Preaching is, for me, like swimming in the ocean. It is an awesome experience if you don’t die!
Nothing is more exciting and nothing is more intimidating. Preaching both charges me up and wears me down. It invigorates and it frustrates. It brings me the agony of labor and the joy of birth. It keeps me up at night and gets me up in the morning. Preaching is big and I know it.
If you are involved in preaching you know something of the dilemma we face. We are tasked with bringing God’s word to man. We are to speak sacred things to sinful listeners. This great responsibility can be a bit overwhelming. But here is what makes it even bigger. We need to preach for transformation.
Nothing is worse than boring people with the greatest news known to mankind. How terrible to think that I can make the gospel sound like average news rather than good news. How sad to think that my preaching could provide information that ends with stagnation instead of transformation. But how do we connect? How do we inspire? How do we preach in a way that impacts lives? How do we help people make the changes they need?
Here are seven suggestions for preaching for transformation.
- Pray hard. The task of preaching depends upon the Holy Spirit. It is about more than your skills and abilities and witty stories. Ask the Lord to fill you with His Spirit and to speak through you. Pray for God to work in the lives of those who hear. A Spirit-filled preacher preaching the truth of God’s word is a powerful instrument in God’s hands. It is God who does the transforming. He may uses us, but He is the only one who can do it. Pray like it all depends upon God!
- Prepare well. God has chosen to use us to proclaim His truth. He could do it without us, but He has chosen to use us. So, be well prepared to preach God’s word. Study the text carefully and thoroughly. Be confident that you understand what God has said and what you will say. God’s word is powerful so trust its power. Be sure you are accurately handling God’s word. Prepare to preach the truth clearly. Prepare the message and practice the delivery. Avoid distracting mannerisms or habits or phrases. The preacher is an instrument in God’s hands. Prepare in such a way that you are the sharpest instrument you can be.
- Know people. If you want to connect with people it helps to know how they think and what matters to them. Want to reach lost people with your preaching? Get to know some lost people. Ask them questions. Care about their lives. Learn what matters to them. Love them. Transformational preaching brings God’s truth to flesh and blood human beings. Offices are great for study but knowing people tends to happen at ballgames and lunches and backyards. Preach in a way that connects with real people in the real world.
- Use stories. Illustrations are a great help to transformational sermons. They grab attention and teach in new ways. I notice people looking up when I tell a story in my messages. Stories grab us. And, they can teach us in powerful ways. Have you ever noticed how many stories Jesus used? Use illustrations from recent events, popular culture, history, etc. I use stories from my family only with their permission. (My kids demand cash payments for any mention of them in sermons!) Perhaps the most powerful stories I’ve used involved my own life- the good, the bad and the funny. I let people know my struggles and my victories. Testimonies have unusual power as we let our hearers know God’s continuing work of transforming us. And in our short attention span culture, illustrations now matter more than ever.
- Remember application. Do you want people to just know more information or to be transformed by living out that information? Some preaching I’ve heard made it sound like knowing truth was all that mattered. But great preaching helps me to learn to live truth. That is where application comes in. Application is answering the question, “So what?” It tells us what we need to do with the truth of God’s word. And don’t be afraid to be specific. Preacher, tell us what we need to do as a result of the truth. Tell us how to live out our faith at work or home or school. And apply the truth to where we are. Apply to a single mom feeling stretched thin. Apply to teenagers dealing with peer pressure. Apply to long time attenders who have heard the truth many times. Apply to questioning new attenders trying to make sense of it all.
- Expect much. Transformational preaching expects much because the transforming Lord expects much. We are to die to self, take up our cross daily and follow Jesus. That is expecting much! Don’t be afraid to preach this level of expectation. It is inspiring to us to hear that we can do great things for the Lord who has done great things for us. Ask big things of us in the name of our big God. Be bold in calling us to full surrender and full obedience to the One who gave His life for us. Don’t hold back in calling us to obey the Lord in generous giving or bold witnessing or faithful serving. Expecting much of your hearers comes from your great faith in a great God to do great things through fallen people. Preach the whole truth and the hard truth. We need it and God expects it.
- Live well. I know “God can hit straight licks with crooked sticks” by using sinful preachers to accomplish His work. He even used a donkey once to deliver His message. But that doesn’t mean you have to be the donkey! Transformational preaching can never be fully separated from the transformed preacher delivering it. And do note that the sermon of your life can be much louder than any sermon you deliver with your mouth. Live well for Jesus in your personal life and God will bless that in your preaching life. Let people hear the truth through your life and your lips. A transformed preacher makes for the best transformational preaching.
If God has called you to preach He has called you to something big. He has called you to tell people the truth in order that they might hear and respond and live. He has called you to the great task of helping sinners find transformation through the gospel. He has invited you to join Him in His work of calling people to follow Jesus fully and unconditionally and then helping them know how to do that.
Transformational preaching is a big task. But He is, after all, a big God!
(This was first printed as an article in the Illinois Baptist Resource magazine.)