Primer on Preaching Like Jesus, Part One
- Jesus preaching attracted enormous crowds, and the Bible often records
the positive reactions of those crowds to his teaching.
the crowds were amazed at his teaching.
Matthew 22:33 (TLB) the
crowds were profoundly impressed.
Mark 11:18 (TLB) - people were so
enthusiastic about Jesus' teaching.
Mark 12:37 (NASB) - The great crowd
enjoyed listening to Him.
These crowds had never heard anyone speak to
them the way Jesus did. They were spellbound by his delivery.
the attention of unbelievers like Jesus did, we must communicate spiritual truth
the way he did. I believe that Jesus - not anyone else - must be our model for
preaching. Unfortunately, some homiletics classes pay more attention to Aristotle
and Greek rhetoric than to how Jesus taught.
In John 12:49 Jesus admitted,
The Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. Notice
that both the content AND the delivery style were directed by the Father.
This is extremely important to note. We often overlook the manner in which Jesus
Theres so much we can learn from Jesus style of communication,
not just his content. But for now I want to briefly identify three attributes
of Jesus preaching.
1. Jesus Began With Peoples Needs, Hurts, and
Jesus usually taught in response to a question or a pressing
problem from someone in the Crowd. He scratched where people itched. His preaching
had immediacy about it. He was always relevant and always on target for that moment.
When Jesus preached his first sermon at Nazareth, he read from Isaiah to
announce what the preaching agenda of his ministry would be: "The Lord has put
his Spirit in me, because he appointed me to tell the Good News to the poor. He
has sent me to tell the captives they are free and to tell the blind that they
can see again. God sent me to free those who have been treated unfairly and to
announce the time when the Lord will show his kindness" (Luke 4:18-19 NCV).
his entire emphasis on meeting needs and healing hurts. Jesus had Good News to
share, and people wanted to hear it. He had a message that offered practical benefits
for their lives. His truth would set people free and bring all sorts of blessings
to their lives.
Our basic message to the lost must be good news.
If it isnt good news, it isnt the gospel. We must learn to share the gospel
in ways that show it is both good and news. The gospel is about what God has
done for us and what we can become in Christ. A personal relationship to Christ
is the answer to all of mans deepest needs. The good news offers lost people
what they are frantically searching for: forgiveness, freedom, security, purpose,
love, acceptance, and strength. It settles our past, assures our future, and gives
meaning to today. We have the best news in the world.
flock to Good News. These days, particularly after September 11th, there is
plenty of bad news in the world. The last thing people need to hear is more bad
news in church. Theyre looking for hope and help and encouragement. Jesus understood
this. Thats why he felt so compassionate toward them. He knew that the crowds
were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
with peoples needs when you preach, you immediately gain the attention of your
audience. Practically every communicator understands and uses this principle except
Wise teachers know to start with the students interests and
move them toward the lesson. Effective salesmen know you always start with
the customer, not the product. Smart managers know to begin with the employees
complaint, not their own agenda. You start where people are and move them to where
you want them to be.
Pick up any textbook on the brain and youll learn
that at the base of your brain stem is a filter called the Reticular Activating
System. God graciously put this filter in our minds so we dont have to consciously
respond to the millions of stimuli that were bombarded with on a daily basis.
It continuously sifts and sorts the things you see, hear, and smell--forwarding
only a few of those stimuli on to your consciousness. This way youre not overloaded
and overwhelmed. If you had to consciously respond to every stimuli your senses
pick up, youd go crazy! Your Reticular Activating System determines what gets
Now, what does get peoples attention? Three things always
make it past your reticular activating system: things you value; things
that are unique; and things that threaten you. This has profound
implications for the way pastors preach and teach. If you want to capture the
attention of an uninterested group of people you must tie your message to one
of these three attention-getters.
While sharing the Good News in a unique
or threatening way can get attention of unbelievers, I believe showing its value
to people is most consistent with how Christ taught. Jesus taught in a way that
people understood the value and benefit of what he was saying. He didnt try to
threaten unbelievers into the kingdom of God. In fact, his only threats were to
religious people! As the clich goes, he comforted the afflicted and afflicted
Because preachers are called to communicate truth,
we often mistakenly assume that unbelievers are eager to hear the truth. They
arent! Unbelievers arent that interested in truth these days. In fact, surveys
show that the majority of Americans reject the idea of absolute truth.
is the source of all the problems in our society. People dont value truth. Today
people value tolerance more than truth. People complain about crime, drug abuse,
the breakup of the family, and other problems of our culture, but they dont realize
the cause of it all is their rejection of truth.
