Why Do You Preach?

You rush into the kitchen, then into the pantry. You're on a mission. You're standing in the pantry and suddenly your mind is blank. "Why did I just come in here? I needed something. What do I need?" Have you ever had one of those moments? You set out to get something in the living room but muscle memory took over and you ended up in the pantry with no idea why. 

Now you're standing in the pulpit. "Why am I here? Why am I about to preach this sermon?" There are multiple good answers to those kinds of questions about why you preach. Perhaps one of the more common answers is you are called to proclaim God's Word, the Bible. If this is your answer, this is a really good answer. You are called to "preach the word..." (2 Tim. 4:2).

Now, why are you called to "preach the word"? Embodying the right answer to why you preach the word will actually affect your preaching of the word. Again, there are multiple ways to answer that question, but let's focus on an important, often overlooked answer. Preachers are called to preach God's Word in order to help people. "As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God..." (1 Pt. 4:10-11; emphasis added). Your sermon is meant to be heard and it is meant to be heard because it is meant to help.

What this means is that the preacher's heart beats for the good of those who hear his preaching week in and week out. His concern is first to say what the Bible says. And one of the fundamental reasons his concern is to say what the Bible says is to help the people who hear him. To not say what the Bible says is to withhold help from people.

The Apostle Paul reveals his heart in preaching saying, "For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness...But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children" (1 Thess. 2:5, 7). What kind of preacher says, "I try to be like a nursing mother in my preaching"? The kind of preacher who says that is fundamentally focused on helping people. 

Practically speaking, this means actual sermons are prepared with listeners in mind. When you know what a biblical text means, you must think about how to communicate it in a way most helpful to those who hear it. Tim Keller quotes Alec Motyer on what a preacher is responsible to in preaching: "First to the truth, and secondly to this particular group of people. How will they best hear the truth? How are we to shape and phrase it so that it comes home to them in a way that is palatable, that gains the most receptive hearing..." What Ken Haemer says about presentations is true of biblical preaching; designing a sermon without your church in mind is like "writing a love letter and addressing it 'to whom it may concern.'" 

If preaching is about helping people then sermons ought to be crafted in a way to be clear and compelling to a specific group of listeners. Generally, sermons that are confusing do not help people. Generally, sermons that do not seek to gain and keep attention do not help people. Sermons that help people are clear and compelling. They communicate God's Word with clarity and they communicate God's Word in a way that compels people to listen.

When thinking through how you will deliver the truth of God's Word, ask yourself whether or not listeners will see that you designed your sermon to help them. In other words, compel them to listen by engaging a sin, problem, crises, or question that they face; that the biblical text addresses. The goal is that listeners do not just see that what you preach is true but how the truth matters to them personally. When you aim to help your listeners, bring them the ultimate solution, the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.

 

A Sermon's First Impression

The importance of a first impression drives a company to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a new website. The need for a good first impression will make a guy who never shops for new clothes buy a new shirt for a first date. A good first impression could land a 6-figure job. A bad first impression could mean a visitor will not be visiting your church again.   

Your sermon introduction is your sermon's first impression. It is a vital part of your sermon. Your introduction could make the difference between listeners hanging on every word and wondering what the sermon is about the entire time. Among other things, introductions unify sermons and grip listeners. 

Introductions Unify

Opening scenes of movies have power. They have power to ruin a movie or make a movie gripping. Imagine an opening scene of a movie that introduces characters and plot that disappear after the scene and never return. All throughout the movie you will be looking for the return of the characters and the plot points. By the end of the movie you will wonder what the point of the scene was at all. You spent time trying to fit the scene in the movie but it does not fit. A sermon introduction that does not clearly connect to the rest of the sermon occupies listeners minds, only to frustrate them when they realize the introduction does not fit in the sermon.

On the other hand, if a preacher has done the hard work of knowing the one thing his sermon is about, and the introduction clearly sets it before listeners, the sermon has the chance to be unified. Listeners do not have to do guess work and connect the introduction to the rest of the sermon. The introduction teased listeners with the topic of the sermon and the rest of the sermon unfolded that topic. A clear introduction sets listeners up to understand the rest of the sermon. Furthermore, a compelling introduction grips listeners.   

Introductions Grip

Introductions are a preacher's chance to prove their sermon is worth listening to. Listeners need to know the sermon was designed to help them. A lecture can simply announce that it will cover a certain topic. A sermon, however, must make clear that the topic at hand has to do with the personal lives of listeners. The introduction of a sermon should connect with listeners in their pains, sins, hurts, burdens, and their general mess of life. After connecting with listeners, the introduction should make clear that it will bring a solution to the problem; to their problems. Ultimately, that solution is the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

How to grip listeners in the introduction of a sermon is a topic our reports always cover and future blogs will cover. For now, let's just say that a sermon introduction should undeniably prove to listeners that the sermon was prepared for them. There is a difference in saying, "Today, we will talk about the cross of Christ" and "If you are guilty of sin as a Christian, does the cross of Christ still have power for you?" Both of those announcements are clear, but the latter has way more potential to grip listeners, making them feel they must listen to the sermon to be given a solution to their problem.