Communicating God’s message is an extraordinary privilege with immense accountabilities to God and people, “for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1).
Preachers present the Word of God in a unique context. No other setting comes with such a subservient demeanor. People listen passively with reverence, and with an implicit expectation that hopefully something will be learned.
This weekly forum is a golden opportunity for preachers to communicate biblical themes that should resonate with people. We cannot allow the Sunday sermon to become a mere formality that congregants sit through because it’s a weekly ritual. Here are five questions that I believe will challenge God’s spokespeople to produce messages that are continually robust.
What is the point of my message?
In preparation, a preacher should identify the purpose of the message by asking oneself what exactly will be communicated? Without a determined point, rambling will most likely ensue. By remaining on point a preacher focuses on crafting a message that flows, and people can pursue the unfolding direction. Thus all components, the intro, scriptural commentary, relevant citations of scholars, engagement with cultural thought, anecdotes, and humor too, should coalesce to deliver the point. If anything does not fit that point, it’s fluff and congregants will likely become restless.
The most successful preacher of all time was arguably Billy Graham. Throughout his decades long ministry, his sermons continued to contemporize with relevance. His cited references, anecdotes, and engagement with the cultural thought of the day, continued to make a single point: That God loves you and sent Jesus to die for your sins. May we habitually ask ourselves what is the point of this message?
Am I seeking to please people?
Is the message seeking to please a group of people or to satisfy a cultural trend? Needless to say, a preacher’s determined biblical point may not please everyone. Those who disagree should still be compelled to consider the point of the message. Humans are built with the capability of being convicted by truth. A message should thus presuppose that everyone needs the grace of God, regardless of one’s position in society, income bracket, or power to influence. A preacher’s passion in communicating biblical convictions indiscriminately by proper tone and intelligent insight should challenge everyone. The message should bear in mind that as spokespeople for God, our integrity cannot allow favoritism. So let’s always be mindful that “God shows no partiality” (Rom. 2:11).
What will be the great takeaway?
What is the point’s call to action? Or, what is the learning for people? If the message made its point coherently, the takeaway will be clear to everyone. They should takeaway something that inspires Christian faith and increases their knowledge of God. It should make a contribution to “fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Tim. 6:12) in our cultural context. A message should thus purpose to provide a God given benefit that people can understand and use to strengthen their Christian faith. Again, Graham made the takeaway so clear that everyone understood what the Gospel meant and required. Throughout the changing decades, he invited people to come “just as you are.” Even those who declined were cognizant of Graham’s intended takeaway.
Am I owning the takeaway?
Surely, a preacher should acknowledge one’s own intentions to fulfil the takeaway, and to strive personally towards a deeper Christian faith. As Paul said, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Philip. 3:12). A preacher’s own character cannot help but be imbedded in the message. For example, a message on the virtue of Christian humility requires of the preacher to appreciate the intended commitment that acknowledges the pitfalls of pride. Such a message would come from a personal framework that appreciates the joys of pleasing God, even at the expense of our own egos.
When a preacher is wholeheartedly committed to the proposed call to action, it will be reflected in the point made to congregants.
Is God’s voice in the message?
Throughout history, inspiring messages are remembered for how they seemed to come from a divine source. You can still read the classic sermons of the giants of preaching, Spurgeon, Wesley, Edwards, and others, whose voices seemed to have a distinct anointing. It’s as if their voices were plugged into the Spirit. They also grasped their Lord’s teaching insomuch that their people could experience similarily what was said of Jesus: “No one ever spoke like this man!” (John 7:46).
These preachers walked closely with God and so had a heightened discernment of the applicability of Scripture for their contextual challenges. Today, personal hunger for God will likewise provide insights of Christian faith for us and then we can translate their relevancy for our challenging times. When God speaks through us, congregants cannot help but note that something inspiring was indeed communicated.
Mainstream culture has purposed to make preachers feel embarrassed of their message. It’s not time to dilute messages in order to please cultural thought. It’s time for devout preachers to double down on their biblical convictions. It’s time to allow the Spirit to liberate us from cultural intimidation. It’s time to study how to articulate the ageless message of the Gospel, with intelligence, insight, and cultural discernment. It’s time to take our preaching to the next level of cogency. It’s also time to have a real sense of urgency. As Paul said, “For if I preach the Gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16).
Great preachers have always been personally devoted to their Christian faith. They remained conscious of being Christians first, preachers and teachers second. May we purpose to be likewise in our times.