Confession: I used to want to preach like T.D. Jakes.
It’s true. I remember watching him in his pre-purple suit days and thinking to myself, “This guy can preach!” I still think there’s nothing like 90’s preaching: dynamic, powerful, and full of deep content. It was here that I fell in love with not only preaching, but also communicating. A mentor of mine once told me, “Preachers are a dime a dozen, but great communicators are a gift.” Since then, it’s been my goal to not only preach the Word, but to also do my best to communicate it.
What I mean by “communicate” is getting the point across and stewarding the Word properly. We all have heard preachers preach without really saying anything. They ramble on and on hoping that the Holy Spirit will honor their rambling by making something they say stick to the hearts of the people. If you’re like me, then there have been times in your ministry where you have preached your guts out, used cute alliterations for your points, and gave a passionate invitation to respond only to see people walk out unmoved. While this has caused many of us to cast blame on our crowds for not being “spiritual” enough to catch what we’re throwing at them, the reality is probably closer to the fact that there have been times where we haven’t been faithful in the way we have delivered our content.
As a result, when I construct messages for my team to preach in their respective ministries, I keep a few things in mind as I flesh it out and I ask them to do the same:
- Start with why.
This isn’t a novel idea, books have even been written on it, but it is entirely underused. Many of our messages are “how” driven messages. They focus on how to get out of sin, how to turn your life around, how to follow Jesus, but in doing so we only assume that the students already know why. Know that the “why” brings value to your message and creates buy-in for the “how.” Case in point, you can tell me how a computer will make my life more efficient and convenient, but I won’t buy it if I don’t know why I need it. I may think my life is just fine and I may in fact value my life as is. If you’re going to sell me that computer, you must give me a greater value than my existing values. If you don’t start with that, you’ve lost me. Same goes for communicating the Word to students.
- Does this message answer a question that our listeners SHOULD be asking?
Many times our messages are constructed around questions our listeners are wrestling with, but many times those people are asking the wrong question on any given topic. If we structure our messages around “wrong questions” then we fail to communicate to our listeners with what they need to hear and instead give them what they want to hear.
- Be Christ-centered.
Seriously. It’s weird that I have to say this but many times our messages become glorified self-help talks because the Gospel is absent from our rhetoric. As Christians, EVERYTHING ties back to Jesus. He is the “true and better” version of the Old Testament stories and is the hope and fulfillment of all that God promises. My friend David Hertweck states, “Jesus is the perfect substitute, not just a perfect example.” Let’s not give our listeners a better brand of eternal misery by leaving Jesus out of the equation. Christ-center everything.
- Front load the message.
One of the biggest assumptions preachers make is that everyone in the audience knows the background of the story or principle you’re talking about. Remember that we’re preaching to the back-row newbies and not the front row saints. Take the time to give the appropriate Biblical context so that your listeners can tie their story in with your message.
- What's the shared experience?
The beauty of response times (altar calls) isn’t just that your listeners have the chance to make big life decisions, but that they get to do it together. The Body of Christ is only a body when community happens through a shared experience. One of the best changes I made was to not only invite my listeners into a time of response after communicating, but to do it together by making it a community decision as well as an individual decision. This will do wonders for the unity and momentum in your ministry.
While this list is by no means exclusive, it has become a standard by which I compose and edit my messages as well as a measure by which my team fleshes out theirs. I would invite you to not only adopt some of this list, but to also set a list of standards for yourself that will make you a great communicator of the Word.