You didn’t read that wrong.
We always ask WHAT are you preaching about on Sunday. We can all answer that question.
But if we don’t have complete clarity on WHY we’re preaching, WHAT we preach is somewhat irrelevant.
Why we preach should define what we say and how we say it.
Our WHY for Preaching
I really enjoy preaching. As a leadership coach and strategic consultant for churches (and some businesses), I preach several weekends a month around the country. My travels give me great exposure to a myriad of other pastors and preachers. And to a lot of sermons.
As I’ve watched lots of messages, I’ve noticed a few apparent “whys.” Things like:
- Converting the lost
- Convicting sinners
- Building up the body
- Connecting with the congregation
- Challenging your congregation
- Capturing everyone’s imagination
On some level, great preaching may combine many of these. Yet none of these answers our WHY question. Or at least they don’t answer our question well.
My Original Goal for Preaching
We all tend to be sender-centric, meaning our natural personality and desired outcome dictates our why.
I’m a bit of a challenger (or challenging, some may say). I like to push a bit. I tend to say what needs to be said as I see it. I try to do it lovingly, but clarity was certainly my goal. From our above list, my instincts are to challenge the congregation.
I also prioritize getting a few laughs, which is a terrible priority, but nevertheless.
When I first preached at North Point, I was confidently terrified. Preaching on any platform carries weight. Some of that weight is healthy and should be felt. In my earlier days of pastoring, my insecurity plus Andy Stanley’s stage (and mic pack) created some serious emotional turmoil.
I made it through the message, and honestly, I felt pretty good about it. A few days later, I had a feedback meeting with one of our senior leaders and seasoned communicators. His feedback was precisely what I needed to hear:
“You did a great job. It was very clear.”
Then he said,
“But I’m unsure if anyone liked you.”
That’s a direct quote. And after years of counseling, I’ve stopped crying.
I actually appreciate his feedback. He was correct. My goal was clarity, and I was really, really, REALLY clear. But I wasn’t relational. I didn’t bring much/any emotion to the conversation. People did laugh, and I was clear, but that’s a poor WHY.
I worked hard after this feedback session to become more relationally connected. And I improved a lot. However, I found that being less clear and more relational wasn’t a great goal, either. It was better than all-out challenging! But I knew I could do better. And I knew the answer wasn’t to become the most relationally connected preacher in the world, either. I’ve seen these guys speak, and while they’re likable, their approach doesn’t feel like a great purpose.
The Best Preaching Why
To discover our best why, let’s consider our hope. Or better yet, the hope of those who hear our sermons.
People are looking for hope and help. They aren’t necessarily looking for Jesus, although we know that eventually, that is what they need most.
That leaves us here: We know they need more Jesus, and they think they need some hope and help with an issue in their life. If this is true (and it is), our WHY should combine what people need given through what people want.
To say it more simply, our purpose of preaching should be the application of truth that leads to a transformation of spirit.
That’s the path that practical teaching can offer.
Helpful information that inspires practical application creates the context for life transformation.
This should be our WHY.
Preaching for Practical Application
Once we have a clear purpose, we build everything to that purpose. This includes our content creation, presentation skills, and preparation time.
When you craft content for practical application, you study, write, rewrite, and build a content journey that takes people from where they are to inspiring an application opportunity for their lives.
When you know your why, you work to ensure your presentation aids application. That means using props well, incorporating screen content, and using your body language appropriately to assist in the purpose.
When you recognize your goal is practical application that leads to life transformation, you begin to prepare differently. Not to overstate it, but sharing information is easy. Almost any pastor can stand up and ramble through Scripture. We’ve all studied the Bible enough to teach the Bible to people.
If we want to move our preaching past information to application, we must prepare well and refrain from relying on the information we know. Preaching information is lazy. Preparing information in a way that leads to application takes time. It’s harder. And it’s worth it.
Refuse to Preach to What
The Gospel, congregation, and community are too important to settle for preaching WHATs without prioritizing the right WHY.
As you look at your content for this Sunday, what’s your point of application? Are you more focused on WHAT or WHY?
Take some time today to consider a better purpose for this Sunday.
Want More Help?
I spend time every month teaching and training pastors and communicators on the art and science of great communication. If you’re interested, I have three options:
- COURSE: My Preaching with Purpose course offers Five Video Sessions with nearly 3 hours of insanely practical content. The list of free resources are too long to list, but you’ll get several complete message series you can teach, samples of content creation, a starter outline to create a better content journey, a series and message creation template, and more.
- MASTERCLASS EXPERIENCES: I offer my course content in the form of a small group masterclass with like-minded pastors and communicators. The masterclass gives you an opportunity to watch the content before each session so we can spend our time together digging deeper and answering your specific questions.
- PERSONAL COACHING: I offer a limited number of personal coaching and consulting to leaders. If you’re interested in this, reply to this email and let me know. I’m booked out for the rest of 2023, but I’d love to get you onboarded next year.
I love helping leaders like you make things better. If I can ever support you or your efforts, don’t hesitate to reach out.