is judgment personified.
Preaching Biblical Prophecy
When selecting a Sunday message, seek the heart of the Lord on the prophetic. No, I am not speaking of the “name it claim it,” “blab it grab it,” “say it see it,” false vomit! I am speaking of theological preaching with respect to the times we are living in. Our church is studying Revelations currently. At minimum, a review of Matthew 24 is in order for the church. I am not suggesting we are in the end of days. Christians, throughout the ages, have been disappointed by such false proclamations. However, Jesus did encourage understanding seasons we live in.
For instance, the Book of Revelations speaks of ‘Four Horsemen.’ The world knows them as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Nevertheless, the white horse represents a false messiah, and the deception he brings on the world. Next, the red horse represents the war began by the rider of the white horse. This is followed by the black horse of scarcity, brought on by war. Finally, is the pale horse of death resulting from war, and famine.
Currently, inflation is as bad as it has been in the last 50 years, and scarcity abounds.
The war between Russia and Ukraine threatens to engulf the entire world. In America, shelves are empty, representing scarcity, which hasn’t been seen in more than a generation. What more appropriate time is there to preach a sermon on current prophetic events? God’s people know something is wrong: they just can’t put their finger on it. The Holy Bible has the answers. If I may be so blunt, for you NOT to preach some prophetic is incompetence. Oh, let me guess: “I haven’t been released to do so.” Wake up preacher!
Think about it like this: what if a flood is coming, and before it arrives, storm drains start to fill? It began as a light rain and increased in intensity over several hours. People see storm drains filling to overflow, and simply dismiss this as another rainstorm. However, winds pick up and along with rain, trees start to topple. They know this storm is quite a bit stronger than others but believe it will pass.
You, however, understand THIS storm is different, and hear a load roar in the distance. If you remain silent and say nothing, when the flood arrives, and sweeps God’s people away, He will not hold you harmless.
What About Preaching Hell?
Should you take this road, you will be one of the few who still preach hell! One of the greatest preaching travesties I ever heard, was how lightly hell was treated at a funeral.
A local pastor talked about a relationship with Jesus and how important it was. Bravo!
Funerals are often the only time those who believe there is no God will come to church. This is a perfect time to preach salvation.
Those who get up and simply eulogize the dead, are robbing Heaven of souls.
They will be held accountable, no doubt, as will I! Nevertheless, this Pastor referred to hell, not by name, rather jokingly as: “the smoking section.” Seriously preacher: when is the last time you mentioned hell? If there are 10,000 readers of this article, and 6,000 are preachers, I would be stunned if even 50 have mentioned hell in the last six months.
These have become ashamed of Jesus should heed HIS warning:
The reasons for this “shame” are legion, however, the current generation of pulpiteers are more interested in comfort than salvation. Among these, those who refuse truth are more worried about losing their jobs than incurring God’s wrath. Like a child, they do what feels good, never comprehending the consequences although they’ve been warned. Still others assume because they mention Heaven, people understand that hell is the opposite.
This provides an effortless way out for most. The bigger question is “do most preachers even believe in hell?” Having Pastored for number of years, and fellowshipped with numerous Pastors, I am unsure. Most are lukewarm about it.
My brethren always have an excuse for not being obedient. Over the years, this was one of the ways I: “tried those spirits whether they were of God or not, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” I have never met a Pastor, truly sent by God anyway, who was not expert at making excuses for neglect. Those who “send themselves”, rarely bother making them at all.
True Pastors say: “I have to pray about that,” “it has to be God’s timing before I move,” “we have to leave them alone and pray for them,” and numerous others. My personal favorite, which pushes me to a place of righteous indignation is: “remember we have to show grace like Jesus shall grace.” Nevertheless, I could biblically argue that making excuses is not showing grace rather demonstrable hate. Jesus said it best: “he who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters abroad.”
If you’re not doing what He commands, why do you call Jesus Lord? (His Words, and not mine). Love God’s people enough to select the Sunday sermon which reminds them of the consequences for refusing obedience.
Select a Sermon on Salvation
We never go wrong with this! Of all the challenges I have with some of my fellow shepherds, there is I don’t have: taking people to the cross. When the meaning portions of the sermon are extracted and taught, it is time to tell the audience the Gospel. I will not patronize any with the gospel message. We get that.
However, make sure you are reminding even the most educated saints about the simplicity of salvation. You may think people understand based on the number of times you’ve preached. Trust me, not everyone does. If they did, the church would not be in the horrible condition it is today.
Preach and Refuse to Lecture Like a Professor
We further need to rethink the theological practice of ‘context’ without inspiration. This is the practice of going verse by verse, explaining what each means. This should be done in more intimate settings or small group. If you the lost coming to church for the first, is the literary, or historical context of Ephesians 4 important? NO!
Yes, I said it, feel free to comment below. Before proceeding, I am a Master’s Level Christian Apologist on my way to a PhD. I offer this not to “brag.” This is the first article I have mentioned this. Prayerfully, it will be the last! I understand arguments for this style of preaching.
Arguing “for” or “against” a biblical position is what I do. The Sunday sermon is about ‘quickening the spirits’ of the Saints. Further, the challenge with this is it never provides a Bible wide view. Think about it as such. One cannot explain what a room in a house looks like, without ever mentioning the house it sits within. The room doesn’t exist without the house. The house doesn’t exist without a solid foundation. The foundation has nowhere to sit without land. All work together to provide a platform for the room to exist, which none, separately, can achieve.
If this is so, how can compartmentalization exist within God’s Word? Most of all, you never arrive at the moment the room was created without building plans. I understand this will ruffle feathers. I don’t care. God’s people need information, but they also need to be inspired by the Word. There is a time to slow walk through the Scriptures, and there is a time to inspire. The professors who taught “context” and “expositional preaching” NEVER inspired me to anything except sleep.
There is something bigger. With respect to expositional /contextual preaching’s necessity, WHO SAID THAT? Spurgeon, Stanley, McArthur, who? While great preachers all, what gave them the authority to mandate HOW God’s Word is taught, if it is sound doctrine? Even those who in the middle ages: who gave them authority to define preaching styles for everyone else?
Jesus certainly never said anything about it. In fact, His ministry showed something much different. For instance, was expositional preaching what Jesus was doing with the Sermon on the Mount? What about His presentation to the woman at the well? In the beginning of His ministry, why didn’t He do this with the first two disciples?
What about His encouragement of Thomas after the resurrection? The only people Jesus battled with on “context” was religious Pharisees! Even today, only those of us with some form of “religious education” are they who argue over ‘context.’ There is something much more effective than any expositional preaching: telling parable stories.
The point of expositional preaching is to educate people in God’s Word, correct? If that be so, what good is context if they are not inspired to live what matters more? The law of Moses didn’t inspire Jesus’s hearers, the Sermon on the Mount did. The dietary law would not have inspired the woman at the well, but Jesus’ living water parable did.
With the Pharisee Nicodemus, who understood the law, did Jesus speak to him about the law? No! Jesus didn’t go verse by verse through the law of Moses with Nicodemus. He talked to him about being born of the spirit, and water. Next, Jesus gave Nicodemus a salvation sermon that began with: “for God so loved the world.”
As I close, make sure you select sermons that are powerful, brief, and addresses the need communicated through the Holy Spirit. Expositional preaching has its season(s), don’t get me wrong. However, do not, as Jesus warned: “swallow a camel and strain at a gnat.”
With that, leave room for the permission God gives you to guide the congregation in sermon selection.