The best preaching model to follow is Jesus—not John the Baptist, the apostle Paul, or any contemporary speaker alive today. Jesus was the Master Communicator. The Bible says in Matthew 7:28 that “the crowds were amazed at his teaching” (NIV). Why? Because both the content and the delivery came straight from the Father. Jesus said, “The Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to say it” (John 12:49 NLT).
When I’m preparing a message, I ask myself eight questions. The first two are about what to say and the final six are about how to say it.
1. To whom will I be preaching?
Jesus always started with his audience. He even knew their thoughts. So the first question in my mind is about the audience to which I will be speaking, and I try to picture them in my mind. And there are always three ways to get people’s attention with a message:
- Speak about things that are valuable.
- Speak about things that are interesting.
- Speak about things that are surprising.
All three attention-getters break through listening barriers common to most people. The goal of preaching is to move individuals from where they are to where Christ wants them to be, always remembering to start where they are.
2. What does the Bible say about their needs?
I always search through Scripture for everything I can find that pertains to the needs of people. I also use every reference tool I can get my hands on, including online tools. Your understanding of the Bible’s purpose will determine your preaching style. Though important, the ultimate purpose of the Bible is not to teach Israel’s history or even doctrinal facts. It is to transform our character, for “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16 NIV). That means preaching must ALWAYS be related to life!
Preaching brings together the truth of the text and people’s needs by way of application. My feeling is that both verse-with-verse (topical) and verse-by-verse (expository) preaching can produce a healthy church. The point is to truly dig into the text once you’re there.
3. What is the most practical way to say it?
According to John 10:10, Jesus’ purpose is to “give [people] a rich and satisfying life” (NLT). In light of that truth, preaching must instruct people on how to live. Jesus was always practical with his doctrine because his purpose was to change the behaviors of his hearers, starting at the level of their beliefs.
4. What is the most positive way to say it?
When I’m abrasive, I’m never persuasive. Sadly, the Gospel often has a negative image because it is communicated in negative terms. Even the words “preach” and “sermon” have negative connotations, at least in our current culture. I believe that a constant diet of negative sermons is detrimental to the health of a church and ultimately produces a church that is resistant to positive leadership.
The most destructive kind of preaching happens when the sermon is merely a release of a pastor’s pent-up frustrations. Where did we ever get the impression that a good sermon must make people feel bad? If your preaching is just a weekly highlight of the “sin of the week,” go back to the drawing board, and go back to the biblical Gospel of truth and grace, of hope and redemption.
5. What is the most encouraging way to say it?
Every week when people listen to you preach, they have three fundamental needs: to have their faith reinforced, their hope renewed, and their love restored.
When you stand up to preach, assume your congregation has had a tough week. Your role is to encourage them to not give up. If you preach to the broken, you’ll always be relevant! Don’t pride yourself on “telling it like it is.” Tell it like it can be!
6. What is the simplest way to say it?
Jesus always taught the most profound truths in simple ways. We often do the same but in reverse; it makes us feel like we’ve gone deep. Charles Spurgeon compared preaching to the bucket in a well. If there is anything of value in it, it will appear bright and reflective. If there is nothing in it, it appears deep, dark, and mysterious.
By the way, “simple” does not mean superficial, shallow, or simplistic. Making a profound truth easier to understand is a Christ-like skill.
7. What is the most personal way to say it?
People relate to stories. The most powerful form of advertising is still the personal testimony. That is why, while the Pharisees spoke in footnotes, Jesus told stories. It’s also imperative that you be transparent and confessional in your preaching—with wisdom, of course. The greatest communicators drop the mask and get personal.
8. What is the most interesting way to say it?
I’ve heard plenty of pastors say that we shouldn’t preach to entertain people, but the very definition of entertainment is to arrest and hold someone’s attention. While a sermon should never be reduced to a mere comedy routine, it’s okay to be funny. You don’t have to be dry to be spiritual. And we should never be afraid of being interesting.