I love the practicality and simplicity of Jesus’ teaching. It was clear, relevant, and applicable. He aimed for application because his goal was to transform people, not merely inform them.
Consider the greatest sermon ever preached, The Sermon on the Mount:
- Jesus began by sharing eight secrets of genuine happiness;
- Then he talked about living an exemplary lifestyle, controlling anger, restoring relationships, and the issues of adultery and divorce.
- Next he spoke of keeping promises and returning good for evil.
- Then Jesus moved on to other practical life issues like how to give with the right attitude, how to pray, how to store up treasure in heaven, and how to overcome worry.
- He wraps up his message by telling us to not judge others, encouraging persistence when asking God to meet our needs, and warning us about false teachers.
- Finally, he concludes with a simple story that emphasizes the importance of acting on what he’s taught: Put into practice what you’ve just learned!
This is the kind of preaching that we need in churches today. It changes lives! It’s not enough to simply proclaim, “Christ is the Answer.” We must show the unchurched how Christ is the Answer. Sermons that exhort people to change without sharing the practical steps of how to change only produce more guilt and frustration.
A lot of preaching today is what I call, “Ain’t it awful!” preaching. It just complains about our society and makes judgments about people in general. It’s long on diagnosis and short on remedy. It makes Christians feel superior to “those out there” but it rarely changes anything. Instead of lighting a candle, it just curses the darkness.
When I go to a doctor, I don’t want to just hear what’s wrong with me, I want him to give me some specific steps to getting better. What people need today is less “ought-to” sermons and more “how-to” sermons. Exhortation without explanation leads to frustration.
The deepest kind of teaching is that which makes a difference in people’s day-to-day lives. As D.L. Moody once said, “The Bible was not given to increase our knowledge but to change our lives.” The goal is Christ-like character.
Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life.” He didn’t say, “I’ve come that you might have religion.” Christianity is a life, not a religion, and Jesus was a life-application preacher. When he finished his teaching to the crowd he always wanted them to “go and do likewise.”
Christ-like preaching explains life to people. It produces a changed lifestyle. Life-related preaching doesn’t just inform, it transforms. It changes people because the Word is applied to where people actually live. Sermons that teach people how to live will never lack an audience.
Please understand this: The unchurched are not asking that we change the message or even dilute it, only that we show its relevance. Their big question is “So what?” They want to know “What difference does it make?” I’ve found that unchurched Americans are intensely interested in Bible doctrine when it is applied in practical and relevant ways to their lives.
I love to teach theology to the unchurched without telling them it’s theology and without using theological terms. I find it challenging and enjoyable. I’ve preached sermon series to the unchurched on the incarnation, justification, and sanctification without ever using the terms! I did a series on the moral attributes of God and simply called it “Getting to Know God.” I’ve preached sermons to seekers on stewardship, the work of the Holy Spirit, and even the Seven Deadly Sins.
It’s a myth that you must compromise the message to draw a crowd. Jesus certainly didn’t. You don’t have to transform the message, but you do have to translate it.
In next week’s column, I’ll talk about what to learn from Jesus’ style of teaching!