The Kobayashi Maru of Sunday Sermons

If your aim leans toward discipleship and mature believers then lean into that direction, but do it with intentionality. Know what your end goal is.

I don’t recommend that you go for the best of both worlds, attempting to land right smack in the middle with hopes of hitting both sides just perfectly.

When you try to straddle the middle, your teaching lacks the edge that makes it stand out, and you may risk missing nearly everyone.

2) Define depth with intentionality.

Let’s go back to the idea that the Gospel is not shallow; it is simple but contains great depth and strength. That’s a great place to start your thinking about intentional depth.

Nearly any trained Bible teacher can quickly plummet the great depths of theological truth to the utter confusion of most listeners. I think we can agree that is not helpful.

On the other hand, the congregation deserves a carefully thought through, biblical and insightful message that challenges and encourages them to a practical response.

How do you define depth while you build your sermon?

  • Do you define depth according to your theological training or the needs of the people?
  • Do you take the time to dig out the deeper insights, but translate them into a language that all can absorb?

Here’s one practical example of how you might define depth in a Sunday message:

“Provide enough meat that they need to chew on it, but not so much that they choke on it.”

But be careful with that definition, you might be tempted to think that’s an “in the middle, I can reach everyone” approach. It’s not. It still requires you to wrestle down point #1 above.

It’s also important to gain alignment and agreement with your key staff and leaders, such as your board. Talk about this together, get agreement as a team.

3) Trust the Holy Spirit to make up the difference.

I’m not a senior pastor but I’ve preached several hundred sermons over more than a 30-year time span.

My experience is that the Holy Spirit communicates what needs to be said, and it often has nothing to do with what was in my notes!

I love it when someone says to me, “Here’s what I got from your message,” and I didn’t say anything like that!” That’s communication in the supernatural zone where we all want to be.

The Holy Spirit can fill in the gaps! That doesn’t negate, however, the need for intentionality along with much prayer and preparation. But it does remind us that the Word of God brings with it the supernatural, live and real-time reality of God’s power.

12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

Hebrews 4:12

16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.  II Tim 3:16-17

Scripture is your best asset!

4) Pray and lead toward a fresh perspective for your more mature Christians.

My hunch is that some of your more faithful and mature Christians are also the ones who might tell you the sermon isn’t deep enough.

I know that can be frustrating to you. But you can’t ignore it. Believe it or not, it’s not enough to pick your lane, define depth and trust the Holy Spirit. It’s very close to enough, but there is one more piece.

In most cases, a fresh perspective is the best approach.

Here’s a fresh perspective for a Christian who is growing in maturity (you will have to give your own definition to maturity):

Assuming the sermon is a biblically based message, regardless of the level of depth, the mature Christian will possess the passion to look for the insights, listen for God’s voice, and act upon what they hear. The mature Christian finds their own depth.

Then after the message, they have the ability to dig out any extra depth they are looking for on their own.

If you slowly add this principle to your overall discipleship and leadership, it’s possible to move your congregation to a new place.


I know this process is never done, and in fact, it’s always coming undone. But then again, that’s why you write another message for next Sunday.

This article originally appeared here.

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Dan Reiland
Dr. Dan Reiland serves as Executive Pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as Executive Pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as Vice President of Leadership and Church Development at INJOY. He and Dr. Maxwell still enjoy partnering on a number of church related projects together.

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