Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Preaching To The Unbeliever

Rick Warren, purpose driven church growth guru, recently wrote an article for Christianpost.com to offer tips on preaching to the unchurched. Now, I am no fan of Warren but he does occasionally get things right. In some ways, I think that this is one of the rare moments.

Tip #1. You should provide an outline with the scriptures written out.
This makes a lot of sense. I am not an auditory learner and I struggle to remember things that I heard but when I can combine seeing with hearing I retain it much better. Not to mention as he points out studies show that people remember better when they can see it and are encouraged to write their own notes. Now this doesn't mean the idiotic write down the missing word outlines. I hated them as a layperson and I hate them as a pastor. But a useful outline can be worth its weight in gold. We do not use printed outlines but we do Power Point outlines. I will admit this is a mixed bag concerning usefulness. The one thing that I really like about it is that when I quote or reference a Scripture passage it can go up on the screen and people don't have to rummage through the pew bible. A point in which Rick will agree.

Tip #2. You should plan your titles to appeal to the unchurched.
I'll be honest sermon titles are an after thought for me. In fact, if it wasn't for the expectation to have a title I wouldn't bother. But if you are going to use titles it is very helpful to have useful titles that are catchy. One, they catch the eye and two, people don't have to guess about your main point. It also makes sense to not develop titles that only a lifer could understand such as, "The Road to Emmaus" Just how many people are going to understand what that means, now on the other hand "The Road to Hope" they could understand. Plus, it is a great lead into the proclamation of the Gospel.

Tip #3 You should systematically preach in a series.
A little bit of predictability in your preaching schedule never hurts. This tip can work for preaching a series or preaching the pericope. Because of the nature of our set up I normally have my text and general idea down a month in advance. I haven't tried it yet but it could be helpful to publish up coming sermon texts. Anyhow, what this predictability does is make it easier for your parishioners to invite people because then they know what is coming and what will likely speak to their friend. Granted when you preach good law/gospel sermons they can count on the people getting a good dose of solid preaching, but when they can bring them to a sermon where their problems are the problems you address in your sermon it is all the better.

Tip #4. You should be consistent in your preaching style.
Amen. I know people think how boring to be consistent, but there is a fair bit of truth to this tip. I speak from the experience of a hard learned lesson. I came straight out of seminary all fired up to try different ways of preaching a text and I lost the people and ended up hurting my own ministry as a preacher. Thankfully, I am serving with a pastor who has 25 years of experience and is a pretty good preacher himself and he is helping me hone my skills. I pretty much now follow the same basic format.

A story that addresses explores the issue in a manner people can relate.
The ideal picture of the issue.
The failure/inability to achieve the ideal.
Focus on specific sins that interfere with the ideal
The restoration of the ideal in Christ.
(optional) Our calling to live out our life in Christ by mirroring his ideal.

I am not saying this is the only way. Use what ever works in your cultural context, but keep it law/gospel focused. I am also not saying don't play around with your style, just limit how often you take a novel approach.

Don't be afraid to use humor, and yes even emotional stories, but remember you are not called to be a comedian or to be a talk show host. You are called to proclaim the good news, so make sure your illustrations serve the text and not the other way around.

Tip #5. You should choose your guest speakers very carefully.
I don't know about you but we don't have many guest preachers. Kind of hard to justify the expense when we have two pastors and a retired pastor. The exception is we started this year to bring a professor in from the seminary to lead a seminar and preach on Sunday.

1 comment:

jWinters said...

GASP! You're using 5 of Rick Warren's tips AND you use PowerPoint? You unconfessional so and so....

Wink, Wink.

I agree. I especially liked your reflections on the "missing word outline." I hate those too. And my sermon title usually ends up being a question (a trick I learned from someone else...it brings people into thinking more than what a phrase or statement often does).

After having read Rick's post, I like your exposition on the 5 tips. Thank goodness that we don't have to worry about mining the Christian melee for guest preachers but know that if they're LCMS - they're at least not going to say that "God wants every Christian to get rich."

in Christ,
jW