Don’t miss the first two parts of this series:
The crowd loved to listen to Jesus. Mark 12:37 says, “The large crowd listened to Jesus with pleasure” (NCV). The New International Version says they “listened with delight.”
Some pastors actually think they have failed in their preaching if people enjoy a message. I’ve heard pastors say proudly, “We’re not here to entertain.” If you look up the word “entertain” in a dictionary, you‘ll find this definition: “capturing and holding the attention for an extended period of time.” I don’t know any preacher who doesn’t want to do that! We shouldn’t be afraid of being interesting. A sermon doesn’t have to be dry to be spiritual.
To those outside the church, dull preaching is unforgivable. Poorly delivered truth is ignored. On the other hand, the unchurched will listen to absolute foolishness if it is interesting.
It never ceases to amaze me how some Bible teachers are able to take the most exciting book in the world and bore people to tears with it. I believe it is a sin to bore people with the Bible.
The problem is this: When I teach God’s Word in an uninteresting way, people don’t just think I’m boring, they think God is boring! We slander God’s character if we preach with an uninspiring style or tone. The message is too important to share it with a “take-it-or-leave it” attitude.
Jesus captured the interest of large crowds with techniques that you and I can use:
He told stories to make a point.
Jesus was the master storyteller. He’d say, “Hey, did you hear the one about . . . ” and then tell a parable to teach a truth. In fact, the Bible shows that storytelling was Jesus’ favorite technique when speaking to the crowd. “Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable” (Matthew 13:34 NIV). Somehow preachers forget that the Bible is essentially a book of stories! That’s how God has chosen to communicate his Word to human beings.
There are many benefits to using stories to communicate spiritual truth:
- Stories hold our attention. The reason why television is so popular is because it’s essentially a story-telling device, whether you’re watching comedy, drama, the news, or a talk show. Even the commercials are stories.
- Stories stir our emotions. They impact us in ways that precepts and propositions never do. If you want to change lives, you must craft the message for impact, not for information.
- Stories help us remember. Long after a pastor’s cute outline is forgotten, people will remember the stories of the sermon.
It’s fascinating—and sometimes comical—to watch how quickly a crowd tunes in whenever a speaker begins telling a story and how quickly that attention vanishes as soon as the story is finished!
Jesus used simple language.
He didn’t use technical or theological jargon. He spoke in simple terms that normal people could understand. We need to remember that Jesus did not use the classical Greek language of the scholar. He spoke in Aramaic. He used the street language of that day and talked of birds, flowers, lost coins, and other everyday objects that anyone could relate to.
Jesus taught profound truths in simple ways. Today, we do the opposite—we teach simple truths in profound ways. Sometimes when pastors think they are being “deep” they are really just being “muddy.”
Today, some pastors like to show-off their knowledge by using Greek words and academic terms in their preaching. They speak in an unknown tongue without being charismatic! Chuck Swindoll once told me that he believes an overuse of word studies in preaching discourages confidence in the English text. I agree.
In fact, Chuck and I—along with Jack Hayford and Chuck Smith—once taught a seminary course on preaching. We each taught how we prepare and deliver sermons. At the end of the course, the students mentioned that all four of us had, without collaboration, emphasized the same thing: keep it simple!
It’s easy to complicate the Gospel, and of course, Satan would love for us to do just that. The apostle Paul worried that “your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3 NASB).
It takes a lot of thought and preparation to communicate profound truths in simple ways. Einstein once said, “You don’t really understand something unless you can communicate it in a simple way.” You can be brilliant, but if you can’t share it in a simple way, your insights aren’t worth much.
The Saddleback Valley is one of the most highly educated communities in America, yet I find that the simpler I make the message, the more God blesses it.
Simple does not mean shallow. Simple does not mean simplistic. Simple means being clear and understandable. For instance, “This is the day the Lord has made” is simple while, “Have a nice day!” is simplistic.
Most people today communicate with a vocabulary of less than 2,000 words and rely on only about 900 words in daily use. If you want to communicate with most people, you need to keep it simple. Never allow yourself to be intimidated by people who think they are intellectuals. It’s been my observation that people who have to use big words are sometimes hiding bigger insecurities.
I believe simple sermon outlines are always the strongest outlines. I consider being called a simple preacher a compliment. I’m interested in seeing lives changed, not in impressing people with my “erudition.”
I’d rather be clear than complex.
Jesus—not anyone else—must be our model. When we preach like he did, we’ll see the results he did.