Preaching is awesome. Preparing to preach is really hard. If you are someone who is expected to communicate regularly, you know the anxiety of the blank page. What many people would consider their worst nightmare, you and I have decided to make part of our waking lives. Preaching has a spiritual weight attached to it but it also has a side that is intensely practical. If we are going to communicate the truth of God’s word effectively, it’s going to require both spiritual depth and skillful communication. We don’t build on “slick preaching,” but we are diligent in our preparation and presentation of the Gospel. It’s the best news of all time; we should deliver it to the absolute best of our ability.
The good news is that we can grow in our craft as communicators. We don’t have to buy the lie that bad habits in our preparation and delivery of a message are simply our “style.” Your style should be authentic to who you are, but please don’t use style as an excuse for poor preparation or weak delivery. If your current results aren’t up to par, don’t accept that reality as inevitable. Learn a better way and adjust.
There is a lot of advice out there on how to grow as a communicator. Let me just give you three quick tips to improve your preaching.
1. Tell Them Why It Matters
An easy mistake to make as you prepare a sermon is to launch into the content without taking time to consider...why should anyone care about what I’m about to say? If you can’t answer that question, they certainly won’t be able to. Before you start writing your “three points” (or whatever your structure will be), take a few moments to think through the problem your message is about to solve for your listeners.
The introduction of your message should be the introduction of tension. Before you offer a solution, present the problem. And don’t just tell them what it is, make them feel it. Maybe the problem with your preaching isn’t your content. Maybe you just haven’t taken time up front to pique their interest. If they’re not concerned about the problem, why would they care to hear the solution?
2. Tell Them Why It Matters to Them
As you’re thinking about what you’re going to say, don’t forget to think about who you’re going to say it to. You could have the best presentation in history on financial investing, but it won’t matter if you’re speaking to a room full of middle schoolers. You could have the greatest message on marriage, but it won’t matter if you’re speaking to a room of single people. Good speakers prepare good content. Great speakers tailor their content to their audience.
It’s not just the quality of the content that matters, it’s also the approach you take in presenting it. The truth is, you could teach middle schoolers about financial investing and you could speak to singles about marriage but, in order to do so effectively, you would have to tailor your approach specifically to each demographic. Don’t write your sermon in a vacuum. Take time to consider your audience so you can make it crystal clear to them why they need to hear what you have to say.
3. Tell Them What to Do Next
Information without application leads to nothing. No change. No growth. No improvement. Our goal as communicators is not just to inform our audience, it is to provide them with the material they need to transform their lives. We can’t transform them, but we can give them tools for transformation. Information is part of that process, but without clear points of application, it is not enough.
Don’t build tension, give information, and leave. Take your message all the way by considering how the people you’re speaking to can use their new insight to make practical changes in their daily lives. The more compelling you make your case, the more they will want to change. The clearer you make their application, the more they will be able to make the change.
These tips are not hard to understand, but they will take hard work to accomplish. No one will do it quite like you do. Lean in to your own unique gifting and style, but never stop expanding your communication toolkit. God wants to use you to facilitate change in the lives of the people under your teaching. He has called you to your unique position at this exact time. So the next time you sit down for sermon prep, ask yourself these three questions:
Why does this matter?
Why does this matter to them?
What should they do next?
See what I did there?