(f/5 @ 24 mm, 1/320, ISO 400 Union Station - St. Louis, MO)
As pastors, teachers, and leaders we must be continually developing our skills in the area of communication. After all, for us pastors, it's what we do every week!
Therefore, I would like to share with you a great article I just read by Dr. James O. Davis titled "21 Irrefutable Laws of Communication." Although I do not know a great deal about this man, I do think he is right on target when it comes to connecting and communicating from the pulpit. (I have posted the entire article for you to review...enjoy!)
Article by Dr. James O. Davis:
While my family and I were enjoying a summer convention in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1997, I experienced and witnessed a communication disaster that will remain as a memory throughout this life and eternity to come. It was during two hours of agony that I committed myself to learning and applying dynamic principles of communication to my personal ministry. Here is the story:
When the evening rally began on August 8, 1997, there were approximately 12,000 people in The Dome, excited about the possibilities of spiritual awakening and revival throughout the United States. When the keynote speaker began her presentation, she was given the pulpit nearly 45 minutes late with a preannounced schedule printed for the evening service to be concluded by 8:30 p.m. In light of this, the presenter would only have about 20 to 25 minutes to speak in order to remain on schedule. Yet, she chose to speak 1 hour and 20 minutes, as the crowd gradually left in tens and twenties at first until later by the hundreds. By the time her presentation had come to a close, the attendance had gone from nearly 12,000 to just under 1,000 in eighty minutes. I could not believe my eyes! I was witnessing a complete meltdown.
You may say, “That will never happen to me.” Yet, each week we have people who emotionally and spiritually leave our presentation, while they physically sit there uninterested in what we have to say about Christ, His Church and eternity. Something is wrong or missing when people yawn when we preach about the Greatest Story Ever Told. It is a sin to make the gospel boring for people.
There were many forces at work that beautiful summer evening. I could take the time to explain all of the negative things I saw and heard; but the purpose of this article is to hopefully teach communication laws that help will our ministries to expand throughout our lifetime.
1. Fill the pulpit, and let God fill the building.
While I was attending seminary, the late Dr. James D. Brown used to coach me regarding the power of preaching for any culture. On one occasion he said,” James, be sure to fill the pulpit, and let God fill the building. You fulfill your role, and the Lord will take care of his role. If you commit to being an expositor of the Word of God, then you will never lack for opportunity to minister.” For more than twenty-five years now, I have committed myself to this first axiom because it is foundational to understanding what the preacher’s role is today.
A sermon may be constructed after the best models; it may conform to all the rules of homiletics; the text may be suitable and fruitful; the plan may be faultless; the execution may discover genius and judgment; there may be accurate analysis and strong reasoning, proof and motive, solidarity and beauty, logic and persuasion, argument direct and indirect, perspicuity, purity, correctness, propriety, precision, description, antithesis, metaphor, allegory, comparison; motives from goodness, motives from happiness, motives from self-love, appeals to the sense of the beautiful, the sense of right, to the affections, the passions, the emotions; a sermon may be all this, and yet that very sermon, even though it fell from the lips of a prince of pulpit oratory, is as powerless in the renewal of a soul as in raising the dead, if unaccompanied by the omnipotent energy of the Holy Spirit.
2. People buy on emotion and justify on fact.
The preacher must have a point of contact with the audience. If there is no contact during the sermon, there most likely will be no response to the invitation. The point of contact for Jesus with the woman at the well in Samaria was, “Give me a drink” (Jam 4:7). He began with the physical thirst before moving to spiritual thirst. What are the points of contact for preachers today?
Jesus engaged His listeners. He used stories, dialogue, questions, comparisons and contrasts, common experiences, creativity, metaphors, and imagination to connect the gospel to His generation. Jesus went from the concrete to the abstract, from the facts to the principles, from the data to the dictum. Technology may change, but the needs of people remain basically the same.
Robert Jastrow observed in The Enchanted Loom, “The human brain is more complicated than the astronomer’s universe. It is the most complicated object that science has ever tried to understand.” The whole brain contains nearly ten billion nerve cells. Because of the intricate complexity of the brain’s circuitry, the number of possible interconnections between the cells of our brain is many orders of magnitude greater than the number of atoms in the entire universe. That is amazing! The vast elaborate circuitry of the human brain gives it a subtlety and speed that even a hundred crazed super computers working in sync could never hope to match. Mind researchers believe the human brain is capable of reviewing up to 10,000 separate factors at once. The possible connections in the universe are 1 followed by a hundred zeros, but the number of different interconnections possible in the human brain is 1 followed by eight hundred zeros.
