America and the world just lost a giant, and many of us over age 50 were inspired and influenced by Billy Graham. Now, we’re not stretching it to say that we can be like him related to preaching in several ways:
Faithfulness: Yes, that is related to preaching because people will not listen to us if they do not trust and love us. Billy Graham was protected by God’s Spirit and his own careful policies, for sure. We can all get to 99 with a strong heart, the kind of heart people listen to from the pulpit, if we choose.
“The Bible says”: His constant quote—I counted 13 in one of his sermons—can be our guide when preaching. Not necessarily that we say the phrase, but that we preach the Word and what it says, rather than just what we think or read somewhere else.
Passion: If you listened to him speak, you knew he meant it. He spoke with sincerity and urgency, as if he really believed it and that the listeners needed to hear and do it also!
We can do all three of those.
So this month, let’s think about preaching—maybe tied with love as our most crucial role.
Grateful for Billy Graham’s example and our privilege,
Knute, with Jeff and Jim
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What has helped you most recently with preaching?
- Becoming a strong and aggressive student of the culture. Our culture and people’s learning styles are changing more rapidly than ever before in history.
- One of the disciplines I have put into my life is to be a student of the millennial generation and the generation after them, Generation Z. These are the people our church is targeted to reach. Therefore, my communication style should be reflected toward them so they can learn when they interact with me.
What have I learned about these two generations?
- When I speak, I need to speak in a narrative form, not a lecture form, so I am not working them through an outline with certain points as if they are sitting in school. It’s more like we are conversing and I’m telling them a story.
- They are hyper visual, so everything within their scope of sight needs to be attractive and creative. Whether it’s lighting, PowerPoint, or video clips, they learn and retain things visually.
- Their attention span is short. That doesn’t mean I must have short sermons; it means that as I’m talking I adjust the conversation multiple times (e.g., Instead of showing one PowerPoint at the beginning of a sermon, I might show five or six throughout the sermon with different images – and these generations will re-engage me every time that occurs).
- Be a student of my audience, which is the number one rule of communication. The principle, Know your audience, has helped me the most to communicate.
- Engaging technology: “If you don’t exist in their phones, you don’t exist.”
- Live with your people. Do life with them more than just on Sunday.
- Read the local newspaper every day.
- Say “we” instead of “you” when preaching.
- Be familiar with current events and speak out to them. Your people want to know what you are thinking.
- Never ask your congregation to do something that you are not presently doing or are not willing to do yourself.
- Be available to your people; don’t be a specialist.
- Let them know your failures and wins.
- Place yourself in situations where someone else is leading and you serve under them with the people.
- Be real.
- Always say, “we should,” and not, “you should.” Never talk down to people.
- Smile more.
- Always explain the cross and the gospel, even if only for one minute. About 25 years ago, when I read a few thousand answers to the question, “How do you know you are a Christian?” I realized many regular attenders need to hear it again and again, as do new seekers. No one has “always been a Christian,” or was “brought up in a Christian home,” and therefore in God’s family.
- Use variety of volume, rate of delivery, type of communication (story, explanation, challenge, humor, personal illustration), and also the best attention-getter of all of them—the pause.
- I get what I say from the Bible. It’s an old question that does not always need to be there, “Where did you get that?” Exposition, exposition, exposition.
- Speaking of continuous learning, I urge all the pastors I coach to watch a video of their own sermons at least once or twice a year, and to have someone who loves them give feedback also. Pastor-friends can trade critiques.
- Some pastors have no idea they never smile, or that they move around in nervous ways instead of strategically, or that they show no variety in volume or word content.
Why our part is so important—after all, the Bible is the Word of God!
- We are ambassadors, as if God himself were making His appeal through us. We are speaking on behalf of the Lord, helping to communicate His heart and His mind, and we need to do that as clearly as possible; therefore, preaching is critical.
