Preaching is hard.
We do a leadership development program at our church with 25 future leaders, and around the same time every year, those students come to me expressing their thankfulness, even their sympathy. This always happens during the preaching portion of the semester when they have to write a sermon, and suddenly realize how hard it is.
Preachers, what we do is difficult and demanding. An Acts 29 pastor friend who wears a Whoop device told me that preaching a sermon is the strain equivalent of running a 5k. It’s exhausting.
It’s also eternally important. Lost people are listening. We must remember the privilege we have to share the words of life with them. Here are a few tips on how you can increase the effectiveness of your preaching, especially among the lost.
1. Preach the Word of Christ
There are multiple views on what the Bible is. But we hold to the verbal plenary view, which states that all Scripture is the literal Word of God (2 Tim. 3:14–17; 2 Pet. 1:16–21). Our job is to help believers and unbelievers understand what God has already spoken.
I grew up in a Muslim family, going to mosque every Friday. If I were to take you to hear the Imam speak, would you be shocked if he opened up the Quran and started teaching from it? Of course not! You’re at a mosque. Why should pastors be nervous about explicitly teaching the Bible when unbelievers come to their church? Preach Christ. And do it boldly.
2. Preach the Christ of the Word
It’s easy to preach sermons that become the Christian version of Aesop’s fables—be brave like David; be devoted to Jesus like Mary; be generous like the Macedonian church. But the point of our sermons isn’t to give good advice; it’s to spread good news. You can teach the stories of the Bible without teaching the story of the Bible. A life-changing sermon must include the life-changer in it.The point of our sermons isn’t to give good advice; it’s to spread good news. Click To Tweet
A group of American pastors traveled to London in the 1880s to learn from some of the great English pastors of the day. On their first Sunday there, they heard a famous preacher who pastored a church of 4,000 members. They listened to his preaching and marveled, “What a great preacher!” The next Sunday, they attended the Metropolitan Tabernacle in central London to hear Charles Spurgeon preach. After hearing his sermon, they proclaimed, “What a great Savior!” Preach Christ.
3. Preach to Who You Want to Come
When you swim through the biblical text and simultaneously address the unbeliever’s doubts, the Christians listening are thinking, I wish my atheist friend was with me to hear this. When you regularly address the Muslim’s questions in your sermons, people start bringing their Muslim friends.
Don’t give the weakest version of their argument either. Give a fair, strong version; and then engage. Quick hitters like, “Budda died saying, ‘Strive unceasingly;’ Jesus died saying, ‘It is finished,’” go a long way in connecting with your unbelieving audience.
4. Preach the Gospel into Culture
Paul engaged culture on Mars Hill. We should do likewise in our sermons. I often quote famous figures to reinforce my points: “J Cole has a song called, Pride is the Devil, and he’s rapping about the point James makes in James 4:6.”
Tim Keller says he regularly tries to quote universally respected figures in society—like MLK, Gandhi, and the New York Times—to show that culture is inevitably influenced by the gospel. This further connects your preaching, and the Bible, to unbelievers visiting your church.
5. Preach the Hard Stuff
Don’t skip over the hard stuff. Slow down when you get to election, homosexuality, racism, and the roles of men and women. People want to know what the Bible says about these things. As you explain the text, bring up objections and interact with them. Don’t skip over the hard stuff. Slow down when you get to election, homosexuality, racism, and the roles of men and women. People want to know what the Bible says about these things. Click To Tweet
I try to make hard-hitting statements that reveal how much unbelievers unknowingly agree with the Bible. “You may not be a Christian, but you don’t believe people are naturally good. You believe in total depravity. How do I know this? Because you locked your car when you got here this morning.” Don’t take the bite out of the Bible; show people how true it is.
6. Preach from Weakness
People would rather listen to someone who’s always real than someone who’s always right. This is why Paul preached from weakness. “I’m the worst of sinners, I’m the least of the apostles, I’m content with weakness.”
Follow his model. I recently preached Ephesians one on spiritual blessings and said, “I’m struggling to feel blessed right now.” When I preached Romans eight, that all things work together for good, I shared my struggle to believe that truth as my mom is slowly dying from Alzheimer’s.
When I publicly acknowledge the ways I struggle and doubt, and how the gospel lifts me up, people always seem to connect with that. The gospel is more powerful coming not just from you, but through you.
7. Preach with Relevant Applications
Sometimes, the difference between a good sermon and a great sermon is in your application. Give your applications depth and breadth. Cover a lot of ground and different demographics. Speak the truths of the text over a tired mom, an anxious student, a rebellious adult, a lost father, etc. People would rather listen to someone who’s always real than someone who’s always right. Click To Tweet
And don’t be so general that it doesn’t hit. “God is loving” doesn’t reach the soul as much as, “I know you’re trying to prove you’re worthy of love through your grades, your work, or your reputation, but the gospel says the only person whose opinion matters accepts and loves you.”
By God’s grace, may our preaching, however weak and weary, lead to many knowing and loving the Savior more.