In order for culturally relevant ministers to persuade their listeners to believe the gospel, they must not only build a bridge between the spiritual and the physical, but also between the spiritual and mental. Learning involves the inner and outer brain which has a dual nature. In the outer brain, there are two halves. “The left side deals more with facts, the right side more with feelings. The left with the rational, the right with the relational. The left side thinks in principles, while the right side thinks in pictures. However, overall, the inner brain is the seat of emotion, and the outer brain is the place for thinking.
The evangelistic preaching ministry of Jesus involved both the inner and outer brain and both halves of the outer brain of His listeners. While most of our evangelistic preaching uses the left side of the outer brain, Jesus mostly opened the gate through the inner brain by speaking to the right side of the outer brain. In essence, persuasive evangelistic preaching steps through the gate of the inner brain and causes the right and left halves of the brain to focus simultaneously on the gospel.
Left-brain evangelistic preaching answers the question, “What is the point?” Right brain evangelistic preaching answers the question, “What is the picture?” “Whole brain” evangelistic preaching answers the question, “What is the package for the people?” When the “package” (vocabulary, style, dialogue, stories, comparisons and contrasts, imagination, life experiences, metaphors, technology, etc.) and the “product” (the gospel) are correctly assimilated together, there is a connection made between the preacher and his hearers. You must connect at the emotional level, or you will not connect with your listeners at all. You may be able to get facts across intellectually but not be able to persuade your audience. You will not motivate people enough to get them to do what you want them to do. Our brains are made to respond to emotion.
People buy on emotion and justify on fact. Consider many of our biggest decisions in life. Your first job. Your college. Your mate. Facts are important. You better get the facts. However, we buy on emotion and justify on facts. If you do not connect at the emotional level, then you will not connect at all.
The inner brain is the emotional part of the brain. The inner brain makes the decision whether a person is believable or trustworthy. The inner brain answers one question: “Is this information safe?” If we are energetic, enthusiastic, and believable, our words may make it to the outer brain. If we are nervous and boring, then our words will never have impact. The message will be tuned out.
You must make the emotional connection at the beginning, maintain your interest, and end with a bang. The stories of your life are among the best tools in your tool kit. The use of images and metaphors, whether created by language or by visual support, helps you keep the connection to people.
3. Creativity is like giving birth to barbwire, but someone has to do it.
Imagination is the “bridge” between the ancient past and the contemporary present. There is a vast difference between fantasy and imagination. Warren Wiersbe once described fantasy as “Disney World” and imagination as “Epcot Center.” Disney World causes one to escape the real world, while Epcot causes one to enter a brand new world. Ministers are to preach the gospel in such a way as to help people see a new world with Christ in the center. One of the reasons the great entertainment centers of the world can charge exorbitant prices and still turn away thousands of people is creativity. The reason so many people sit sanctimoniously in our sanctuaries half-asleep is because ministers often do and say the same things the same way while expecting a miracle on Sunday. Our culture demands creativity!
Preachers need to remember they do not see the world as other people see it. We assume that the world is the way we speak it, that reality matches the metaphors we live by. Effective communicators understand how listeners imagine or view their world. The sacred responsibility of the preacher is to use biblically guided imagination to cross the bridge from the past to the present. The danger lies in the preacher’s mind serving as a “filter” or “paradigm” to accurately bring the sacred message of the scriptural passage into the arena of ideas today.
Imagination is the imaging function of the mind. It is thinking by seeing, as contrasted with reasoning. Imagination puts flesh and clothes on mere naked ideas and facts. It makes the unknown known and the unseen seen. The imaginative mind sees how different facts and ideas can be mixed together to build a sermon. Just as a contractor knows how to pull together blueprints, brick, sand, and wood in order to build a house, the creative preacher knows how to tie together the parts of exegesis to form a “meaning” and the different aspects of homiletics to form a “message.” The creative preacher powerfully connects every word of the message to the next to form sentences packed with pictures for the modern mind to understand eternal truth. Imagination arouses faith in God and His Word. Imagination makes history come alive today. Imagination is one of the strongest allies of the sermonizer to change lives forever. Words are outward, vocal expressions of hidden thoughts in a person’s mind.
Creativity and imagination can make unseen thoughts visible. We cannot see the thoughts of God; they are hidden from us. Thus, God revealed those thoughts through the life of Jesus. Jesus became both the outward visual and vocal expressions of the hidden thoughts of God. As sermonizers, we should strive to help people who are blind to the truths and thoughts of God in His Word to see visions in their minds and the difference Jesus Christ will make in their lives.
Imagination and creativity are to be used all along the way of sermon preparation. Just like prayer keeps the proclaimer in tune with God, imagination and creativity will keep the minister relevant to the world. In order to be effective communicators of the gospel, preachers must stay in touch with the eternal world above them (God), the temporary world around them (nature and humanity), the pragmatic world within them (the body, mind, and spirit), and the life-changing world of the Bible. The imaginative preacher has the distinct ability to pull all of these worlds together into
an effective preaching ministry.
