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As somebody who has been preaching and teaching the gospel since 1978, I have seen the "good, the bad and the ugly" when it comes to presenting the gospel of Christ (both in others and myself).
After being saved for only about six months, I started preaching on the NYC subways, then on the Staten Island ferry to thousands of people several nights per week. Hence, I learned how to communicate and preach the gospel by real life interaction with people. I have never formally studied homiletics (the science of preaching) but learned from observing my pastor (Ben Crandall—who was an outstanding preacher and teacher) and from experience. I also read books on homiletics and the art of communication.
The following are the first eight of 15 principles for powerful preaching:
1. Be your authentic self.
I have seen many public speakers and preachers who attempted to sound and act like another person they admired; usually, that comes off flat and other people can tell you are not comfortable in your own skin. People know when they are listening to a phony and or a person who is not being authentic. They are attracted to a preacher who is real, transparent and comfortable in communication. Disingenuous preaching turns off spiritually mature people who walk in discernment. Be yourself, be comfortable in your own skin and let the power and anointing of Christ come through your personality.
2. Don't act religious.
One of the biggest turnoffs to me as a teenager (that made it difficult for me to join a church) was the religious nature of many Christians I met. For example, in casual conversation they were always saying things like "Praise the Lord," "Hallelujah," "Amen" and so on and so forth. I was not brought up in a Christian family or environment, but in the rough, tough streets of Brooklyn, New York (I came to Christ at 19). When I picture the average unchurched person coming to hear me speak, I think they would be turned off if I repeatedly said "amen" and other religious words. Consequently, I made it my goal to communicate the way I walk and talk in my everyday life. Christians who always use religious language when they preach can come off as religious fanatics and people tend to mischaracterize and dehumanize them. To be an effective communicator, do not be overly religious in your presentation, unless you just want to reach other believers.
3. Speak the language of culture.
Point Three goes along with Point Two: Effective preachers of the gospel should learn to use the language of common culture (better known as making use of the vernacular, not vulgarity). When speaking, I regularly relate the biblical text to current events, sports and latest trends in fashion, music and culture. When the apostle Paul spoke to Jewish people, he used the Old Testament to convince them that Jesus was the Messiah; when he spoke to the average non-Jew, he never referred to Scripture but used nature as his reference point; when he spoke to intellectuals, he quoted their poets and literature to connect the gospel to their condition (Read Acts 13-17). He said that he became all things to all people so that he may win some (1 Cor. 9:19-23).
4. Treat the congregation like they know everything but assume they know nothing.
One of the worst things a preacher can do is to be condescending and treat the people like they are idiots and or ignorant of things spiritual and biblical. When communicating, it is important to have a humble spirit and treat your audience with respect. In private, prepare your message as if they know nothing so you can cover all bases and not make a presumptuous mistake and speak over their heads.
5. Don't impose your opinion on the biblical text.
Many preachers make the mistake of taking passages out of context to fit their own bias and doctrinal position. One of the most important truths I have ever learned in biblical preaching was to first uncover the original intent of the author of Scripture before attempting to apply it in principle. Many preachers mishandle the biblical text by coming up with subjective, spiritual meanings they claim they received from God, which robs the hearers of learning how to interpret the word. Other preachers just use passages to "moralize" or to extract principles that they impose upon the Bible. It is OK to bring moral application to a Scripture as long as you first outline the primary meaning of the text. This is the only safe way to communicate the word without getting into exegetical error. We should also establish the antecedent meaning of a biblical theme by building upon how God unfolded it in Scripture from the time it was first mentioned. Showing the progressive development of a concept in Scripture is more useful than just stamping it with your interpretation from the start.
6. Give practical illustrations and tell compelling stories.
Most people connect emotionally more to a preacher and their message when they tell personal stories that illustrate a point of the sermon. Another icebreaker is using humor to get people to relax and be more open to the message. Finally, compelling stories is perhaps the most powerful way to communicate the emotive power of your message.
7. End the message with practical application.
Every sermon should include an attempt to summarize the thesis of the message by giving three to four "takeaways." Make it plain, simple and applicable by giving a few easy steps to put the message into practice.
8. Don't answer questions no one is asking.
Many preachers dive too deep into the historical, grammatical and cultural setting of a passage and cause the main objective of the message to be lost to the hearers. When giving the historical, cultural background of a text, avoid unnecessary minutia and only focus on aspects of exegetical analysis that will contribute to the main objective of the sermon.
Stay tuned for part 2.
Joseph Mattera is an internationally known author, futurist, interpreter of culture and activist/theologian whose mission is to influence leaders who influence nations. He leads several organizations, including The United States Coalition of Apostolic Leaders (uscal.us). He also has a blog on charismamag.com called "The Pulse." To order one of his books or to subscribe to his weekly newsletter go to josephmattera.org.
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