Let me tell you the way to preach a popular, crowd-rousing sermon (notice I said popular, not good or faithful). One that will have people cheering, amen-ing you, and walking out all cheery-eyed and ready to take on their giants.
Step 1: Take a story from the Bible, probably an Old Testament story, and cast the scene. Set the tensions up, make sure people understand the stakes.
Step 2: Point to that little detail–the one you almost read past if you’re not careful. That one thing the hero in the story did. That one liner they said that sticks in your head. The courageous moment.
Step 3: Apply the situation that the character in the story was facing to any situation that the hearers might be facing. (What are the giants in your life?) Make it emotionally compelling. Play off deeply felt problems and desires, pointing to how the character got that they wanted in the story.
Step 4: This is the most important step: don’t miss this: Make the hearer the hero. Make them the central character of the story, because that’s what everyone wants to be.Tell the audience that if they will only ____________ they can have the same outcome as the character from the story. You probably want to bring your best preaching voice here, maybe stomp and rant a bit, keep saying your main point over and over.
Many in the audience will leave inspired. Compelled. Excited. They will almost assuredly come back to hear another pep talk next week, at least for a while. Until the outcomes they picture don’t come to fruition and they start to wonder why the formulas aren’t working for them.
The Problem with the Formula
The main problem with this formula for preaching a compelling and popular sermon is that you didn’t actually mention Jesus or the gospel (which I would argue makes it something other than a Christian sermon).
You gave people a pep rally but no medicine for their sin sick souls.
“Leave Christ out? O my brethren, better leave the pulpit out altogether. If a man can preach one sermon without mentioning Christ’s name in it, it ought to be his last, certainly the last that any Christian ought to go to hear him preach….A sermon without Christ in it is like a loaf of bread without any flour in it. No Christ in your sermon, sir? Then go home, and never preach again until you have something worth preaching.”
We all want to be the main character of the story. The hero. But the problem with that is that in the grand meta-narrative of the Bible, you are not the hero. The Bible is not a book that is primarily about you. It is not a manual full of secret stories and codes to inspire you and unlock your full potential.
The Bible is a book full of stories that all point to the main character Jesus and the climax of His life, death & resurrection to reconcile those alienated from God back into His family. Even the Old Testament stories are shadows that point towards Him, not simply moral lessons via narrative.
Every sermon should primarily point to His faithfulness, not yours.
His righteousness, not yours.
His grace, not your works or effort.
His coming through in the end when all hope was lost, not your heroic attempts to save the day.
What He has done, not what you must do.
If you have never seen this video by Tim Keller, please watch it. It blew gaskets in my mind the first time I saw it. It is exceedingly important for all Christians to understand, and especially those who teach and lead.
Sermons that teach the good news about Jesus are a much better kind of compelling, so let’s give people the good news that the Bible is not a story written about them, but about a God who is much bigger than them who has come through in ways that they will never be able to.
Christians, the Bible is not about you. It is about Jesus, and that is such good news for you.