If your life has lost its luster, then you could be neglecting one of the greatest qualities of human existence. This is a God-given quality made available to each of us. This is what I call the “missing link.” Bureaucracy kills it. Systems stifle it. Education squelches it. The Church is silent about it. What I am talking about? What is the missing link? It is creativity. Just the mention of the term “creativity” bombards our brains with excuses. We say something like, “I am not creative.” We say creativity is for dancers, songwriters, authors, musicians, and artists.
As we walk through life and work for God, we develop a “creative cramp.” We trade dreaming for dogma, move from laughter to logic and from using our imaginations to memorization. Ministers often live their lives on pause. They try to copycat something rather than endeavoring to create something. This breaks the heart of God. God wants all of us to ride on the crest of creativity. A lot of us are content to splash around with our floaties on in the shallow waters of sameness.
Creative people make it look easy. The easier something looks in a particular ministry, the more hard work that was done behind the scenes. What would have happened if God had stopped with His idea of Christ coming to earth to die for our sins? We would have been lost for eternity.
We must build in creativity time. We must have blocks of time to pray, think, conceptualize, brainstorm and write before trying to make it happen. If you are a pastor, do the creativity as a team and not just by yourself.
Those who are the most creative have a structure to their presentation. Those who do not have a structure are slaves to chaos. We must be focused on our destination. How many times have we listened to a sermon and said at the end, “What was the main point?” “What did he really say?” When this happens, the speaker failed to create a powerful message.
Every message must be packaged in some creative way in order for the audience to grasp its meaning and to be motivated by it. The biblical text determines the substance of the sermon. The sermonizer determines the structure of the sermon.
The crowd does not determine whether or not you speak the truth; the truth is not optional. But your audience does determine which truths you choose to speak about.
4. Study yourself to death, and pray yourself back to life again.
At every juncture in sermonic preparation, a “spirit of prayer” should be in the minister’s heart. A preacher who is not praying in the ministry is playing in the ministry. The minister is to be a person of prayer. He does not stop to pray; he simply does not stop from prayer. The preacher should learn how to pray. Jesus did not teach His disciples how to preach but how to pray. However, today the emphasis is more on how to preach rather than how to pray in order to preach. This is a missing element in effective evangelistic preaching. Ministers should pray for more workers, empowerment, boldness, miracles, open doors, the right message, clear communication, expansion of the gospel, deliverance, local church involvement, finances, and salvation of the lost.
Pray over and through all the steps of preparation for effective evangelistic preaching. Pray for the lost who will hear your sermon. Ask the Lord to direct every thought during your sermon preparation for the purposes of connecting, communicating, and converting the lost to Christ.
The priority of the evangelist’s or pastor’s prayer life will determine the power of his or her evangelism. When the biographies of preachers God used in the past are studied, the common denominator of prominence was their priority on prayer. Mighty men and women of God will have a consistent quiet time with God. The first area of the evangelist’s and pastor’s ministry to be developed should not be the “public life” before crowds but the private life before God; however, many ministers do not have a deep prayer life with God.
The prayer life is for spiritual conditioning. The spiritual muscles of the preacher grow as he or she “stretches” and “works” them out through supplication before God. The quality of the evangelist’s quiet time will result either in spiritual strength or spiritual weakness. It is hypocritical to preach to people before first praying for them.
The prayer life is for spiritual cleansing. Ministry travels are made up of dirty, muddy roads. Each day the soul of the evangelist is soiled by the world. Non-Christian attitudes can creep into the heart. Sin can be committed even in the ministry. Thus, the prayer life becomes a time of spiritually washing the heart, mind, emotions, and will before God. The more time the preacher spends each day in prayer, the more adjustments will be made in attitudes and actions in ministry.The heart becomes pliable. The spirit becomes teachable. The will becomes responsive.
The prayer life is for spiritual conflict. The preacher is in a spiritual war for the souls of men and women. Preachers must resolve to protect their quiet time with God regardless of the daily pressures of life and ministry. The twenty-first century minister faces the “tyranny of time.” The most difficult thing to do is to prioritize prayer time every day.
John Bunyan said, “Prayer will make a man cease from sin, and sin will make a man cease from prayer.”
Leonard Ravenhill said, “No man is greater than his prayer life. The pastor who is not praying is playing; the people who are not praying are straying. … We have many organizers, but few agonizers; many players and payers, few pray-ers; many singers, few clingers; lots of pastors, few wrestlers; many fears, few tears; much fashion, little passion; many interferers, few intercessors; many writers, but few fighters. Failing here, we fail everywhere.”
