What is powerful preaching? Is it preaching that brings people to their feet? Is it preaching that hits the “hot buttons” an audience will heartily respond to? Is it loud? Does the preacher need to seem as though he just drank three Red Bull energy drinks?
We all have preachers we enjoy listening too. There are styles of presentation
we prefer. There is nothing wrong with that, as long as we don't "go to seed" on it as the Corinthians seem to have done.
But do eloquence, human energy, and style equal powerful preaching? Like some of Paul’s rhetorical questions you already know the answer is “No.” There can be magnificent articulation without accomplishment and it seems too often there is style without substance.
The Danger of Hot Button Preaching
A friend told me of attending a large conference. The building was full. The preacher for the evening was preaching a masterpiece on reaching the lost. My friend and those with him were affirming the message with "Amen" and occasionally standing to further encourage the preacher.
After a bit, this pastor friend realized that he and those with him were the only one responding. The fellow preaching realized it too. His message began to change to affirm a lifestyle distinct from the world. The "clothes-line" became his topic, and the audience who'd largely sat on him to that point began to respond.
Think about this: did those people already believe what this man preached about the dangers of worldliness and godliness. Almost certainly. Do you suppose the majority of them had ever won a soul to the Lord Jesus?
Hot button preaching does little more than bring the audience to again affirm what they already believe. It does nothing to bring people to a greater level of effectiveness for Christ.
We need to mature beyond "Hot Button Preaching" particularly when we preach that way for the sake of the response, rather than to prompt thought and change lives for the better.
Feet or Knees
The late Tom Fred Tenney said, “I’d rather preach people to their knees than to their feet.” I’ve learned that this is the best measure of powerful preaching.
As a pastor or guest speaker my objective is not audience response while I am preaching. I outgrew that many years ago. An "Amen" is ok, but I'll seldom call for an "Amen."
You’d do well to do the same. Can you find a model of required response in the New Testament? Those preachers had something to say. Every word needed to be heard. Two now deceased elders in my life made interesting observations:
- It is hard to talk and listen at the same time.
- It is best for people to not talk with their mouth full.
My goal is to be used the Lord to preach God’s word in a way that the Holy Ghost can draw men to their knees.
Powerful preaching has Practical Value
Consider Simon Peter’s sermon in Acts 2. His sermon had practical value:
- Peter responded to the critics who said they were "drunk" without alienating them.
- He answered the audience’s questions.
- Peter took what these “devout men” already knew and used their knowledge to introduce Christ. Peter quoted scripture throughout his simple sermon.
- He was passionate and convicting without histrionics, “God has made this same Jesus who you crucified both Lord and Christ.”
- Peter had a practical application when they asked in so many words, “Ok, we have heard you and believe you, What shall we do?”
Three thousand responded and were born again. Peter was a powerful preacher. The steps in Peter’s simple message still makes for “Powerful Preaching.”
Answer Your Audience’s Questions
Preaching and Bible Teaching at their best involve a mental dialogue between the preacher and audience. His message considers the questions they are likely asking.
Isn't that what Peter did. He answered the asked questions and then proceeded to answer the questions his first responses raised – the unasked questions.
This generation is not looking for a “sage on a stage,” they are looking for a “guide by their side.” They prefer to listen to someone who lives in the same world they do.
Those who are newcomers to our church don’t really care about me. I see their thought process being similar to a business owner attending a seminar to learn how to solve a particular problem. Often the business owner won’t know who the presenter will be. He does not really care and likely won’t recall the trainers name a week later. The business owner invests his time and energy in the seminar hoping to find a solution.
They want to know what you can teach them from God’s word. Answers that will help them solve their problems. Come alongside!
Application is Essential
Powerful preaching gets to the point. It is best to not “chase rabbits.” There are exceptions. On occasion, one of the Gifts of the Spirit has directed me far afield. It is important that it be the spirit and not me just following my nose.
To the point and then a specific way to immediately apply the truth. For years I imagined that the smart people sitting before me would complete the message. They’d ponder on the wonderful things said and decide to apply the sermon in three specific ways.
One word to that assumption – HAH!
It does not work that way for me as a listener. Nor does it work that way for those who hear me. It is my responsibility to direct them as to how to apply what they have heard.
Isn’t that what Peter did in Acts 2? They asked “What shall we do?” Peter answered, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." He answered their question with steps of application. Think about your last few sermons and Bible lessons; what did you ask people to 'do' about what they'd just heard?
Like Peter, use practical and step-by-step ideas that will show your audience how to overcome their obstacles and apply the truth you have shared. Powerful preaching brings people to understand that their life can have a good outcome If they will use what you just shared.
Personal Devotion, the first in my Keep it Simple Saints series has proven effective because it provides practical models for “how to” practice daily devotion. I’d like my preaching to be powerful in the same way. God’s word is intended to be a change agent. That is powerful!
A Final Word
Young preachers, hear me, your preaching is effective though you make a few mistakes, stumble over some words and do a few things you wish you and others could forget, if you have shared something that will change another person’s life.