Guideline 2: Begin with the audience in mind… not your message.
Jesus could have launched into theological truth statements in respect to God and sinners. But instead he began with sheep. And coins. Etcetera. But Jesus didn’t come into the world to say true things. So Andy Stanley makes a strong case for surfacing a sense of need in the listeners so that they feel compelled to engage. He suggests that Christians have a lot more in common with the unchurched than we tend to realise. So if there are not uniquely “Christian” problems, but just problems, then we should be able to engage listeners before we preach answers to them.
I love his confidence in how easy this is to achieve. In reality I see an almost total lack of creating genuine need for sermons, and I find it difficult to surface need in my own preaching. Too many preachers think an interesting or funny opening is sufficient to launch a message. Actually, let me back up. Too many preachers don’t seem to consider their listeners at all in introductions and just launch straight in. Then there’s the anecdotal launcher. Rare indeed is the preacher who has the listeners hungry for what is to follow by the end of the introduction.
Guideline 3: Pick one passage and stick with it… everybody will be glad you did.
Let me quote, “Anything we can say to make the Bible more approachable and less intimidating is a win. This is why I am such a proponent of focusing the message around one text. I realize there are topics that demand we draw people’s attention to more than one passage. My advice is to make that the exception, not the rule. Jumping all over the Bible illustrates how smart you are. It rarely enhances an audience’s understanding of or love for the Scriptures. And it totally confuses non-Christians. Worse, it sets a terrible precedent for how they should read the Bible. We don’t want new and non-Christians looking around the Bible for the verse that says what they are hoping it says. We want them to let the Scriptures speak for themselves. Messages built around proof-texting accomplishes the opposite.” (I should stop, or I could keep quoting ’til the end of this section!)
Let me add… amen!