Today I’m honored to have Tim Coressel providing a guest post. Tim is the Youth & Community Life Pastor at Cross Current Church in Northern Virginia, and has been working with students and families for nearly a decade. He is passionate about sharing life with his community and pointing people to Jesus Christ.
People are going to forget your sermons. They’ll forget mine too.
From the moment you “close in prayer”, that message you labored over for hours will begin to fade in the minds of your audience. For some, it’ll be gone in less time than it took you to prepare it (maybe even before they’re done eating lunch!).
Sure, some of this we can’t control. It’s just how our mind and memory works. Over time, things we see, hear and experience just aren’t as clear as they once were. We forget. But, we don’t forget everything do we? We may not be able to expect people to remember everything from the dozens of sermons they hear every year, but if you ask around I bet you’ll find that most people remember at least something.
So, this begs the question: When people do remember a sermon, why did they remember that one? We could go a lot of different directions with this. So, specifically, what was it about the preacher that made it memorable?
These are three big qualities that I think help preachers resonate with their audience, and give a message that people will never forget (or at least for a while). It’s by no means an exhaustive list.
I once asked a handful of average churchgoers the big question I just presented to you, and the answer I heard from nearly everyone was that the preacher was “real”. There are a lot of preachers who are viewed as some sort of uber-spiritual super-Christian by their audience; someone who connects with God on a level that they never could. An effective preacher finds a way to break this barrier between themselves and their listeners. They realize that in order to resonate with their audience, they need to find a way to relate with them rather than elevate themselves above them. Their preaching sends the message, “I’m like you in many ways. And, if God did this for me, he can do this for you.” In being real and relatable, the message you preach about God and his promises feel much more attainable. In a way, they too become real.
Wondering where to start? Just be… you! Try being transparent and vulnerable, and give your audience a little access into your life. Have you ever doubted, questioned, struggled, hurt, or made a mistake? Sharing a little about these kind of things will help your listeners relate to what your saying, and strike a personal chord that will resonate long after the message ends. A sermon that’s personal and relevant is much more likely to be remembered, and it’s the preacher who sets the tone for this.
Know your stuff
As the saying goes, a mist in the pulpit is a fog in the pew (or something like that). If you don’t fully understand what it is you’re preaching about, you can bet that your audience is going to be clueless. And, guess what? People don’t remember what they don’t understand. An effective preacher puts in the time to labor in prayer and study. They make sure that they grasp what they’re going to teach themselves, and then find ways to make their points easy to understand. The second part is key! A really smart person won’t just try to flaunt how smart they are, but will help others to understand what they know.
I often have friends or family ask me what I’m about to preach on before Sunday. I love when they do, because it puts to the test whether or not I’m ready to preach. If you can’t clearly, and concisely, summarize the main point of your message in 1-3 statements in a way that others can understand then you may not be ready.
D.L. Moody said, “Catch on fire for Jesus, and the world will come and watch you burn.”
People appreciate when a preacher is knowledgeable about their topic, but they’re inspired when a preacher cares deeply about it. People need more than transmission of knowledge and theological constructs for a message to really stick. They need their imaginations ignited and their heartstrings pulled. Something reminiscent of their 9th grade algebra class just won’t do. If you look/sound bored when you’re preaching, you’re listeners are going to be bored. If you don’t look/sound like you care about what you’re talking about, neither will your audience. The problem is that if people are too bored or uninterested, they’ll stop listening. And when they don’t hear it, they won’t remember it.
When you demonstrate passion, people will not only hear your message, it’ll help them to see and feel it too. People will learn about the delight of God’s grace and the devastation of our sin not just by what you say about it, but in the way you say it.
So, how do you demonstrate passion in preaching? A good way to start is by asking yourself this question throughout your sermon preparation: “So what?”. Can you explain to yourself why your topic matters? Why do you care about this? And, go beyond the textbook, theologically neat answer. Be as personal as possible. If you’re having trouble answering the question, try praying about it and ask God why you should care! It’s this personal, intimate connection with God and your message topic that eventually leads to passion when preaching about it.
These are my three keys to make your sermon unforgettable. What about you? What do you think are some important qualities that can help preachers resonate with their listeners?