I have preached many times in different places, and over the years wanted a memorable way to evaluate my own sermon preparation. I developed the acrostic I CARE to remind myself of what is most important. The order is a memory aid, not what is most important to least.
Introduction should be strong and grab the attention of the listeners.
Christ-centered. Christ is the focus of the Bible, so it should be the focus of the sermon.
Authentically touches the preacher. When people ask me what is the most difficult aspect of preaching preparation, I find no difficulty answering: making sure that what I am preaching has genuinely touched me. This is the “preach to yourself before preaching to others” counsel of the Puritans. Finding good illustrations, understanding the flow of the biblical argument, though involving many hours, is a cake walk compared to the exposure of my own sin and subsequent repentance which happens before I ever get to the pulpit.
Redemptive. All sermons need to instill hope and encourage confidence in a God who can redeem any situation no matter how bleak and hopeless it may seem.
Ending should have a “so what?” which lingers through the week. Applications are crucial, yet I find two common errors preachers make with them: giving more than one application (one pastor I heard gave five!), and an emphasis on merely changing behavior rather than appealing to one’s loves, hopes, aspirations, and idols. In other words, the heart or inner motivations must be touched. I have a bias that some specificity of what to do is necessary, but again many preachers err by offering too much. At times, it seems the application is more the preacher’s own takeaway for his own life rather than being sensitive to the myriad of ways different people will actually seek to live out the central truth. So yes, broad principle should be stated, but leave room for the Holy Spirit to press the many ways He will move people to make specific application to their own lives.