Pastor Rick Warren: 8 Questions to Ask When Preparing Your Sermons
By Jocelyn Hu
I believe that the best model to follow in the history of preaching is Jesus. It isn't John the Baptist, Paul, or any contemporary speaker alive today. Jesus was THE Master Communicator. The Bible says in Matthew 7:28 that "the crowds were amazed at Jesus' sermons." Why? Because both the content and the delivery came straight from the Father. Jesus said in John 12:49, "The Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it."
When I'm preparing a message, I ask eight questions to help me prepare. The first two are about what to say and the final six are about how to say it.
1. To whom will I be preaching?
Jesus always started with His audience. He even knew their thoughts. So the first question in my mind is about the audience to which I will be speaking, and I try to picture them in my mind. And there are always three ways to get people's attention with a message.
- Speak about things people value.
- Speak about things that are unusual.
- Speak about things that threaten us.
All three break through the listening barriers that people naturally have. The goal of preaching may be moving people from where they are to where Christ wants them, but we must start where they are.
2. What does the Bible say about their needs?
I search thru the Bible for everything I can find on the subject using every reference tool I can get my hands on including tools on the Internet and even my mobile devices. Your understanding of the Bible's purpose will determine your preaching style. The ultimate purpose of the Bible is not to teach Israel's history or even doctrinal facts. It is to transform our character, according to 2 Timothy 3:16. That means preaching must ALWAYS be related to life!
Preaching is bringing the truth of the text & people's needs together thru application! My feeling is that both verse-with-verse (topical) and verse-by-verse (expository) preaching can produce a healthy church. The point is to truly dig into the text once you're there.
3. What is the most practical way to say it?
According to John 10:10, Christianity is a lifestyle, so preaching must teach people how to live. Jesus was always practical with His doctrine because His purpose was to change the behaviors of His hearers, starting at the level of their beliefs.
4. What is the most positive way to say it?
When I'm abrasive, I'm never persuasive. Sadly, the gospel often has a negative image because it is communicated in negative terms. Even the words "preach" and "sermon" have negative connotations to them, in our current culture. I believe that a constant diet of negative sermons are detrimental to the health of a church and ultimately produce a church that is negative and resistant to positive leadership.
The most destructive kind of preaching is when the sermon is merely a release of a pastor's pent-up frustrations. Where did we ever get the impression that a good sermon must make people feel bad? If your preaching is just a weekly highlight of the "sin of the week," go back to the drawing board, and go back to the biblical gospel of truth and grace, of hope and redemption.
5. What is the most encouraging way to say it?
Every week when people listen to you preach, they have three fundamental needs:
- To have their faith reinforced.
- To have their hope renewed.
- To experience love restored.
When you stand up to preach, anticipate that people listening have had a tough week. Your role is to encourage them to not give up. If you preach to the broken, you'll always be relevant! Don't pride yourself on "telling it like it is." Tell it like it can be!
6. What is the simplest way to say it?
One thing that was absolutely true about Jesus - He taught profound truths in simple ways. We often do the reverse so that we can feel that we've gone deep. Charles Spurgeon compared preaching to the bucket in a well. If there is anything of value in it, it will appear bright and reflective. If there is nothing in it, it appears deep, dark, and mysterious.
By the way, "simple" does not mean superficial, shallow, or simplistic. It's a Christlike skill to make profound truth understandable in simple terms.
7. What is the most personal way to say it?
People relate to stories. The most powerful form of advertising is still the personal testimony. That is why, while the Pharisees spoke in footnotes, Jesus told stories. And it's also imperative to be transparent and confessional in our preaching. The greatest communicators drop the mask and get personal.
8. What is the most interesting way to say it?
I've heard plenty of guys say that we shouldn't preach to entertain people, but the very definition of entertainment is to arrest and hold someone's attention. While a sermon should never be reduced to a mere comedy routine, it's okay to be funny. You don't have to be dry to be spiritual. And we should never be afraid of being interesting.