Preachers must pray when they feel like it, when they do not feel like it, and until they do feel like it. It is not about the arithmetic of prayer or the number of times of prayer. It is not about the geometry of prayer or how long the prayer is before God. It is not about the rhetoric of prayer or the words used to impress God or others. It is not about the music of prayer or how sweet the sound of one’s voice is to the ears of God. It is not about the logic of prayer or the kind of argumentation used in order to try to persuade God. It is about the passion of prayer. Instead of being “through
praying,” preachers need to “pray through” and touch the heart of a loving God.
5. The person’s mind is not a debating hall but a picture gallery.
How do the majority of people learn? They learn by perceiving (right half of brain) and processing information (left half of brain). Word pictures connect both halves of the brain. W. Macneile Dixon was astute in his conclusion: “The human mind is not, as philosophers would have you think, a debating hall, but a picture gallery.” It is the speaker’s responsibility to discover what appropriate images or memory
hooks are necessary in a presentation. Make your presentations SHARP:
References and quotes
Pictures and visual aids
All of the SHARP principles have on thing in common: they all work together to bring life to your presentation. They all engage the listener to see and feel the presentation in their minds or on the emotional level. You must add SHARPs to make the sermon memorable. Long before there was writing, there were stories.
Stories can be passed from generation to generation. This art form has been neglected. The key to a good story is the ability to tap into the heart. It moves us from thinking to feeling. A really good story takes us to that place in time. Retention increases from 14 percent to 38 percent when an audience sees as well as hears a presentation. Speakers’ goals are met 34 percent of the time when visuals are used during the communication. Group consensus is 21 percent higher in meetings at which visual aids are incorporated. The time required to communicate a concept can be reduced up to 40 percent with the use of visuals. People basically remember two things more than anything else when a presentation is completed: the emotional tone of the speaker and the visual images of the speaker and the visual aids. We live in a rapidly changing world. In order to create a powerful presence, the presenter needs to include the use of computers, and videos need to be considered as visual aids. Remember, these are supports, not the message.
6. The length of a presentation is not determined by the clock but by the crowd.
There are no doubt speakers you have heard that have gone too long, while others have gone too short. There are those we have heard and said, “When will this person ever finish?” while listening to others we have said, “This leader finished too quickly. I wish I could have heard more.” What is the secret to becoming the presenter that people want to hear more instead of less?
It is important for you to know your surroundings and understand your audience at all times during the preaching of the sermon. This is crucial to effectiveness. A sermon is not too long because the clock says so. It is too long if the audience says so. If you are wondering if the people are following you, walk to the outskirts of the platform and watch the heads of the people. If their heads turn as you walk, they are with you. However, if the people refuse to follow you, you need to conclude the sermon as quickly as possible.
I learned this principle while beginning a crusade in Newark, New Jersey more than fifteen years ago. It was Veterans’ weekend, and the church had decided to have a long musical instead of focusing on the evangelistic crusade. When the pastor finally gave me the pulpit, it was 11:50 a.m. I could have said to myself, “These people better pay attention and no one better move until I finish my masterpiece of a sermon.” I listened as the pastor introduced me by saying, “The first time I met our speaker today was in my office this morning. He comes from the Mid-West. Please
help me to welcome him.”
I knew in my mind that since the people did not know me and did not know anything about our ministry, I was facing an uphill battle to gain the attention and respect of this audience quickly. So, I walked up to the pulpit, thanked the pastor and said, “It is my honor to be with you today. I just noticed on my watch that is 11:50 a.m. It is amazing how quickly time passes in a worship service. Please look at your watch with me. If you will give me the opportunity to minister to 12:20, I promise to finish by that time. In a moment, however, when I request us to stand for the reading of
the Scripture, if you must go, then feel free to be dismissed.”
When I had the audience to stand, approximately 7 or 8 people did leave the service. What did I accomplish in two or three moments with an audience who had never heard me minister before? I immediately built an emotional, trustworthy bridge to them that said, “I recognize the lateness of the hour and will respect your most precious commodity: your time!
We began the crusade that morning, and it turned out to be one of the best I have ever conducted in my twenty-five years of ministry. The length of the sermon is not determined by the clock but by the crowd.
7. People need their ears turned into eyes when a presentation is made.
Just like there are unique styles to cover our physical bodies, there are unique styles of communication to clothe our thoughts. You cannot send your ideas out naked—they will refuse to go if they have any shred of modesty about them, and people will refuse to welcome them into good society if they make their approach in such an unseemly way.
