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Read A Primer on Preaching Like Jesus, Part One

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A Primer on Preaching Like Jesus, Part Two

By Rick Warren - 2. Jesus Related Truth to Life

I love the practicality and simplicity of Jesus teaching. It was clear, relevant, and applicable. He aimed for application because his goal was to transform people, not merely inform them.

Consider the greatest sermon ever preached, The Sermon on the Mount:

  • Jesus began by sharing eight secrets of genuine happiness;
  • Then he talked about living an exemplary lifestyle, controlling anger, restoring relationships, and the issues of adultery and divorce.
  • Next he spoke of keeping promises and returning good for evil.
  • Then Jesus moved on to other practical life issues like how to give with the right attitude, how to pray, how to store up treasure in heaven, and how to overcome worry.
  • He wraps up his message by telling us to not judge others, encouraging persistence when asking God to meet our needs, and warning us about false teachers.
  • Finally, he concludes with a simple story that emphasizes the importance of acting on what hes taught: Put into practice what youve just learned!

This is the kind of preaching that we need in churches today. It changes lives! Its not enough to simply proclaim, Christ is the Answer. We must show the unchurched how Christ is the Answer. Sermons that exhort people to change without sharing the practical steps of how to change only produce more guilt and frustration.

A lot of preaching today is what I call, Aint it awful! preaching. It just complains about our society and makes judgments about people in general. Its long on diagnosis and short on remedy. It makes Christians feel superior to those out there but it rarely changes anything. Instead of lighting a candle, it just curses the darkness.

When I go to a doctor, I dont want to just hear whats wrong with me, I want him to give me some specific steps to getting better. What people need today is less ought-to sermons and more how-to sermons. Exhortation without explanation leads to frustration.

Some pastors today criticize life-application preaching as shallow, simplistic, and inferior. To them the only real preaching is didactic, doctrinal preaching. Their attitude implies that Paul was more profound than Jesus; that Romans is deeper material than the Sermon on the Mount or the Parables. I call that heresy!

The deepest kind of teaching is that which makes a difference in peoples day-to-day lives. As D.L. Moody once said, The Bible was not given to increase our knowledge but to change our lives. The goal is Christ-like character.

Jesus said, I have come that you might have life. He didnt say, Ive come that you might have religion. Christianity is a life, not a religion, and Jesus was a life-application preacher. When he finished his teaching to the Crowd he always wanted them to go and do likewise.

Christ-like preaching explains life to people. It produces a changed lifestyle. Life-related preaching doesnt just inform, it transforms. It changes people because the Word is applied to where people actually live. Sermons that teach people how to live will never lack an audience.

Please understand this: The unchurched are not asking that we change the message or even dilute it, only that we show its relevance. Their big question is So what? They want to know What difference does it make? Ive found that unchurched Americans are intensely interested in Bible doctrine when it is applied in practical and relevant ways to their lives.

I love to teach theology to the unchurched without telling them its theology and without using theological terms. I find it challenging and enjoyable. Ive preached sermon series to the unchurched on the incarnation, justification, and sanctification without ever using the terms! I did a series on the moral attributes of God and simply called it Getting to Know God. Ive preached sermons to seekers on stewardship, the work of the Holy Spirit, and even the Seven Deadly Sins.

Its a myth that you must compromise the message to draw a crowd. Jesus certainly didnt. You dont have to transform the message, but you do have to translate it.

3. Jesus Spoke to the Crowd with an Interesting Style

The crowd loved to listen to Jesus. Mark 12:37 (NCV) says, The large crowd listened to Jesus with pleasure. The New International Version says they listened with delight.

Do people delight in your messages? Jesus never tried to convert anyone with anger.

Some pastors actually think they have failed in their preaching if people enjoy a message. Ive heard pastors say proudly, Were not here to entertain. In a Gallup poll a few years ago, the unchurched listed the church as the most boring place to be.

If you look up the word entertain in a dictionary, youll find this definition: capturing and holding the attention for an extended period of time. I dont know any preacher who doesnt want to do that! We shouldnt be afraid of being interesting. A sermon doesnt have to be dry to be spiritual.

To the unchurched, dull preaching is unforgivable. Truth poorly delivered is ignored. On the other hand, the unchurched will listen to absolute foolishness if it is interesting. To prove this just turn on your television late at night and see the assortment of psychics, wackos, and weirdoes that dominate the airwaves.

