Does a Sermon Really Change Anybody?

Rocks at the coast of Kasmu (captain's village), EstoniaSometimes we may feel there is no point in preaching because we do not see the kinds of changes in our hearers or ourselves that we had hoped for. When this thought tip-toes down the dark hallways of our minds, we are helped to remember that preaching is like farming. We sweat through long days of ploughing and planting only to recline at the end of the day looking out over a barren field. Harvest doesn’t happen in a moment. Harvest happens through a series of necessary moments put together. 

Preaching matters for more than its moment. There is always a point to preaching even if people do not respond or if you are not as different as you had hoped that week. Even in burned-out landscapes returning birds still sing. God’s glory is declared by beaks among the ash and all of us are reminded that more than ash still exists in the world. We speak in His presence. (2 Timothy 4:1-2) His presence attends our speaking (2 Corinthians 5:20). When a preacher preaches whether persons listen or not, a sign of God’s presence is given. The called human voice speaks of God and all will know that God had been among them (Ezekiel 2:5)

One can ignore the stop sign and drive headlong into the intersection. But this does not mean that the stop-sign was not helpfully present. Those who do the report will identify the presence of the sign and ask us what we made of it when we came barreling through. Or, consider a different scenario. We may have passed the exit we needed. But farther down our mistaken road we can come to our senses and turn around. Memory reminds us that we were once given a different road. The thought that the road is still there calls out to us. We turn and our way is more securely and finally found.

All is not lost when the after-sermon desert offers no water. This moment may have been meant to prepare some for what they have yet to face. It may be meant to call out to others months from  now when they are more heedless or needy than they are today. It may serve as one more evidence of the hardness of one’s heart. It may serve as one more piece in a puzzle God is putting together for another–the picture will not complete for some time, but completeness will not happen without the corner-piece offered by the sermon today. Those who are changed seemingly in a moment by your sermon today have had multiple moments of God’s working prior. Take heart. There is seed there though it lay beneath the ground. Step out into the barren field dear friend, and pray for His rain to fall.


Author: zeswine

Zack (Dr. Eswine) is often spoken of as a "Pastor to Pastors." He serves as Pastor of Riverside Church in Webster Groves Missouri and Director of Homiletics at Covenant Theological Seminary. To learn more about his books and other resources, go to

21 thoughts on “Does a Sermon Really Change Anybody?”

  1. O.k. I know I’m not a preaching pastor so I’m sort of “eaves-dropping” but this could (for me) easily be “ministry matters for more than just the moment” or “counseling matters for more than just a moment” or ANY aspect of being a pastor’s wife. This was a huge encouragement and reminder. Thanks!

    1. ha! Thank you Sarah. I think that you are right. Did you ever see the first Lord of the Rings movie? The character “Sam” is asked if he as been “eaves-dropping.” Sam responds something like, “I aint been dropping no eaves.” Thanks for sharing your thoughts Sarah.

  2. Hello, Zack. You assisted me with DMin courses at Covenant. I moved to Australia in 2006 (and therefore was unable to complete my DMin – maybe someday) and pastor a Reformed Presbyterian Church here. A friend from church who is training to be a pastor forwarded me this link as something he had found encouraging. I did as well – very encouraging. Thank you and God bless you as you continue to preach and minister in Jesus’ name. Grace and Peace – Ed

    1. Ed, I remember you well. Thank you for saying “hello” and for your encouragement. I am glad to know of His calling you to Australia. May His grace strengthen you and HIs wisdom lead you in all that you are doing. He is faithful!

  3. Very encouraging – thank you very much! Especially this line:

    “Take heart. There is seed there though it lay beneath the ground. Step out into the barren field dear friend, and pray for His rain to fall.”

    My thoughts went to that scripture where Jesus said, “I have sent you to reap where you have bestowed no labour. Other men have laboured and you are entered into their labours.”

    Imagine… those men had toiled and and reaped little to nothing – that is, on the surface. But ultimately fruit was gained for God’s glory. And they will rejoice with those that harvested.

    1. Paul, thank you for mentioning our Lord’s words. Gives us hope and provision to continue on with faith in what is for now, unseen.

  4. Loved the lyric language of ths post, as well as the arm around the shoulder feeling I had when reading it. I found it via Blogging Theologically and though I am not a pastor, I feel strongly that this is what we are called to do daily. Words are seeds planted. Not all root, but some produce the fruit of the Spirit, which bring us all closer to the Garden lost.

    1. Thank you. I am helped by what you say regarding bringing “us all closer to the Garden lost.” It seems to me that much of what our Lord is doing by His life, death and resurrection is recovering Eden.

  5. Thanks for this. While I was in seminary many of my classmates questioned the efficacy of preaching. Asking “what works” is sometimes good, but a pragmatic mindset concerning spiritual things can be very deceiving. Sometimes even when there is no outward working there is a work going on much deeper. The Holy Spirit is capable of working even in the driest and most desolate circumstances. I really appreciate this very good word. Your line – preaching is a sign of God’s presence with his people is quite potent. Well done.

    1. Thank you for writing Jason. I too have felt the challenging question rise to meet me. “Why preach? It doesn’t work?” The evidences of a sermon that worked are often more informed by my white-collar, corporate-driven assumptions in a celebrity culture. Results are often sight-oriented and size-described. How does one preach by faith in a sight-oriented culture? I have breathed this air all of my life and find that it poisons me. The word is like an oxygen mask. Jesus breathes fresh air and tells me of the kinds of things He intends to work in people. The results He seeks have to do with His character being formed in an ordinary person such that they relate from His character more and more in the afternoon of their living rooms and yards. I find therefore that as a preacher I need new eyes. Or I need to see old things a new way. This is true for all of us. I want the kind of evaluative measure that enables me to say of people in whom Christ is working, “these lives are my joy and crown.”

  6. I was a student at Covenant Seminary from 2004-2005. In the middle of the night this morning, as I was working an overnight shift at a shelter, down in their incredibly creepy basement, I listened to a couple of your sermons, one of which is my favorite sermon of all time. You preached a chapel message on John 20, about Mary weeping in the dark outside the empty tomb. All of your sermons that I have heard are overflowing with grace for the hurting, but this one is particularly special–to me, at least, as I find myself struggling to trust Him in the dark when I can’t see Him and there are no answers… only silence.

    If ever you think that your sermons leave lives untouched, please know that they don’t.

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