Our message is delivered through the means of the “verbal,” “vocal,” and “visual.” Many ministers of the gospel spend most of their time thinking about what they are going to say to the audience, yet studies have concluded that the decision-making process of people is determined first by visual cues (55 percent), second by vocal (sounds and tones account for 38 percent), and third by verbal (actual words of the presentation account for only 7 percent). This data proves the average person is persuaded more by feelings than by facts. The visual cues the speaker gives to the audience are positively or negatively persuasive. Mannerisms, gestures, head movements, facial expressions, platform movement, eye contact, and clothing project the overall presence of the presenter.
The vocal effectiveness of the presenter is determined by quality, intonation, pauses, and fillers. The voice should project the different “landscapes” of the sermon. There should be changes in volume, speed, and tone according to the content of the message. Pauses help the preacher and the audience to catch up with the message. Fillers should be avoided at all cost as they are distracting to the congregation.
The verbal persuasion of the sermonizer will be greatly determined by the choice of words and phrases. Emotive words drive the theme of the message home. The communicator must be enthusiastic about the message. Since only 7 percent of the impact in the decision-making process is made up of actual words, every word and phrase of the itinerant should be chosen carefully for maximum impact. We must always remember we are not called merely to impress people but to influence their decision-making for Christ. If the preacher is saying one thing but the voice is saying another, confusion will be the result in the minds of the audience. The audience rejects what it does not understand or believes.
8. Presentations mostly do not fail because of logistics, but because the presenter does not know the audience.
Oftentimes the presenter is blaming the wrong thing or the wrong person when a speech or sermon does not go as well as hoped. I realize that there are circumstances that come our way from time to time beyond our control. Sometimes the electricity can go out; the air conditioning fails, the DVD can freeze and even babies can begin crying. Yet, the polished presenter has learned how to turn these seeming negatives into positive ways to communicate the gospel.
While studying sermonizing, I have come to the conclusion that we need to know our sermons cold and not just hot. In other words, if the alarm fails to go off this coming Sunday and we have to rush to the morning worship service, we should know our sermon so well that we know it even cold, without having had time to renew it our heart and spirit.
There is power in the pause when unforeseen problems come to our presentation. If you know the message cold, then you will be prepared when problems come your way. However, if you know the message but do not understand your audience, then you will still fail in your presentation. I have heard preachers say some of the most unkind things in my life. You can dress like you are intelligent, but everyone will know the truth when you open your mouth.
9. If the presenter speaks offensively, people will respond defensively.
The gospel is “good news” not bad news. A lot of preachers today are known for what they are against rather than what they are for. Of course, we are to preach about sin and to point people from everywhere to only one way, through Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit greatly convicted me of this in the 1990s.
If I tell a humorous story or joke at the expense of a represented group of people, then have just torn down a communicate bridge at someone’s expense. When I attended Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, I heard Chuck Swindoll say, “We have not been called to war with our audience, but to win our listeners. We have not been called to embarrass, but to evangelize; not to push them away, but to pull them close.”
10. The mind craves order, not chaos.
Once the mind has been shaped by a new idea, it will never retain its original shape. When I listen to a preacher who has no structure to his or her message, then I know there was not much time given to the presentation. Our Lord brought his universe out of chaos into order. When one observes the systems of the universe, it becomes obvious that “things did not just happen,” but there was a Master designer behind it all.
When we stand to present the living Word of God with organized excellence, we give a positive reflection to our audience about what we believe about the Bible and King of the Universe. People reject what they cannot understand and will not follow us if they cannot see the road ahead of them. God made us this way. When people come to the worship service on Sunday, they have not spent much time, if any, thinking about what we are going to preach that morning. It is therefore imperative that we come with an organized message that will capture their interest from the beginning and carry them to the conclusion.
11. Whatever looks easy in public was hard in private.
Every time I watch a pole vaulter jog out into the center of the field and easily jump more than twenty feet over the bar, I stand in total amazement. Every time I listen to the most trained voice hit the highest notes, my spirit soars with the deepest of appreciation for such talent. When I listen to a master teacher expound the Word of God, my heart kneels with me. Whatever looks easy in public was hard in private.
My daughter, Olivia, and I were conversing the other day. Please keep in mind that she is only seven years old, but I am determined to teach her principles that will help her long after Dad has graduated for eternity. I said to her, “Olivia, as you grow older you will hear people say, ‘Practice makes perfect.’ Do not believe this philosophy. It is the right practice that makes perfect.”
If you do not believe this is true, then practice hard the game of tennis until you master it, and then go out and play a professional football game and see how well you do. You will be no match because the rules of tennis do not apply to the rules of football.
If we desire to master our “preaching craft” then we have to know the biblical, practical and logical rules and be able to apply the right practice to achieve excellent results. I challenge you to make a list of who you consider to be the masters of preaching today. Once you have prepared this list, then make an appointment to go meet them on your next vacation. You will be amazed as your preaching ministry takes on new flavors; your impact will deepen quickly as well.
