What do you do when you’re scrolling through Facebook or Instagram and come across paid content, an ad that has inserted itself into your feed? You keep scrolling without giving it a second thought. When you have to watch an ad at the beginning of a YouTube video, do you watch it all the way or do you simply click “skip ad”? In the same way, how many of our listeners tune us out when preachers walk into the pulpit?
As a preacher/communicator for over two decades now, I have devoted the entirety of my adult life to communicating God’s Word in a way that is faithful, relevant and transformative. I would like to think that I am continuing to grow as a preacher and that at the end of the day God is using my words to do His work.
But too often I’ll come across or interact with a preacher who makes this catastrophic assumption: they assume people are automatically interested in what they have to say. They spend no time trying to capture the most elusive aspect of their audience: their attention. They assume that because people are sitting in the room that they are also paying attention. (I mean, no one’s ever been ‘forced’ to go to church before, have they?) They assume that because they finished Luke 14 last week the audience is tripping over themselves wondering what happens in Luke 15. They assume that because they announce they will be preaching verse-by-verse through an Old Testament book of prophecy that people will make those sermons “can’t miss” for the next six months. They assume that people are automatically interested in what they have to say, that if they simply “preach the Bible,” people will be captivated.
I would suggest a great way to preach biblically is to preach like Jesus. Do a quick study on how many times Jesus started his messages with “Please open your Old Testament scrolls to Jeremiah 2, our topic of study today is the first eight verses.” Once you list all of those types of sermon starters, then take a quick survey on the times Jesus talked about things familiar and interesting to the people and started his messages with something like, “There was a father who had two sons,” “The Kingdom of God is like a farmer sowing his seed,” or “Once a man was walking down from Jerusalem to Jericho.” Jesus was a master communicator because he captured deep biblical truths in the essence of relatable and interesting stories and illustrations.
If your goal as a preacher is simply to regurgitate what other biblical commentators wrote and speak words into the air, then by no means make an effort to capture the attention of your audience. But if like Jesus, you want to preach for transformation, then you can never, ever, ever assume that people are automatically interested in what you have to say, simply because they’re sitting within earshot of your voice.