In our preaching, we want to see profound impact taking place in the lives of our people. We labor and toil in preparation and seek to hone the craft of our delivery and we give our all each Sunday. However, there are times when we walk away from our preaching and wonder how much actual impact it has on the lives of our people. We believe God’s promises that his Word will not return void (Isa. 55:10-11) and that it is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword (Heb. 4:12), but we long to see greater connections between what we preach and the change we can observe in the lives of our members (including ourselves!).
In my own personal studies, research, and preaching, I have been thinking a great deal about texts like Hebrews 3:12-13: “See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of your has a sinful, unbelieving hearth that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”
This passage reminds the reader to not go the way of Israel, who forsook God with their continual grumbling and lack of faith (Exodus 17:1-7; Numbers 14:1-23; 20:1-13; Ps. 95:1-11). Instead, we must encourage each other to persevere in the faith, and this is a continual “one another” ministry.
Another similar text of great importance is Hebrews 10:23-25: “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” We are to “stir up” and “encourage” each other to persevere and walk faithfully before God in love and good works, knowing that Jesus Christ will one day return and set up his eternal kingdom.
We stir one another up to love and good works by reminding one another of the love of God and his good work on our behalf accomplished through Christ, which the entirety of the Bible recounts. This goes beyond Sunday mornings. It is a way of life for all Christians. Throughout the week, in small groups, informal conversations, and even with the pastor, church members can discuss and recount the main points of the sermon as well as the points of application for their lives. This intentionality leads to a holistic version of the Christian life that extends beyond Sunday mornings to the nooks and crannies of everyday life.
Preaching that ‘sticks’
While Hebrews 3:12-13 and 10:23-25 are a well-known set of verses relating to the doctrine of the church and the need for mutual exhortation, they are rarely talked about in the context of preaching.
The preacher, however, must serve as the “lead exhorter,” and they must also keep in mind how they can develop a culture wherein mutual, ongoing, humble, loving, truthful exhortation is normal and pervasive. If we want to see preaching that “sticks” with our people, we are going to have to think of ways we can link Sunday proclamation to everyday conversations our people have throughout the week.
What if we were more intentional to link up teaching and preaching content with people’s everyday lives? How could we more intentionally encourage them to talk about the things of God rather than immediately go to conversations about the next football game, or work details for the week?
Crafting sermons that facilitate gospel conversations
Initiatives such as sermon-based small groups and classes can be a step in the right direction, but we want the truth of Scripture to be pervasive, not just thought about twice a week. To facilitate gospel-centered conversations amongst your people throughout the week, preachers need to carefully prepare and design their sermons with this goal in mind.
In sermon prep, preachers need to think about specific questions and concepts that people can talk about beyond the Sunday morning gathering. In sermon prep, we must consider our people specifically. What is the spiritual temperature of the church? What questions and prompts could lead them toward greater godliness? Are there accompanying initiatives that would help cement their learning, both while preaching and after?
We also ought to think of questions for the sermon itself. Whether these are put into a bulletin, up on a screen, or simply spoken by the pastor, our people should be aware that there is an expectation, for their spiritual good, that they would continue to converse about these things and let the Word of God renew their minds.
When I was preaching on Ephesians 3:14-21, a great Pauline prayer, I put several prompting questions on the screen: What kinds of prayer requests dominate your prayer life? What is Paul praying for here? If you followed Paul’s example in prayer, what might happen in your life? The life of another? How can we more effectively “pray the Bible”? I explained each of these questions in detail. I listed these questions in my PowerPoint, and if I was the senior pastor of the church (I was guest preaching in this instance) I would likely put the questions in the bulletin, on the church website, on social media, and in our small group curriculum. This is so they can be discussed amongst families, friends, and with co-workers, and those who may not know the Lord.
Another preaching opportunity allowed me to unpack Psalm 145, an amazing praise psalm. One section of this passage spoke about meditating on God’s character and his wondrous works. I then listed off a litany of God’s attributes and works in redemptive history. The questions I posted on the screen are: Beyond the Bible how have you seen God’s character consistently displayed in your life? In what way have you seen God’s providential hand at work in your life, as it was in the examples given in Scripture? I then encouraged people to talk over lunch that day as a family or in their small groups later that week about those very questions.
By whatever means necessary, we need to remind ourselves and our people to converse and think on things that are above, not merely on earthly things (Col. 3:1-4).
Thinking over the interpretive matters of a text is essential for our preaching, but so is the way in which the text will be applied, and this includes a culture of ongoing conversation and exhortation. After doing the work of sermon prep, pastors need to take some time to consider their people, their needs, and their context. Then, based on these factors, assess and identify what particular questions and subjects need to make their way beyond the Sunday morning gathering into the everyday lives of our people. Ask the questions, point out these key subjects, and make it explicit in multiple forms (PowerPoint, discussion questions, notes, etc.) as you proclaim the significance of the text for your people.
This vision for the Christian life is taught and also caught. We as preachers will need to take the lead in initiating spiritual conversations with our people and encourage them to engage similarly with one another. This means that we view sermon prep not as a mere chore, but a sheer delight. In that delight we overflow in our lives toward others, we tell them everything that God is teaching us with joy and exuberance. People may think we are doing this simply because we are pastors, but over time we help them to realize that we do this because as Christians we are all to let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly as we teach and admonish one another (Col. 3:16).
If we are more intentional to link up our teaching and preaching content with people’s everyday lives, we would begin to see greater velocity, by God’s grace, in the maturity of our people. It would not be strange to discuss spiritual matters—as it unfortunately can be at times in our churches—but normal and life giving. Biblical literacy would go up, and love for God and others would be fueled by doctrinal precision. A passion for the nations being reached with the gospel of Jesus Christ would be part of our conversations and our prayer lives. Co-workers would hear about the gospel as we naturally brought up these matters in various discussions.
Linking our preaching to the everyday conversations of our people will provide opportunities for exponential growth in ourselves and in our hearers.
Jeremy Kimble is Assistant Professor of Theology at Cedarville University and the author of '40 Questions About Church Membership and Discipline' (Kregel, 2017).