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Get Personal to Preach More Powerfully

Me and My Father-in-law at My First Church

Me and My Father-in-law at My First Church, Scottsville Road Baptist in Bowling Green, Kentucky

When I was in Bible college, I was taught the same basic sermon preparation methods that thousands of other preachers have learned. It’s a linear outline that usually begins with a major proposition, continues with several major points, each supported with explanatory illustrations and then a conclusion that summarizes the truths presented. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, but my tendency too often is to rely on what I know.

This past Sunday, my wife sat and listened to the message, so I asked her how it went and she offered plenty of encouragement along with a question about why I had chosen a particular illustration that was a little trite and impersonal rather than a life experience we had endured that illustrated the point much more personally. Ultimately, it was easier for me to stay away from the deep, personal story that would have better connected with the audience and play it safe with something more light-hearted. Hence, I missed a great opportunity.

The message was about waiting on God’s “yes” to a prayer while He grows us. I could have shared about our long battle with infertility during which we experienced two miscarriages (one ectopic) and drove four hours round-trip to Tulsa about 40 times seeing a specialist. We endured some rather rough times, but we grew spiritually and God eventually gave us the desire of our hearts. Had I shared this story, my audience would have felt the truth I was explaining, and some might have even personally identified with the experience. Our conversation served as a powerful reminder to me of the value of getting personal with the audience.

If you want to preach more powerfully…

  • Get personal – unveil your life and let the crowd into your heart and your experiences.
  • Be specific – it’s easier to give a broad challenge, but more beneficial to ask for a particular response.
  • Tell stories – people like them more than quotes, statistics, and abstract analogies any day.

It’s tough to get personal, but worth it as it moves people into greater intimacy with Jesus.

8 Ways to Hook Your Congregation Into Your Message

HookThe biblical text should be the grand centerpiece of every sermon. But we often take what should be the centerpiece, and move it to the front of what we have to say. In most cases, reading the text should come first in importance, but not first in the order of a message. Whether you’re looking back at Plato or Jesus, virtually every culture has had great communicators who realized the power of attention-grabbing hooks.

1. Start with a deep, human need instead of jumping right into the exegesis and historical-grammatical analysis of the text. When you move from the need to the text, people have the context of its meaning for their lives.

2. Launch with a relevant story. We remember stories that are vibrant, funny, and powerful. And stories connect my heart to the text before my head grabs hold of it.

3. Tell a joke. That is, if you’re funny. I know a fellow Pastor who served a very discouraged congregation, but after years of opening with humor, they experience joy together every week.

4. Use an object lesson. You may not be able to match Ed Young’s capability to drive a tank on stage to illustrate spiritual warfare, but you can hand out puzzle pieces to represent how we all “fit” in God’s family or hold up your shoes as an illustration of an essential need many people live without.

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5. Begin with someone’s testimony. This is also great for the middle of the message, but having someone address your topic from their life’s experience shows the congregation that there are others who struggle and others who overcome. Your words have increased credibility when someone “normal” has already proven the practical possibility of achieving what you’re about to preach.

6. Share the results of some word-on-the-street interviews. You can find these clips, or film them yourself as a chance to connect with your community. If you’re going to preach an apologetic message, interview people about their religious viewpoints.

7. Show a related video clip. Some great storytellers and artists have invested their talent into framing concepts in motion pictures. Take advantage of their work for the purpose of setting up your message in an artistic way.

8. Talk to the crowd. This, of course, depends on your setting, but with text messaging and Twitter, we can talk with our audience in real time as never before, fielding questions and allowing the crowd to speak to itself as we teach.

Our options for opening a message are almost limitless, but what we don’t have to do is jump right into the text. It’s still the most important thing we will share all day, but it doesn’t have to come first.

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