So How Good are the Sermons in the CRC?


While on the seminary board a few years ago, good preaching was a major theme. This led to an emphasis on excellence in preaching at Calvin College’s Institute of Christian Worship (presently funded by the Lilly Foundation).  The theme of good preaching was mentioned in an editorial in the Wall Street Journal a few days ago.  The article was entitled, “The Hunt for a Good Sermon”.  One paragraph in the article reads, “Today’s complainers include Ross Douthat who recently published, ‘Bad Religion: How We Become a Nation of Heretics’ describes churches whose preaching promise prosperity to the faithful or dispense the gospel of narcissism.  Others wonder about a pulpit presence so charismatic that it draws more attention to the preacher than to his message”

At one time preaching was judged in the Christian Reformed Church as to their theological content. The sermon needed to be theologically sound.  Theologically sound meant that the sermon reflected a “reformed” world and life view that was consistent with the three confessions of the church.  In fact every program within the church reflected the same.  Men’s and Women’s Society were led by individuals who were well grounded in the historical confessions of the church.  Catechism classes and Sunday school classes for all children were Bible stories and lessons based on the confessions.   

The “Journal” article concludes, “The obsession with measuring “results, the rebranded promise of some technique or strategy: Preachers are bombarded with this every day stuff (four keys to success, six marks of a healthy church, seven principles of growth). Many ignore it and get on with their work in ‘scripture, sermon and sacrament.’  Praise God for that”.

A few years ago a preacher was accused of using sermons word for word from a well known mega church each Sunday.  What was to me most shocking was when asked about this practice he found nothing wrong with doing so.  It made me wonder how much of the popular church growth seminars and the internet are influencing our Christian Reformed pulpits so that we in fact fit into the quest of the “Journal “ article, “The Hunt for the Good Sermon”.

As an elder who’s responsible for regulating the Worship Service (Article 52), how do you evaluate sermons?   Is there a regular process in place in which the elders along with the pastor have a positive, constructive discussion concerning the process of making the sermon and the delivery of sermon?  

Posted in:
Image Credit

The Network hosts user-submitted content.
Posts don't necessarily imply CRCNA endorsement, but must comply with our community guidelines.

Let's Discuss…

We love your comments! Thanks for your help upholding the Community Guidelines to make this an encouraging and respectful community for everyone.

As someone who has been an elder for the last thirty years, and who has been writing sermons for the last five years, I evaluate sermons differently at different times.   What do I look for?   I look for an emphasis on scripture, as opposed to personal opinions or social fluff.   I look for theological soundness, and a holistic approach.   I look for the gospel message to be included.  A sermon that does not proclaim the gospel may end up being a lecture or a seminar, rather than a sermon proclamation.   While looking for theological soundness, I look for relevance, courage, and leadership.   A theologically sound sermon can still be fluffy, or lacking in scriptural context and content, so theological soundness by itself is not sufficient.   The apostle Paul said there is a time to go from the milk to the meat.  (even though both the milk and the meat may be scripturally sound and theologically sound). 

A better evaluation process would be good, however.  I know I would appreciate it myself from both ends.  A more structured process might take away a bit from the ability to simply absorb and react to the message, but on the other hand it could definately play a role in improving the message for the benefit of the rest of the hearers.  Some type of balance between evaluating and simply listening and hearing, might have to be found. 

In the chuch where I serve, each month there is an element of the elders meeting called "Service and Sermon Discussion".  I present some of the themes that I have preached on in the last month, those that I am considering preaching on in the month to come, and open up the discussion for elders comments, questions, and thoughts.  This is also a good time to get an on the ground impression from the elders of where the people of our congregation are at.  It was intimidating the first times I did it but I find it helpful.

Thank you - I think that is a great idea and a way to know how the congregation is responding to your sermons. 



As a topic connected to the accountability of officebearers, I would be interested in hearing how other churches have continued to make the process of "censura morum" a meaningful and helpful element of council meetings.

Community Builder

Many churches are down to one sermon per sunday so it would be logical to expect the quality of the sermon to get better. Mr. L raises a good point. I for one would be unable to "officially" critique a sermon. Making comments like : "I enjoyed the sermon" or "Wow that was a really good sermon!" don't cut it. 

Could Consistory (Council) not transcribe into words a sermon at random and have it evaluated against some predetermined criteria? We have technology that can put spoken words into written words.. What Mr. L wants is the criteria. That's a good idea. I am sure it's around somewhere!

