So, you’ve been asked to present a message to the church. What now?
Three steps: Prepare. Deliver. Reflect.
And then… Prepare for the next!
I know, it’s just too simple to leave it like that.
Some will be frightened with the “what” to say. It seems that all is blank, a fog just came in and covered it all. You don’t know what to say. Others, especially those who know what to say, might be concerned with all the details of “how” to say it. And they are stressed with the manner, voice, gestures, length of time, appeal etc. However, let me start with another module.
Let’s begin with the “why”.
Yes: why are you preaching? If it’s just because you’ve been called to, probably to fill in the preaching roster for a congregation, then it is fair to find a better reason. (Even to quit.) This is not to say that such a reason is bad in itself. Bear with me, find a higher motivation. (Would you listen to someone just because is „his turn”?)
Try something like:
- I have found a truth that has really changed my personal life. Finding a value for my life, I want to share it in the church.
- There is a special need in my church these days. I am impressed to check into it using a certain passage from the Word of God that will provide a solution.
- Something happened in the world (community, country, world) that we as Seventh-day Adventist must definitely address.
You’ve noticed three spheres: (1) personal, (2) local (your audience), (3) world-wide (society at large). Let me detail a bit on each one of them.
You have found something interesting. Maybe you read something, or listened to an inspiring message, you saw a scene in a movie or talked to someone, went through a crisis or had a personal experience – you get it, it should be something that impressed you. And it made you change or entirely rethink something. Reflect how it changed your perspective, maybe even your life.
If it didn’t change you, if it is just an interesting, smart idea, don’t go further. We are tired of quotes over social media, where people adorn themselves with the thoughts or experiences of others… Try yours, be original. Don’t miss this: people will sense if what you say is real or fake. (Did I say “what”? Sorry. I should have said it “why”.) Your wife and your children will know it also. On the other hand, if you’ve been there, if your experience is genuine, people will feel it. You will speak with passion and that will be reflected in their eyes. Authentic sermon will get authentic feedbacks.
Let’s check some biblical situations (two for each). These might give you ideas, changing your perspective towards a better preaching.
Bible situation #1
The Samaritan woman had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. Later she went to her fellow Samaritans in the village testifying about Jesus: “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” (John 4:29). The reaction of people in her audience was immediate: “They went out of the town and were coming to him” (v. 30). Later, they said to the woman: “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world” (v. 42).
We can see the dynamics: from Jesus (source) to the preacher (instrument), and from there to the audience (destination). And then from the audience back to Jesus. What about your preaching? Imagine someone telling you some time after the sermon this verse 42.
Homework: find other people that can be enlisted here. Put yourself in the shoes of… for example: the former demoniac, now well dressed, to whom Jesus tells “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled” (Mark 5:19-20).
Bible situation #2
Some Jewish exorcists tried to capitalize the fame of Jesus, as preached by the great apostle Paul. Their message to a demon was: “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims…” (Acts 19:13). They preached about (a) Jesus without any connection to Him, they used their messages based on Paul’s efforts, without sharing anything with the faithful servant and sufferer for Christ. No wonder the demon asked in a loud voice: “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” (v. 43). Imagine you are at the pulpit, and someone asks you this… No need to remind you that these sons of the high priest left the place ashamed, naked, and wounded.
Again, see the cycle from a different angle: just a lip service with strong messages preached by great preacherd, while the speaker of the day has no personal connection to Jesus, gets him exposed to real needs and crises. He becomes the naked one… Why are you preaching „Paul’s Jesus” and not your Jesus?
Homework: find other people that can be enlisted here. Put yourself under the gown of… for example: Nicodemus. While he praises Jesus, trying to avoid the real personal problem (no connection with Jesus), the Lord tells him straight: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God […] Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again’” (John 3:3,7).
