I recently returned from teaching in Japan. For the past few years I have been traveling to Japan to share with Pastors and Christian Leaders at least twice a year. I am grateful for the opportunity and I always enjoy my travels, but this most recent trip was different. I dont speak Japanese, so my teaching in Japan is normally very challenging because I have to work through a translator who, also being Japanese, is not used to my western culture, customs or style of communication.
However, on this most recent trip my translator was an American Woman who was the daughter of missionaries. She grew up in Japan and America so (hallelujah) she spoke my language! I felt like my time of teaching with her translating was the most powerful and effective I had ever been in that country! She spoke my language, which allowed me to connect with people in my teaching like never before!
My most recent experience while teaching in Japan paints a clear picture of what effective preaching really is. If you are going to preach in such a way that allows you to lift people up you must first understand that the people you are called to communicate to speak a very different language. To be effective you have to communicate the message of Jesus Christ and (key word here) translate the message into the language that your hearers speak. You want your hearers to have the same experience and excitement that I had when I met the America translator; they speak my language!
In order to accomplish this, there are a few things you need to focus on:
You cannot lift people from where they are if you dont first reach people where they are. This is why making a connection is absolutely vital! Many people make the mistake of believing that the starting point of effective communication is what you have to say. The real starting point is where the people are who you want to hear what you have to say. You have to meet them where they are first before they can effectively hear what you have to say.
When Jesus encounters the man whose son is demon possessed in Mark 9, before he lifts them out of that situation He first makes a connection. The hope that is going to lift the man and his son out of that bad situation is the healing that Jesus is going to provide. But before he heals the mans son, Jesus makes a connection. Jesus is aware that the mans faith is wavering, He is also aware that the man tried church before and was disappointed (he brought his son to the disciples and they were no help – Mark 9:18). Therefore, the first thing that Jesus says to the man is How long has your son been like this? (Mark 9:21) That question establishes connection to the mans heart-wrenching struggle with his son that has been going on for a very long time. Its only after that connection is made that the Mans heart is open and he decides to try to believe again and responds, I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief! (Mark 9:24)
Another example of this is the encounter that Jesus has with the Samaritan Woman in John 4. The hope that will lift her out of a pattern of failed marriages and promiscuity is Jesus message about what real worship is. But sharing that message is the last thing that Jesus does, first Jesus establishes connection with her. He is sitting at the well in need of water, the Samaritan woman comes to the well to draw water, and they have a conversation about water. Connection and commonality comes before the core of His communication.
Your hearers are all wrestling with life on some level, and the first thing you want to do in your preaching is to diagnose those struggles and meet them in those struggles in order to lift them out of those struggles. Notice the wording and sequencing of what God says in Exodus 3:8 (NIV), that I think best illustrates this point:
So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey
After your hearers feel like your speaking their language, the next thing to be mindful of is creativity. There is nothing worse than a boring sermon! People are looking at their watches and also looking at you thinking Why in the world did I get out of my bed to come hear this!
All preachers have one message, which is the bible, but how you share the message is what separates effective preachers from boring ones. In Luke 10 when an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus by asking Him Who is my neighbor? Jesus answers the question by telling a very creative parable about the Good Samaritan. Jesus could have answered the question in a very dry, matter of fact way, but he chose to be very creative. In fact Jesus would often always teach using creative parables. If our savior, the greatest teacher to ever live, taught this way our only fitting response is to go and do likewise!
Preaching is storytelling, and all great stories are very creative. In the words of Toni Craven a creative story is captivating, it catches our minds and makes us forget to breath until it is over. This is why great movies and television are never at a lost for viewers. The creativity of movies like The Matrix and Inception is what makes them box office blockbusters. The creativity of shows like Lost and CSI is what keeps people watching week after week and even setting their DVR if they cant watch it at its regular time.
These are the same people who come to hear you tell them a story on Sunday morning. Because of the television and movies they have watched throughout the week they bring an unspoken expectation of creativity with them to worship service. If that expectation is not met, you will easily loose them and fail to get the return you have been praying and preparing for all week.
It always tickles me when I hear preachers say You know the story , I often chuckle under my breath because in this day and time many people actually dont know the story. Research has revealed that we are living in one of the most biblically illiterate times ever. A large number of people listening to you on Sunday morning do not know the bible. Which makes the content of your preaching of paramount importance. Psalm 107:20 speaks to the importance of content:
He sent forth his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave.
How were they lifted up from the grave and healed? What tool did God use for their deliverance? The Word! In addition, John 1:14 reveals that Jesus is The Word made flesh. Which means one of the most important ways we encounter Jesus, spend time with Jesus and are help by Jesus is through The Word. Therefore in preaching, your sermons should not lack content and be scripture-lite. Effective preaching that lifts people up exposes people to the power of Jesus Christ through The Word and allows The Word to build people and lift them to higher places. After all, God does make us a promise about His Word:
So will the words that come out of my mouth not come back empty-handed. They’ll do the work I sent them to do, they’ll complete the assignment I gave them. Isaiah 55:11 (MSG)
Preach to Lift!