Harry Boessenkool

Some time back I attended an R.C. Sproul conference at which a speaker, whose name I forget, said, "What the church needs today is Expository Preaching and congregations who know the difference."  I find that to be a very accurate description of the church today.  While I appreciate what Jeff Brower is doing with his elders (and I would encourage that for any preacher), there is one weakness in that approach, i.e. often the elders don't actually have the ability to recognize a good sermon from a bad one.  Our people need to be trained to recognize the basic elements of a good expository sermon.  They should be able to "sniff out" a sermon comprised of fluff in a moment.

Of course this implies that preachers need to be trained in expository preaching.  I have made it my hobby to listen in to various CRC pastors who publish their sermons on the web.  Some of them are really great expositors.  Far too many are not.  Their messages are simply fluff and sound bytes linked together on some topic the source of which is their own thoughts.  In their attempt to be relevant with their "4 How To's" and "5 Ways to This or That' they have completely ignored or at least misused the Word of God.  It saddens me and makes me wonder how such preaching passes the Boards and Classes that have examined these preachers and enabled them to be ordained.

In the United Kingdom the Anglican Church was known to produce poor preaching.  As a result an organization named Proclamation Trust was formed to give seminary graduates a year of training in preaching.  Anglican Seminary graduates who had been well-versed in Anglican Theology spent a year learning how to preach a good sermon.  The results were amazing!  Those trained at Proclamation Trust were able to preach solid, biblical expository sermons.  Maybe the CRC needs such an organization today.

Ken Van De Griend

Yes, elders play a role in encouraging quality preaching, and yes, it would help if the congregation could differentiate a good sermon from a bad one, and yes it would be great if additional resources would be available as part of seminary preparation for preaching ministry, but none of it would accomplish much without the preacher being willing and able to receive and utilize constructive criticism. Way too many preachers are too insecure to listen to, let alone respond to, evaluative statements, whether they come from supervising elders, knowledgeable peers, or average listeners. As preachers, we often have way too much emotional investment in our sermon construction to allow others to comment on possible weaknesses. Perhaps the best way elders can help improve sermon quality is to suggest their pastor become a member of a small, safe, group of peers with whom to compare notes on a regular basis. (see Eugene Peterson, The Pastor, especially chapter 18 The Company of Pastors)


Our pastors are very open to feedback and, a few years ago, we decided to use Calvin Seminary's sermon evaluation form as the feedback tool. Our intention was to create an ongoing feedback loop, rather than an overall assessment of their preaching (that should be part of the annual evaluation). The biggest issue has been getting us elders to actually take the time and fill it out. But the tool itself, seems good. And I think doing it as some kind of ongoing feedback loop is healthier than just talking about it when there's a complaint.

Here's a link to the form.

It is always difficult to obtain meaningful written commentary. Also, it is important to focus building on strengths and developing weaknesses. Below is an amended and shorten version of Calvin Seminary's evaluation form that has been used in our Elder meetings.

Sermon Response Form: Please fill out while your memory is still fresh


Sermon Text: _______________________            Date: _______________________Sermon Title: _______________________            Pastor: _______________________



1=Excellent  2=Very Good  3=Good  4=Average  5=Poor


1.   Head: Was the passage explained well?

  • The sermon helped me understand the text better:

             1                 2                 3                 4                 5

  • The sermon revealed how God is at work in the text:

             1                 2                 3                 4                 5

The key message(s) I got from this sermon was:



Suggestions for improvement:



2.   Heart:  Did the message help me experience God?

  • Through this sermon God strengthened the hope that He is active in our lives every day:

1                 2                 3                 4                 5

  • The sermon communicated God’s grace in a way that reached out to unbelievers, or those unfamiliar with the Christian faith:

1                 2                 3                 4                 5

The sermon made me feel closer to God because:



Suggestions for improvement:



3.   Hands:  Did the message call me to an appropriate life-response?

  • The sermon made a connection between the biblical world and our current situation:

1                 2                 3                 4                 5

  • The sermon provided practical examples/advice:

1                 2                 3                 4                 5

The sermon challenged me to:



Suggestions for improvement:



4.   Liturgy: Did the worship service and sermon delivery bring you into the presence of God?

  • The worship service was unified in the selection of songs/hymns, litanies, prayers, etc.:

1                 2                 3                 4                 5

  • The sermon was easy to follow (it had a recognizable beginning, middle, and end):

1                 2                 3                 4                 5

Suggestions for improvement: