As a professional communicator, I obviously look forward to Sundays. It’s the high point of my work week. Yet I fully understand that not every church member looks forward to the sermon as much as the preacher does. In fact, some members endure the sermon rather than anticipate it. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you endure rather than anticipate the sermon every week (or let’s be honest, it’s probably more like once or twice a month tops for you), it may be because your preacher is making this one fatal mistake: your preacher uses the sermon to give you the answer to a question you never asked or to solve a problem you don’t really care about.
Preachers are bad about this. We obviously love the Bible and it’s our foundational text every week, but if we’re not careful, we’ll put the cart before the horse and we’ll give the answer before anyone has bought into the problem we’re trying to solve. Here’s a dead giveaway: when a preacher starts the message with “Open your Bibles to . . .” and immediately reads the passage for the day, he’s telling you the answer before you ever know or care about the problem.
When you look at the communication style of Jesus, he never started with “Open your scrolls to the book of Leviticus.” Jesus talked about everyday problems. Jesus told stories that people could relate to. Jesus built tension. In my normal 35 minute sermon every Sunday, I’ll talk for roughly seven minutes before we even get to Scripture. Is that because I don’t value Scripture? Not even close. It’s because I value Scripture so much that I want people to value it as much as I do. People tend to value Scripture more as the solution to the problem if they fully buy into the problem first.
If a preacher immediately starts with the Scripture passage for the day and then spends the next 30 minutes explaining it, he’s failed to get his audience emotionally invested in the point of that day’s message. If I walked up to you and gave you 30 minutes worth of information on the dangers of snowboarding, that would probably be a well-prepared, well-thought out presentation. But what if you lived in Texas where it never snowed and you never had any plans to ever snowboard? Then I just wasted both of our times. The information wasn’t false, you just never emotionally bought into or cared about what I was talking about.
This unfortunately happens every single Sunday. Church members file into pews and listen to a well thought out presentation about a subject that sometimes only the preacher cares about. Take the first few minutes in the message to get emotional buy-in from the audience. Help them see how they connect to the subject of the day. Create such tension in your message that your audience is tripping over each other to get to the pulpit to demand answers to the problem you’ve just shined a spotlight on. Then, with the ground softened, you can drive the stake of Scripture deep into the fertile ground of their minds and hearts. Simply get them to care about the problem before you give them the solution.