12. The difference between a foul ball and a home run is timing.
The greatest of baseball players have learned this principle from the earliest of years. If one wants to hit the ball over the fence, then the timing will have to be impeccable. People do not come to church today to watch us hit foul balls each week. There are several areas of timing that need our attention today:
A. Sermon series need to be timed correctly. When the pastor is planning a series, much thought needs to be given as to what will be preached before and after the series. If there is a national or international event that needs to be addressed, then the series needs to be interrupted to demonstrate timeliness.
B. Every sermon should not be preached the same way. The story is told of two laymen having breakfast, talking about their individual pastors. One gentleman said, “Our pastor’s message always sounds like, ‘Ding, Dong. Ding, Dong.’” The other gentleman at the breakfast table said, “Well, at least you have some variety in your pastor’s sermons. We only hear, ‘Ding, Ding, Ding,Ding.’”
C. The timing of when the message is to be delivered in the worship service should be varied from time to time. I will say more about this later.
D. The study time of the pastor during each week needs to be developed to be advantageous for the sermon’s success. A successful routine will reduce the amount of time required and increase the level of weekly results. The preacher who is always accessible to people will not hit many home runs on Sunday.
13. People do not want to only hear reasons, but to see visions.
We often allow our Western culture to determine how we study, think and present our messages on a weekly basis. We often forget that most of the people are simply trying to “hack it on Monday.” If the preacher is not careful, he will say more and more about less and less, without solving the big issues of life. We must choose creative metaphors and build bridges from the ancient biblical past to the contemporary realities. Additionally, how people view the preacher has a lot to do with how they will listen and respond to the message they have just heard in the worship service. Our sermon does not begin when we “open our mouths” to speak, but when we are first seen in the church service. People are constantly sizing us up during the worship time and the giving of the offering.
Here are three major areas of consideration to help people see visions:
14. The lowest form of communication is predictability.
When our listeners over time are able to predict what we will say or do, then we are operating in the lowest of communication and probably do not know it. Years ago, my wife and I use to attend a church where on the second hymn and the second verse, we would be asked to stand in the auditorium. The order of the worship service had become so predictable that people checked out mentally.
I challenge you to “mix things up” from time to time in your local church service. Where does it say in the practice book that the sermon has to always be at the end of the service? Where does it say that you have to always preach a different sermon each week? The point is that people become disengaged with what is always done the same way.
On one occasion, a pastor friend of mine told me that he preached the same sermon several times in a row to illustrate to the people that before they moved forward “in truth,” the Lord wanted them to be sure that they had learned the previous truth first. Take some time to reflect how you can become more creative in the worship service in order to have greater attention from your hearers.
15. Humor is the quickest way to a person’s heart.
Every whale that goes down deep eventually has to come up for air or he or she will die. Wise is the preacher who understands the proper use of humor and applies on it a consistent basis. Humor will:
• Release tension in people’s hearts and minds.
• Refuel people so they can dive deep with you again.
• Refresh the audience and open their minds to new thoughts.
• Remind them that the preacher is human and enjoys life.
When we speak about humor, we are not necessarily speaking about telling jokes to fill in time. The masterful communicator uses all of the tools available, and humor is one of the most important ones. Make people laugh and you will win their hearts!
16. The magic is shown during the transitions of a message.
I cannot think of any area of life that is not filled with various transitions and phases in order to move forward and upward. I remember like it was yesterday when I was sitting in fourth grade class, listening to teacher explain how outlines work on the chalkboard. As she demonstrated the outline, it became clear to this ten year old boy that the transition from the one in the outline to the two, and so on, made all of the difference in the world.
When the worship leader in the church services flows from one song to the next one, without making special announcements to a new chorus or hymn, then you are watching and hearing someone who has mastered the art of successful transitions before you. It is the transitions that are built into the sermon that take out the roughness and replace it with smoothness.
Even though the audience will not know what you are doing, the timed transition may come in different forms. As you move from the introduction to the body of the message to the conclusion, you have built in transitional summary statements and illustrations to move the audience forward each week. Master the transitions in the message, and your hearers will stay with you longer than ever.
17. The Word of God makes a lousy club, but it makes a great sword.
The preacher needs to be careful not to turn the Word of God into something that it was not intended to be. Our goal is not to beat people up with Scripture, but to allow the Holy Spirit to cut away those elements that are not Christ-like in their lives.
This has to do with what ministers believe the “inspiration of Scripture” consists of in our world today. The Bible was written not to put the lives of people into print, but to put “life” into the souls of people. Incarnation depends on inspiration. A person cannot have “the Word become flesh” without “breath.” The term “inspiration” means “breath.” “For no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Pe 1:21). “All Scripture is inspired by God” (2 Tim 3:16a) or is given by the breath of God.
