Just like many skills, preaching is both a gift and an art. It’s a gift because ultimately it is God who gives the ability to speak (not to mention the gift of a sermon impacting someone even when it’s poorly delivered). It’s an art because while while there are things you can certainly do to preach poorly, there is no one right way to prepare or deliver a sermon.
I’m always on the lookout for ways to do a better job as a preacher, whether I’m speaking to eighty high school students every week or preaching occasionally at one of our church campuses or a ministry in our community. Here are five things I’ve been incorporating into my messages and preparation lately. They aren’t exactly ground-breaking changes, but they’ve helped me as a communicator a ton. Give a few of them a try this weekend!
Ask questions your audience is already asking. If you’ve read the Bible, you know that there’s some pretty weird stuff in there. People do some crazy stuff. God doesn’t always seem to do what we would expect him to do. Prophets Jesus himself told a few stories that left just about everyone scratching their heads. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes, and if there’s a question or objection they’re probably thinking, say it out loud. They’ll appreciate your honesty, and it’ll show that you care about connecting the message to their world.
Memorize the introduction and conclusion. I know that I just lost about half of you at memorize, but hear me out: If you don’t connect with an audience at the beginning, they likely won’t follow you (mentally) as you open your Bible. And if you don’t remind them at the end what they need to remember and why it should make a difference in their lives, it’s as if they never heard your sermon in the first place. There are times when I will memorize the entire message, but I know that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. But if you at least open and close without looking at your notes, your audience is more likely to connect with you and want to believe what you say.
Teach the Bible like you were there. One of the preachers I love listening to is amazing at unpacking a Bible passage as if he was there when it happened. Take the text you’re preaching from and explain it as though you’re a story teller, not a seminary professor. This one takes a bit of work if you’re not used to it, but the payoff is huge.
Connect the problems of the people in you text with problems your audience is facing. One of the reasons some people believe the Bible is irrelevant is because they don’t connect with the problems that people in the Bible face. Lately, I’ve made an effort in each message to include a few sentences that begin with, “You probably feel the same way” in reference to an issue someone in our text was facing. For instance, this past week I preached from a section in Habakkuk where Habakkuk wasn’t sure God was being very fair to those living in Judah. While the folks listening to me probably haven’t ever had to deal with an vicious Babylonian army, it wasn’t too much of a stretch to imagine issues they’ve faced that made them wonder if God was being fair.
Stick to one main idea. I’ve always been diligent about this, but there are times when I still preach my way down a rabbit trail because I couldn’t resist the urge to add another sermon to my sermon. Stick to one “big idea.” If you find another point in the text that’s important for your audience to hear, save it for another week.