Moral relativism is the
root of what is wrong in our society. But it is a big mistake for us to think
that unbelievers will race to church if we just proclaim, We have the truth!
Their reaction will more likely be, Yeah, so does everybody else! Proclaimers
of truth dont get much attention in a society that devalues truth. To overcome
this, some preachers try to Yell it like it is. But preaching louder isnt the
solution to this apathy. It starts by being wise as serpents and harmless as
While most unbelievers arent looking for truth, they are looking
for relief. This gives us the opportunity to interest them in truth. Ive
found that when I teach the truth that relieves their pain or solves their problem,
unbelievers say, Thanks! What else is true in that book? Sharing biblical principles
that meet a need creates a hunger for more truth.
Jesus understood this.
Very few of the people who came to Jesus were looking for truth. They were looking
for relief. So Jesus would meet their felt needs, whether leprosy, blindness,
or a bent back. After their felt needs were met, they were always anxious to know
the truth about this man. He had helped them with a problem they couldnt solve.
Ephesians 4:29 says, ...[speak] only what is helpful for building others
up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Notice that
who we are speaking to determines what we are to say (this has nothing to do with
compromising the message and everything to do with understanding the needs of
your listeners). The needs of those listening decide the content of our message.
We are to speak ONLY what benefits those we are speaking to. If this is Gods
will for our conversations, it must also be Gods will for our sermons.
it seems that many pastors determine the content of their messages by what they
feel they need to say rather than what the people need to hear.
reason sermon study is so difficult for many pastors is because they ask the wrong
question. Instead of asking What shall I preach on this Sunday? they should
instead ask, To whom will I be preaching? Simply thinking through the needs
of the audience will help determine Gods will for the message.
in his foreknowledge, already knows who will be attending your services next Sunday,
why would he give you a message totally irrelevant to the needs of those he is
intending to bring? Why would he have me preach on something unhelpful to those
hes planned to hear it? I believe that peoples immediate needs are a key to
where God would have me begin speaking at that particular occasion.
Im trying to say is this: The crowd does not determine whether or not you speak
the truth. The truth is not optional. But your audience does determine which truths
you choose to speak about. To unbelievers, some truths are more relevant than
Can something be both true and irrelevant? Certainly!
youd been in a car accident and were bleeding to death in the Emergency Room,
how would you feel if the doctor came in and wanted to talk about the Greek word
for hospital or the history of the stethoscope? All he said to you could be true
but irrelevant because it doesnt stop your hurt. You would want the doctor to
begin with your pain.
Your audience also determines how you start your
message. If you are speaking to the unchurched - and you spend the first part
of the message on historical background - by the time you get to the personal
application youll have already lost your audience. When speaking to the unbelievers,
you need to begin where your sermons normally end up!
to felt needs is scorned and criticized in some circles as a cheapening of the
gospel and a sell-out to consumerism. I want to state this in the clearest way
possible: Beginning a message with peoples felt needs is not some modern approach
invented by 20th century marketing! Its the way Jesus always preached.
based on the theological fact that God chooses to reveal himself to man according
to our needs! Both the Old and New Testament are filled with many examples of
Even the names of God are revelations of how God meets our felt needs!
Throughout history when people have asked God, What is your name? Gods response
has been to reveal himself according to what they needed at that specific time:
those who needed a miracle, God revealed himself as Jehovah-Jireh ("I am
to those who needed comfort, God revealed himself as Jehovah-Shalom
("I am your peace")
to those who needed salvation, God revealed himself
as Jehovah-tsidkenu ("I am your righteousness").
The examples go on and
on. God always meets us where were at - our point of need. Preaching to felt
needs is a theologically sound approach to introducing people to God.
that changes lives somehow brings the truth of Gods Word and the real needs of
people together through application. Which end of the continuum you begin
with is irrelevant as long as you bring them together!
A Primer on Preaching Like Jesus, Part Two
If youd like to know more
about this, please read my book, The
Purpose Driven Church (order your copy at Shop CBN).
This article originally
appeared in Rick Warren's Ministry ToolBox, a free, email newsletter available
from pastors.com. Used by permission.
The Ministry ToolBox is for
ANYONE serving Jesus Christ. For a free subscription, you can sign up at www.pastors.com.
Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback
Church in Lake Forest, CA., a congregation that now averages 16,000 in attendance
each weekend. Rick is also author of "The
Purpose Driven Church," and founder of
Pastors.com, a global Internet community for those in ministry. You may reprint
this article in your publication with the following attribution: From Rick Warren's
Ministry ToolBox, a free weekly e-newsletter for those in ministry, www.pastors.com.
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