In essence, the Bible was brought about by God’s breathing the words onto the page. By His Spirit, God was quickening the authors of the Bible to write His words for us. The breath of God moved upon them and through them in a manner that caused them to write down the words of God. Thus, the words in the Bible got there from the breath of God and the hand of man.
The challenge preachers face today is in knowing how to “inhale” correctly (exegesis) the breath of God or the Word of God. The goal is not just to get the Word of God into the preacher’s head but into the preacher’s heart as well. This is where the role of the Holy Spirit comes in as it relates to preaching. Do you know the difference between being a “professional preacher” and a “powerful preacher?”
After ministers have inhaled the breath of God and His Word, they are to “exhale” the Word of God through anointed preaching so people can live again. The minister can either share the inspired scriptures as information or for incarnation. Just as the Holy Spirit birthed (conceived) Jesus in Mary, preachers are to have the kind of anointed ministry that births Jesus in the lives of others.
Powerful preaching impregnates people with the seed, spermos (from which the term “sperm” is derived), or the Word of God; and eternal life springs forth within their hearts. The result is salvation through belief in Jesus Christ. That is how the “Word becomes flesh” today. People must experience the “new birth” of Jesus inside them to enter into salvation. The Word of God makes a lousy club, but it makes a great sword!
18. The first ninety seconds are most important during a presentation.
There are nearly limitless ways to begin a sermon, but the strategic goal remains the same. We must capture the attention and arouse interest immediately or face losing the audience. The speaker should view the introduction not in terms of what begins the presentation, but in terms of what will open up the audience. The purpose of an introduction is to invite people into the arena of ideas with you.
While you are preparing the first ninety seconds, think carefully about the characteristics of the people you are trying to persuade to believe the gospel. Develop a snapshot of your audience. Answer questions like:
Once you have identified the predominant characteristics of the audience and the setting, ask yourself: What will appeal to them? What will this group consider to be important? What will be meaningful and memorable for my listeners in these circumstances?
Answer the following questions, and you will be ready to “get the audience on the train of thought with you” for the entire time:
If the preacher does not capture the attention of the congregation at the very beginning of the sermon, the audience may never enter into the heart and soul of the sermon.
19. The presenter says more when he says less.
Once of the greatest lessons that I ever learned about sermonic exactness was when I learned the difference between the “eye” and “ear” regarding preparation of messages. When we write sermons to be graded in seminary, then the “eye” is used more than the ear due to the grading nature of the class. For example, we will be sure to have correct sentence structure because the eye of the professor will grade us. However, when it comes to writing sermons to be presented orally, then we need to learn to prepare for the “ear” more than eye. If the sermon does not “sound good” then people will not enjoy it.
For many years I have written my entire sermon out verbatim, listening to how they sound to my ears. Once the sermon is written then I go back through the entire message highlighting various markers the main points, key summary statements and pivotal illustrations committing these elements to memory. Once I have gone through this process several times carefully, I am able to succinctly present the message and even shorten it based upon time restraints. The less we add “fill-ins” due to the lack of preparation or understanding, the higher the appreciation of our audience for our message. Any minister who has been preaching for a number of years can preach an hour; but the master teacher is able to reduce it to the most simplistic powerful message.
20. The purpose of a sermon is to produce godly character in people’s lives.
There is a fundamental difference in aim between a lecturer and a preacher. A lecturer explains a subject; a biblical preacher seeks character change in the hearts and lives of the listeners. For example, a lecturer may explain botany, but a preacher is to “raise flowers.” The minister is called to present the gospel in such a manner that lives are forever changed.
The purpose of preaching is to win the lost to Christ. The goal of a sermon is to persuade people. The main purpose of a sermon is not simply to exegete a text correctly, but also to produce godly character in people’s lives. We must begin with the correct end in mind. The evangelist and the pastor are not called by God merely to motivate the audience, but also to activate them. As a result of the sermon, the congregation should live out the principles that were proposed in the message. Have you ever stopped to think about the kind of life you are living—and more importantly, why? For example, why do you live where you live? Why are you involved in your present kind of ministry? Why do you preach the way you preach? Why are you a pastor, missionary or evangelist? What about your family and friends? What are they like?
If we are going to build anything to last, we must anchor it with a solid foundation, and this is true whether we are building a house, a skyscraper, or anything else. The philosopher George Santayana said it well when he observed, “The loftiest edifices need the deepest foundations.” This metaphor applies to our lives and our ministries. The problem today is that a lot of people are all house and no foundation. The stronger our foundation, the easier it will be to build an enduring ministry.
Have you ever thought through your philosophy of ministry? If so, what is it? What are your core beliefs in your preaching ministry? Are you truly practicing your core beliefs and living according to your philosophy of ministry?
