I have shared some of these ideas before, but I thought it would be a good season to share again. I still see many pastors flounder in preaching. It is very difficult to effectively lead and grow a church if we cannot get past this so central part of the church and ministry.
Adam Weber, not a very talented preacher, but amazingly effective says this about his own preaching, (he planted a Church called Embrace in South Dakota 10 years ago that now averages over 4,000 in worship each week):
"I let the overflow of my journey with Jesus spill out over everyone else"
Effective preaching is personal, pastoral, biblical, prayerful, invitational, and is felt as much as heard.
Preach to people not at them:
People want to be talked to. I do not mean the style; I mean what we communicate. They want to know we are all humans in this story together. They want to be understood, loved, encouraged, empathized with, yet still challenged and changed by the message. They want honesty, transparency, and a preacher who walks with them.
It’s about change:
The hearer can change, life can change, the world can change, and the situation they might be in can change. This is inherently the core of the gospel, the good news that people come to church to hear even if they do not know it. In an often-hopeless world, the preacher of the good news provides hope. Bill Hinson, who was the pastor of First Houston for many years, was asked to have done anything differently after he retired. He said, “I wish I had preached more on deliverance!”.
There is nothing impersonal about real preaching. It should be the most serious and deep act that people connect to each week. It should invade their personal space as the preacher gets personal about themselves and the hearer, it is here where connection is made. It should be personal from the one sharing the message and it should be personal for the ones hearing. Why does the congregation come to church, what do they deal with each week, where are they coming from? Effective sermons begin with the people in the pews/seats. Jesus often started with the people. When they were sick, he healed them, hungry he fed them, confused he taught them, sinful he forgave them, and hurting he gave them hope.
It’s about God:
And I do not mean just an objective sermon about the nature of God. Effective preaching should include a means to experience God, to feel God’s love, to be able to love God back. It should be a building block for this relationship. There must be an invitation to enter a relationship with Jesus Christ and all that this means. We often have things we want the church to do that only disciples can do, but we have not or we are not making any disciples and then we wonder why we aren’t getting the response we hoped for.
It’s about you:
Every sermon should help people build a relationship with the preacher; to know you better, and to help them know that you know them and care about them. Honest, transparent, open, real-life real-time stories all help people connect with you the preacher. We might feel strongly about prophetic type messages but until we have become a pastor and shepherd to them, they often have little interest in our prophetic ideas. I often think that for every prophetic sermon the preacher should preach dozens of pastoral sermons. The longer we are at a church and the better relationships we have built with the members might allow us to preach more prophetic style messages. But people must trust the preacher if they are to change how they look at and understand the world.
It’s about each other:
The church is made up of people. The people are coming, and they gather among all the other people. Shouldn’t messages build these relationships, the mission and vison all the people are invited to share, the common life people live. Who is in the congregation? Who are the guests? Who is involved in the service? Somehow messages need to help people connect with God, with the preacher, and with each other. Effective churches build, grow, and transform through relationships.
Inviting into the narrative:
The gospel is a narrative, a story lived out by and in the transforming power of Jesus Christ, one affirmed and supported by the disciple making work of the Church. What is the story? How does the hearer become not just a hearer of but a part of the ongoing living out of that story? The narrative is not the story that has been written. A guest or unchurched hearer will not usually connect with that. It’s the story that is and will be written as the church interacts with Jesus, life, the community and all the ways your church is acting out the story of Christ as His Church.
It’s about the Bible:
People always want to hear what the Bible is saying to them. Preaching the history, geography, and the main contexts that wrap around the book can be important, but most people have just a small amount of interest in Bible hermeneutics. But they do want to hear what the Bible speaks to them directly. What is God saying to me? Is the Bible that voice? Does the Bible speak to my need, my sin, my grief, my emptiness, my hopes, my dreams, my heart? If we do this even marginally well it is often a winner. My opinion has value, but most people are more engaged and convicted by the words of scripture.
Preaching to felt needs:
The best ears to hear a sermon are the felt needs of the hearer. It is relatively easy to connect with people here. If the preacher targets the needs they have; the need for grace, forgiveness, hope, comfort, meaning, help, financial, spiritual, physical, etc. they will hear. The preacher’s audience are people and people are mortal and struggle with sin and death, it’s best to remember this. The good news is that the good news has and is an answer for them all. The pastor/preacher that understands this can and will always connect to preaching in a successful way.
Marriage, family, friendships, workplace, neighborhood, community, and church; people want to improve, expand, and develop these in specific ways. When we speak to real life, people will most often hear what we are saying and often respond. Everything in life that matters comes from a relationship.
Making a difference:
Most people want to do good, be better, and make a difference in the world. When the preacher affirms this innate desire with the ways they can partner with Christ and the kingdom, this opens the door for the change preachers and churches want to make in the world. When people understand the ways they can partner in the Kingdom they are most often moved and challenged. When people do not know what to do next, how to respond, where to connect, how to live out discipleship, they typically won’t.
Offer them Christ:
Most people come to Church to somehow connect with God. The offering of Christ is the very thing God put in place to make this connection available. From Christmas to Easter, to the promise of His return, the gift of salvation and love offered in Christ, the amazing teaching of Jesus that is the promise of the best life possible, these all are the reasons most people come to Church, even if they don’t know it. When we preach this, we offer the chance of a life miracle for all who hear. People hope that God is, that life can change, that heaven is real, that love and grace is tangible and available, not as an idea, but the reality of God at work in Christ. In a bad news world, preach good news.
Rev. Mike Ramsdell, Executive Director
Center for Evangelism, Mission & Church Growth