Landmark Sermons


By Jack Hayford

Landmark sermons are those messages that establish the boundaries and standards for a church as well as setting forth its vision and goals. Weighty and memorable, landmark sermons will cause some people to react in disagreement, but most will appreciate you giving them clear guidelines.

To qualify as a true landmark, a sermon should fulfill at least one of the following purposes:

* Deal with questions. Most people struggle with some thorny ethical or theological questions, e.g., divorce and remarriage, committing the unforgivable sin, the age of accountability. A landmark sermon can cut through their confusion.

* Prepare for challenge. If the church is taking on a building program or a new ministry, a strong word from the pulpit can spark motivation and give insight.

* Explain events. After the 1989 earthquake in San Francisco, many said that God was judging the city for the sin of homosexuality. Hayford preached on Jesus’ teaching about the tower that fell on 18 people. He made the point that a catastrophe might be God’s judgment, but it was wrong to think that the victims were more deserving of judgment than others.

* Change policies. If the church’s standards for membership or leadership or its position on divorce and remarriage or other sensitive issues are being changed, a landmark sermon or series of sermons is a good way to explain why and how the new policy will be carried out.

Landmark sermons, because they are so strong and deal with controversial matters, involve potential pitfalls. Avoid being overly
sensational or exploiting a situation just to draw a crowd. It may be tempting to focus on a “hot” topic without really dealing with it biblically or substantively. Because not all Christians are at the same level of maturity, a particular message may not be appropriate for the whole congregation. It’s also important to be sure you cover all sides of a controversial issue. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a stand, but show respect for people’s intelligence by respecting positions you don’t agree with.

The most effective landmark sermons go beyond just teaching or exhortation. They are prophetic. People will be more receptive to such messages if you keep the following points in mind:

* Don’t oversimplify. Usually the truth is found in the tension between opposing ideas, not in pat answers that seem to resolve the
tension easily.

* Focus on the Word. Behind every question or issue there are universal scriptural principles. Try to show people the big picture.

* Don’t rush it. Landmark sermons take time to deliver. Hayford’s usually require a full hour or more. It’s crucial not to be superficial or shallow. Take the time you need to define terms, exegete theScripture, and thoroughly explain what you mean. It may even be best to plan on a series of sermons.

* Keep it personal. Where appropriate, use humor to break up the tension such heavy subjects create. Using personal examples and anecdotes will make your sermon authentic and powerful.

* Choose the right time. You can’t always plan these prophetic messages very far in advance. One indication that the time is right is when you feel you can bring both a sense of God’s righteousness and His boundless mercy to the message. Without either one, your sermon will fall flat.

(The above information was published by CURRENT THOUGHTS AND TRENDS, 1993)

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