Think about all of these ideas for a moment. What you believe creates who you are in your family, ministry and community. We interpret the world based upon what we believe to be true. Our conclusions about ourselves and others are based upon what we believe about ourselves and what we believe others to be as well.
Have you ever taken enough time to completely decide what you believe and do not believe? Most ministers never really take the time to develop a realistic, personal purpose pertaining to their ministries.
Each of us has a philosophy of life and ministry, even though most ministers do not take the time to carefully articulate it. Our goal is to be able to flesh out our philosophy of ministry so we can cognitively make decisions in the future that fully reflect our belief system. If our purpose of ministry does not reflect our personal goals or aspirations, then we need to carefully review and rethink our philosophy for a more dynamic ministry.
What is your philosophy relating to preaching? What are your core beliefs pertaining to the proclamation of the gospel? Following are illustrations of two different preaching philosophies.
Over the years as I have traveled as an evangelist, I have carefully observed the libraries of each pastor. On one occasion, a pastor and I were chatting before the Sunday morning service began, I asked him to recommend a good book for me to read in the near future. The pastor responded, “I have not read a new book in seven years. The preacher does not need to read a lot in order to faithfully preach the gospel. I believe that the Lord will pour a message into my life just prior to the Sunday services.” What would you say are the core values of this pastor as they relate to the preaching of the gospel?
On another occasion, I was privileged to minister for a leading pastor in North America. During the week of the crusade, we spoke regarding our various views pertaining to preaching, evangelism and discipleship. This well-organized pastor conveyed to me that he has a preaching calendar for the year. His preaching calendar contains all of the messages he plans to preach throughout the year. He believes that half the battle for the local pastor is in deciding what to preach each week to his or her congregation. He also believes the Holy Spirit will anoint the study time of the pastor just as much as the preaching time during the service. What would you say are the core values of this pastor as they relate to the preaching of the gospel?
The truth of the matter is our purpose of preaching determines how we view our role as a preacher, how we schedule time for our preparation, what books we read, how we deliver the message, and the results we believe will be achieved. A lot of ministers are “two hours ahead of the hounds.” They are always on the run, endeavoring to get ready for Sunday. With a proper philosophy and planning, the minister will have greater enjoyment in the preaching of the gospel.
If you have concluded that you need to make changes, here are the simple steps to updating your purpose of preaching:
Meng-Tse, a Chinese philosopher who lived more than 2,000 years ago, said: “To act without clear understanding, to form habits without investigation, to follow a path all one’s life without knowing where it really leads—such is the behavior of the multitude.” Solomon wrote: “They made me caretaker of the vineyards, but I have not taken care of my own vineyard” (Song of Songs 1:6). In other words, we must make certain our philosophy of life and ministry are reflected in the vineyard God has given us to oversee, organize and overcome.
21. Give more than people expect to receive from you.
It is the extra ten percent that ultimately makes the big difference in life and ministry. In the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “And whoever shall force you to go one mile, go with him two” (Matt. 5:41). It is the second mile principle that will put a smile on our face, a spring in our step, and a song in our heart. The first mile is the trial mile, and the second mile is the smile mile. The key to living life with a smile is a Christ-centered life. It has been said, “A person wrapped up in himself makes a very small package.”
If we are determined to give a little extra, or to polish the words a little more, then a compounding effect will happen in our lives. People know when they have heard a message that has been prayed over and well-prepared before they arrived at church.
When we live this kind of prepared life, then we are ready when life’s greatest challenges come our way.
On September 11, 2001, the Trade Towers in New York City came crashing down, and our world changed forever. I was in Detroit, Michigan. I will never forget that afternoon for the remainder of my life. During that afternoon the late Dr. Bill Bright called a nationwide conference call with notable Christian leaders. There was a time of prayer followed by a time of discussion. After about an hour or so, Dr. Bright called upon me to prepare a sermon that evening that would give biblical understanding of the times and a challenge for the Church. I could not believe what I was hearing: a request to prepare a sermon to reflect the worst day in American history. Dr. Bright went on to say that he expected the sermon to be finished by morning and sent to all of the key Christian leaders for their review the following day.
Following the evening crusade service, I came back to my hotel and studied all night, preparing a sermon entitled, “What To Do When The Towers Crumble.” The next morning, I did send that message to all of the leaders who had been on the conference call, and many of them gave additional improvements. The following day the message, “What To Do When The Towers Crumble” was sent worldwide through various denominations and organizations.
When we prepare a little extra and go the extra mile, then when we are called upon in a crisis or do not have much time to prepare, then we can draw truth from the overflow of our lives. I challenge you as a fellow preacher of the gospel to prepare and preach your sermons for the greatest One in your audience, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He listens to our every word, and one day we will give an account as to how we have rightly divided the Word of God.