After I study the text I plan to preach, I craft a sermon skeleton. A sermon skeleton is a statement of the sermon’s content, purpose, and structure. It includes the title, text, point, outline, transitional sentences, and other elements of the sermon.
I used to state the sermon objectives in the skeleton, as well. I still think and pray about the objectives of the sermon, even though I don’t put them on the skeleton. But it is a good practice I commend to you as you prepare to preach (or listen to preaching).
The objectives of the sermon are the aims, goals, or targets you hope to accomplish in the hearts and minds of those who listen to the sermon.
Of course, the Holy Spirit has the sovereign right to take our sermons out of context. As you are faithful to the singular, God-intended meaning of the text, the Lord applies the word in ways you never imagined. But it is good and wise to meditate on the implications the sermon should have on the lives of the hearers.
In a real sense, this is the difference between preaching and teaching. I do not make a hard distinction between those two terms. In my Bible, the first word of 2 Timothy 4:2 is “preach” and the last word is “teaching” (ESV).
Faithful preaching necessarily involves doctrinal teaching. The distinction between preaching and teaching is in the objectives. Teaching focuses on the mind. But preaching focuses on the mind, the will, and the emotions. The sermon is a message. It is a call to action. Its purpose is to cause the hearer to think and behave biblically.
The issue of the sermon is not whether they agree. It is what they will do about what they have heard. In fact, this is often the question I ask as I process the objectives of the sermon:
What are you trying to do to these people?
There are three big questions I ask as I consider the objectives of the sermon?
What should they know as a result of hearing this sermon?
There was an old deacon who would say to his pastor before church, “Don’t try to learn me nothing today, Rev. Just make me feel good.”
The solemn duty of the Christian herald will not permit him to heed this advice. We must “learn them” something. Our preaching should teach Christian doctrine and living. The congregation should better understand the chosen text, the doctrine of the passage, and what it means to be a Christian when we preach.
So ask yourself: What should the hearer know after hearing this sermon that they did not know already know? What truth should be declared, affirmed, or reinforced in the sermon? What will they learn by hearing this message?
How should they feel as a result of hearing this sermon?
Emotionalism in preaching is bad. But emotionless preaching is just as bad. An encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ in the sermon should cause one to feel a certain way, as well as think a certain way.
Your sermon should be faithful to the truth of the text. It should also be faithful to the tone of the text. You should preach about hell with sorrow and solemnity. And you should talk about heaven with joy and hope. You obscure the truth if you neglect the tone.
So ask yourself: What is the tone of the text? What is the mood of the message? Should the truth you preach end with a call to rejoice or a call to repent? Should the congregation leave this sermon convicted, challenged, comforted, chastened, or charged?
What should they do as a result of hearing this sermon?
The goal of Christian preaching is life transformation. You are self-deceived if you hear the word without doing what it says (James 1:22). What good is it if the congregation write down things they learn and feel moved by them but leave the message without doing anything about it?
Interpretation without application is abortion. The sermon should call for a verdict. It should point the hearer in a specific direction or to a particular path. You should exhort the hearers to renew their minds, devote their affections, and submit their wills to the truth of God.
So ask yourself: What should the hearer do about this sermon? What U-turn should the hearer make in his or her life? What should they start or stop or continue? Is there a sin to confess? Is there a truth to believe? Is there a command to obey? Is there a promise to trust? Is there a warning to heed?