- To rabbit trail some… there’s a difference between communicating God’s Word and educating with God’s Word. Many pastors will spend many hours preparing to educate. They will look at all the details, all the languages, and all the nuances of a passage and spend very little time thinking how to communicate what they have learned. I encourage every pastor to bring those two ideas into balance. We absolutely need to handle the Word of truth correctly. If no one understands what we’re talking about then those efforts can be in vain.
- How will they know the truth unless a messenger is sent?
- Make sure you present it like you believe it too, in a creative way.
- We help them see the meaning. People are visual learners, so use illustrations that paint pictures or are visual props.
- When you preach, get interaction with your audience by asking questions that they can respond to. It’s critical that they interact too and can see that the Bible offers practical insight.
- Let them see the Bible has impacted your life.
- People are often looking for answers, and the speaker has a chance to speak truth into their lives. Never underestimate how important the message is each time you share.
- God can use our preaching to help people make life-changing decisions.
- The Bible tells the story of our God and is helpful in every situation a person faces. We help them apply it.
- The Bible points people to the hope-giver, Jesus Christ, and preaching points to Him.
- Like it or not, many judge the church by the sermon, and may drop out if they do not benefit from it. And we really do want them to be part of the church.
- Like it or not, many people think we speak for God. And of course we do, but only when we are truly exposing the scriptures. It’s a good reminder to be clear where God is and careful where He is quiet, and to avoid palaver. Say, “I think,” when it is not clearly from the text!
But back to my point—some will seriously seek to do what we urge as we expose and apply the verses, so we must be careful and accurate, not misleading.
- The Bible itself does not just call us to read the Bible publicly. It does do that, but it also applauds the preaching of the Word as a tool God uses, so it is blessed by Him.
- Some people will not read the Bible on their own. And some who read will not understand parts or seek to apply them. Preaching fills those needs.
What are some guidelines you have about what happens in the pulpit, whether it’s you or someone else?
- What we say must be relevant.
- What we say must be biblical.
- What we say must be visual.
- If we teach you what God’s Word says and listeners have no idea what to do with it when they leave, we have failed them.
- Our up-front communication needs to be 100% biblical and 100% relevant. If the verbal communicator is not able to accomplish those two things, then it’s very important we help him get up to speed or even have someone else do that communication for him.
- Be passionate.
- Know your audience before you preach.
- Be prayed up.
- Study and prepare to your best ability. This is a huge responsibility. Never wing it.
- Allow the Holy Spirit to do the work of changing them.
- Pray for creativity.
- Be conscious of how much time you have to preach.
- Smile a lot.
- Don’t beat them up; instead love them!
- Preach like it could be your last message.
- No sarcasm.
- Keep the time as assigned. In the cultures where most of us pastor, the punctuality issue is important. And when even a prayer or announcements disregard assigned time limits, someone else must change. This is rude.
- Unity and teamwork with others on the platform or in the service.
- No palaver. Even if you’re strumming a guitar as you speak.
- Stay in the service when you are finished with your part, when at all possible. I understand the needs of multiple services, but people abruptly walking out instead of sitting in the front, or even walking to the back to sit there, are by their actions saying they really don’t care about the rest of the service. “I’m done with my part.”
- Plan your words and thoughts, so you are not just giving out your stream of consciousness.
- Never give away the microphone if you are on staff and interviewing somebody. Many people have no idea what two minutes means. We must help them. There has to be a verse on that in the Old Testament, “Hold the microphone”! J
Pastorpedia is a resource provided to you by CE National, a church effectiveness ministry. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574.267.6622 if we may be of any help to you or your ministry!
Jeff Bogue, of Grace Church, in several locations in the Bath-Norton-Medina areas of Ohio; Jim Brown, of Grace Community Church in Goshen, Indiana, a church known for its strong growth, family and men’s ministries, and community response teams; and Knute Larson, a coach of pastors, who previously led The Chapel in Akron for 26 years. Pastorpedia is brought to you by CE National. Visit cenational.org/pastorpedia for more issues and to read the bios of our contributors.