It never ceases to amaze to me how some Bible teachers are able to take the most exciting book in the world and bore people to tears with it. I believe it is a sin to bore people with the Bible.

The problem is this: When I teach Gods Word in an uninteresting way, people dont just think Im boring, they think God is boring! We slander Gods character if we preach with an uninspiring style or tone. The message is too important to share it with a take-it-or-leave it attitude.

Jesus captured the interest of large crowds with techniques that you and I can use:

He told stories to make a point. Jesus was the master storyteller. He'd say, "Hey, did you hear the one about..." and then tell a parable to teach a truth. In fact, the Bible shows that storytelling was Jesus favorite technique when speaking to the crowd. Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable." (Matt. 13:34) Somehow preachers forget that the Bible is essentially a book of stories! Thats how God has chosen to communicate his Word to human beings.

There are many benefits to using stories to communicate spiritual truth: Stories hold our attention. The reason television is so popular is because its essentially a story-telling device, whether youre watching comedy, drama, the news, or a talk show. Even the commercials are stories. Stories stir our emotions. They impact us in ways that precepts and propositions never do.If you want to change lives, you must craft the message for impact, not for information. Stories help us remember. Long after a pastors cute outline is forgotten, people will remember the stories of the sermon.

Its fascinating, and sometimes comical; to watch how quickly a crowd tunes in whenever a speaker begins telling a story and how quickly that attention vanishes as soon as the story is finished!

Jesus used simple language. He didnt use technical or theological jargon. He spoke in simple terms that normal people could understand. We need to remember that Jesus did not use the classical Greek language of the scholar. He spoke in Aramaic. He used the street language of that day and talked of birds, flowers, lost coins, and other everyday objects that anyone could relate to.

Jesus taught profound truths in simple ways. Today, we do the opposite. We teach simple truths in profound ways. Sometimes when pastors think they are being deep they are really just being muddy.

Today some pastors like to show-off their knowledge by using Greek words and academic terms in their preaching. They speak in an unknown tongue without being charismatic! Pastors need to realize that no one cares as much about the Greek as they do. Chuck Swindoll once told me that he believes an overuse of word studies in preaching discourages confidence in the English text. I agree.

In fact, Chuck and I - along with Jack Hayford and Chuck Smith - once taught a seminary course on preaching. We each taught how we prepare and deliver sermons. At the end of the course, the students mentioned that all four of us had, without collaboration, emphasized the same thing: keep it simple!

Its easy to complicate the gospel, and of course, Satan would love for us to do just that. The apostle Paul worried that your minds would be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ (2 Cor. 11:3 NASB).

It takes a lot of thought and preparation to communicate profound truths in simple ways. Einstein once said, You dont really understand something unless you can communicate it in a simple way. You can be brilliant, but if you can share it in a simple way, your insights arent worth much.

The Saddleback Valley is one of the most highly educated communities in America, yet I find that the simpler I make the message, the more God blesses it.

Simple does not mean shallow. Simple does not mean simplistic. Simple means being clear and understandable. For instance, This is the day the Lord has made is simple while, Have a nice day! is simplistic.

Most people today communicate with a vocabulary of less than 2,000 words and rely on only about 900 words in daily use. If you want to communicate with most people, you need to keep it simple. Never allow yourself to be intimidated by people who think they are intellectuals. Its been my observation that people who have to use big words are sometimes hiding bigger insecurities.

I believe simple sermon outlines are always the strongest outlines. I consider being called a simple preacher a compliment. Im interested in seeing lives changed, not in impressing people with my erudition.

Id rather be clear than complex.

Jesus - not anyone else - must be our model. When we preach like he did, well see the results he did.

Read A Primer on Preaching Like Jesus, Part One

If youd like to know more about this, please read my book, The Purpose Driven Church (order your copy at Shop CBN).

This article originally appeared in Rick Warren's Ministry ToolBox, a free, email newsletter available from Used by permission.

The Ministry ToolBox is for ANYONE serving Jesus Christ. For a free subscription, you can sign up at

Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA., a congregation that now averages 16,000 in attendance each weekend. Rick is also author of "The Purpose Driven Church," and founder of, a global Internet community for those in ministry. You may reprint this article in your publication with the following attribution: From Rick Warren's Ministry ToolBox, a free weekly e-newsletter for those in ministry,

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