The most powerful form of advertising is the personal testimony. “I tried pie, so should you” is a well-worn form of introducing people to a product. It’s still being used because it works. Television, the Internet, and social media have made people more resistant to hard sales pitches.
Impact is no longer a matter of volume. It’s about connection. Years ago when pastors had a weak point in their sermons, they would sometimes write in their notes, “Weak point. Yell here.” They thought yelling would help impact lives more effectively. But that’s not true today. In fact, people are more resistant to the volume factor than ever before.
What would you rather listen to, a hard-sell or a soft-sell salesperson? There’s no question about it. No one wants to deal with the loud, pushy salesperson who is trying to sell something the moment you come into the store.
So how do you preach powerfully today? You preach personally.
Talking about your life in a personal way has a power you simply can’t get any other way. But personal preaching isn’t new. In fact, it goes all the way back to the Apostles. It was one of Paul’s approaches. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 4:6, “Now, brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, ‘Do not go beyond what is written’” (NIV).
Paul realized, in preaching, you must get personal if you’re going to get dynamic.
You can see this distinction between the Apostles and the Pharisees. The Apostles shook the world because they spoke from personal experience. The Pharisees spoke in footnotes: “Gamaliel says this and Heliel says this and the rabbis say this.” The Apostles said, “I don’t know, but he delivered me and saved me.” You can’t argue with a testimony like that.
So how do you preach personally with great impact?
Honestly share your struggles.
Don’t hide your weaknesses. Be transparent about them. Your honesty will encourage your listeners when they are ready to give up.
I remember one time preaching about anger and the impact of our words. I told the congregation that it bothers me when I say hurtful things to people I love the most, such as my wife and kids. “Does that bother anyone else?” I asked. Everyone said to themselves, “Yeah. I’ve done that many times.”
I’ve also been very open with the church about my marital struggles early on. I tell them how counseling has saved my marriage. The room always gets quiet when I start talking about my own marital problems, because so many people can relate. When you’re open about your problems, it adds authority to what you’re saying.
The secret to great communication is the ability to share your emotions. People will catch your heart. But you don’t get there by yelling at them. Instead, you draw them close and talk heart to heart.
Honestly share where you’re making progress.
In 2 Corinthians 1, Paul vividly describes his own struggles, noting in verse 8: “We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it” (NLT). Paul admits that he was so depressed he didn’t think he would survive.
Yet Paul doesn’t leave his readers there. He lets them know in the next couple of verses how he relied on God, and the Lord rescued him. And over 2,000 years later, we’re still benefiting from the authenticity and modeling of Paul.
I used to think Paul sounded egotistical in 1 Corinthians 11:1, where he tells the church at Corinth to “follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (NIV). I thought I could never say that. But then I realized that Paul just understood human behavior. He knows people learn best through models. Paul isn’t saying he is perfect. He’s just saying, “I’m a model.” You don’t need to be perfect to become a model. You just need to be a step ahead.
The longer I preach the more convinced I am that the minister is the model. I’ve learned that what I’m doing each week is standing up in front of my church and saying, “Here’s how I got through another week. Here’s what I’m learning from Jesus.”
If you’re not modeling the message, you’re not ready to preach it.
So share what’s going on in your life. Show people what you’re learning. You impact others through your convictions—and those convictions create the most powerful sermons.