Maybe you sensed a need in the church: a doctrinal issue (salvation, or end-time events), an influence spreading (perfectionism, or relaxing the standards), an opportunity for mission or even a subject that is being avoided. On the other hand, maybe is the Week of Prayer, or a day when a department presents its report, it is the beginning of a new term, or a day of a specific emphasis (children, youth, family, thanksgiving). Maybe a death occurred in the church, or a new family has been formed or enlarged. Whatever the need, challenge, opportunity you sense in the audience, think about it and set your mind to present a message to address it. This is not limiting you, only making you aware of some anchors you can use for a better connection to your listeners.
You will be tempted to preach for some against others (a hot issue like keeping the Sabbath), or to preach for some while neglecting others (to families, while singles/widows are left aside). Prepare such a message that answers the one specific need for the whole church. The issue is to be addressed for those in need as well as for those that might help. For the direct beneficiaries, but also for others that might wake up to such a truth. Make it a win-win sermon.
Be open and ready to answer out loud the silent question in your audience: “why is he preaching this?“ (remember that each one thinks: “is he preaching this to me?“).
Bible situation #3
The Galatian churches were troubled by some Judaizers who came to preach that the formula for salvation is “Jesus + works = saved” (even today such a subject is a hot issue in some churches). This in turn led to legalism while diminishing the crucial and exclusive role of Jesus’ crucifixion. In Paul’s evaluation, these preachers brought “trouble” and came to “distort the Gospel” (Galatians 1:7). What the apostle did was to specifically address the crisis in the church. Let us be clear: Paul didn’t preach about the Flood, nor did he explain the prophecies in Daniel, avoided reciting Psalms, and stayed away from checking genealogies. He knew he had to preach the genuine Gospel, not seeking “the approval of man” (v. 10). After the most impressive personal testimony, from 1:11 to 2:14 (see 1. Personal, above), he nailed it delivering the true message: “we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (2:16).
Yet, he talked to the other party also: “you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” (5:13). Looking for a win-wins situation, he ended his message with an emotional appeal: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (6:1-2).
What a message! We read it and find it helpful even today. Why not preach like that?
Homework: take a look at other churches – Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos etc. Start planning the sermon you would deliver to them if asked to come to their pulpit, knowing also the true message and evaluation given by the Lord Jesus Christ to each one of them in Revelation chapters 2 and 3.
Bible situation #4
Cornelius’ house was known as a place where one can find help in times of need. His deeds were known to men, and his prayers have ascended to angels and to the Lord (Acts 10:2,4). He was on the right path, yet he needed more instruction and guidance into the whole truth. Peter the apostle came to help, although he had to cross a huge barrier – coming close to “unclean” people. While entering the house of Cornelius, Peter started his sermon to all the eager present there: “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation…” (v. 28). What? Imagine yourself at the pulpit of a church starting your sermon with such words! You might not have a chance to get to your second paragraph… Go home, brother, we don’t need you. Praise God that he didn’t wait too long to turn the attention to God: “but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean” (v. 28). And the rest is history.
See again the big picture: Peter answers a need of a group, presents them a balanced message of truth, and proves that God loves everyone. In the end he himself is astonished by the change in his former pagan audience – baptized by the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues (as a sign) as the apostles did at the Pentecost, now Cornelius’ relatives were “extolling God” (v. 46).
Homework: Read again Acts 10, but don’t read Acts 11:1-3! (come on, take your Bible). Now, that you did, how would you preach to your “clean” brothers?
A hurricane devastated an entire island, the Christmas is near with its opportunities and challenges, the religious players of the historic churches just made another compromise… Maybe an international crisis or a new discovery is on every breaking news, catching the attention of all. In two words: something happened. You will be smart to use any public event or situation to present the Gospel truth.
Be aware that any message for such a situation should be based not on a breaking news only. Just think for a moment: what will remain of your powerful sermon after the crisis fades away? If you don’t want it to follow the way to the bin, as the yesterday’s newspaper, then lift your message above the event itself, and dig its foundations deep into the Bible, and think of connections, projections and applications that can be helpful for every day’s life of your audience.
Bible situation #5
“You have filled Jerusalem with your teaching!” Such was the accusation against the disciples of Jesus, in the early days of Christianity (Acts 5:28). The apostles had a message and a firm determination “we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (4:20). Far from being fanatics, they were just real, faithful messengers of the Lord, knowing that a crucial event had taken place, with huge implications for the nation and that generation, for the city and the world: “The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him” (5:30-32). They were preaching to their times!
Once again, let us check the dynamics: an event takes place (Crucifixion), it has huge implications, some people are aware of that, some others are indifferent or even denying its importance. What would you preach to them? Topics like being vegan or not, the issue of silence during the church service, voting a budget or arguing about the recipe of the bread for the Communion are good subjects. But not for such times!
Homework: browse the daily news from different media broadcasters. See if you can find common topics, events, trends that everybody talks about. And try to connect them with passages from the Bible that would give them a real and helpful answer, that will put them in their real perspective. Now you know what to preach!
Bible situation #6
“Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” One can sense the amazement of the two disciples when, on the road to Emmaus, met this guy who seemed to be from another world (Luke 24:18). Only a stranger could be so out of touch with the real world, not knowing the great events that took place in Jerusalem in the last 72 hours… “What things?”, dared the stranger ask them (v. 19). If we scan rapidly the series of events that made history on the weekend in Jerusalem we can find many which will make the headline.
Let us count about ten “signs of the times”: (1) the high priest took an action -tearing his garment – that equaled to his death sentence (Matthew 26:65; cf. Leviticus 21:10); (2) some unknown hand ripped the curtain of the Holy of Holies in the Temple (Matthew 27:51); (3) two political leaders of the age made peace (Luke 23:12); (4) a criminal pretending to be Messiah was set free (Mark 15:7); (5) a subjugated nation vowed loyalty to the Caesar (John 19:15); (6) a nation took a decision, assuming bloody repercussions of their deed to their future generations (Matthew 27:15); (7) a very unusual eclipse, for approximately three hours, covered the whole country (Matthew 27:45); (8) an earthquake took place, so powerful that opened some graves (Matthew 27:51-53); (9) a replica of the earthquake, two days later, even stronger (Matthew 28:2); (10) the fearful apostles of a Rabbi stole his body from the grave while the strong Roman soldiers guarding it were asleep (Matthew 28:12; N.B. that would be in the 😉 “fake news”).
The two disciples on the road to Emmaus could have told the Stranger volumes about each of these events. Don’t miss it, almost all of them can be labeled as “signs of the times”. Let’s preach about them, brother! Can’t you see the end is near? Don’t water down the message. When was the last time you heard a sermon about the second coming? (You know what I’m talking about…).
But look at the disciples – they talk about Jesus only (Please do yourself a favor and read Luke 24:13-35). Would you talk about the infamous death of a Galilean teacher? That’s not breaking news… msybe heart breaking news. But for the disciples all the above-mentioned events are nothing if not checked against the backdrop of Jesus’ crucifixion. Preach about the “signs of the times”, but let Christ be the center of your preaching. Hang these signs to the nail of His cross.
Homework: take some time and think about what meaning have the events that others see as “signs of the times” if one will see them apart from Jesus (LGBT rights, pro-Life vs pro-choice, immigrants’ crisis, unending wars, economical fears etc.). Look at them from the other perspective, what weight will they get if Jesus’ soon second coming would be brought in? Brother and sister, maybe now you know better WHY you preach what you plan to preach!
1. Personal – speak from your personal experience. Jesus challenged Pilate:
“Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” (John 18:34).
If others told you, then take a break and go back to your closet, pray and read your Bible. You will get a message from God.
2. Know the needs of your audience. John the Baptist had an answer from God for every category of people in his audience.
“And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” And he answered them […] Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them […] Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them […] So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people” (Luke 3:10-14,18).
If you don’t know the needs of your audience, first take a sit in the church, mingle with the people and surely enough, you will identify the opportunity.
3. Preach to the times, centering all on Jesus. Paul said:
“For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. […] so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:2,5).
If you don’t preach Christ, then step out of the pulpit. Why are you there? People came to see Jesus (John 12:21).
A following article „Preparing a sermon (2)” will cover the „how” to prepare the „what” to say. Let me know your feedback.