That was a question I received recently from someone who had visited many churches and noted that my preaching style was different than others. Let me start by saying that there are many different types of preachers within the Christian Church. If the content is Biblical and it is given by a preacher called by God and it is given sincerely and clearly, God can use it. It is the Holy Spirit, and not the preacher, who works in the hearts of men and women.
If you’ve been in many churches, you have undoubtedly heard these types of preachers:
There are in-depth Bible teachers who essentially outline a text of the Bible, explain the meaning of each word, and then derive applications from that. Those who can do this well are excellent teachers of the Word and have much to offer.
There are evangelists, who turn every passage in a “how to become a Christian” message. Those who do this well are incredibly effective in leading people to faith in Jesus. (A preacher friend described another preacher friend to me almost with envy, saying, “He could take a Biblical text on tithing and see 18 people come to faith in Jesus at the end.”)
There are “through the Book” preachers who take a book of the Bible and preach it from beginning to end—like I recently did with the Book of Luke. An extreme example of this is one preacher I heard of who did this to all 66 books of the Bible. Those who do this well do an excellent job of growing Biblical followers of Jesus.
There are topical preachers who focus on the felt needs of people in their congregation and preach on topics like overcoming depression, saving a failing marriage, breaking addictions, and other issues. Those who do this well offer great and very practical help to the church.
I could go on, but you can see that there are as many styles of preaching as there are preachers, and all who are following God’s guidance in preaching Biblical messages offer great help to the church. There is no one “right way” to preach. There are many ways to preach. I deeply enjoy listening to preachers who have a different style than I do—and I learn from them.
But all this brings me to the original questions, what is “my” preaching style and what am I trying to accomplish when I preach?
I do my best to explain what the Bible teaches in a text or on a topic in simple language, illustrate it with a story or illustration to make it easily understandable, and then draw an application from it that leads to a response. Usually, I preach through a book of The Bible. Sometimes I preach through a section of a book (such as the Sermon on the Mount or the Ten Commandments.) Sometimes I preach on an important topic. But my goal is to make the truth as easily understandable as possible and then lead people to make a decision.
I am purposely trying to model my preaching style after Jesus. I know that I fail miserably, for no one could preach like Jesus, but that is my goal.
Jesus had an incredible ability to explain important truth in simple ways that anyone could understand. He wasn’t “deep” in the modern sense. He didn’t give the Hebrew and the Greek and the tenses and the historical use of a certain word when He spoke. He did not use technical or theological terms. Instead, He utilized simple stories that illustrated an important truth. As a result, His preaching could challenge Bible Scholars like Nicodemus and at the same time, be easily understandable by the masses of mostly untrained people. He could even speak to adults on important topics in a way that was understandable by young children.
He was clear. He was understandable. He was simple. He was relatable.
Maybe what I’m trying to say is that He was profound.
As I describe His preaching, I recognize how much I fall short. Though I’ve learned from many preachers (and I’m still doing so), Jesus is my primary model and example.
I’m not trying to be deep, nor am I trying to oversimplify. I don’t want to talk over anyone’s head. I don’t use Greek or Hebrew or technical language terms in my sermons, though I do study them. I don’t want to lose the children in talking to intellectuals. I don’t want to preach too long and risk losing people, though I have been guilty of that sometimes. I don’t want to take a passage of scripture and twist it to say something it was never designed to say just because I wanted to say it. (In other words, I try to avoid taking a verse or passage out-of-context. I want to find out what it meant and then say so.) I don’t want to focus on the latest issues of the day, but I certainly don’t avoid them when we come to those issues (moral, political, or philosophical) in the Bible. I want to be clear, so people don’t leave wondering what I just said. Even if they disagree with me, I want them to understand what and why I said what I said and why I believe it is Biblical. I don’t want people to leave feeling that they’ve been judged unless they’ve also heard of God’s love and forgiveness.
I do write out my sermons completely, but I want to be open to the leadership of the Holy Spirit and so I’m willing to add things—or remove them—as God speaks to me as I preach. For that to happen, I need to be a man of prayer and walk with the Spirit.
I’m not trying to produce “Bible Scholars” as much as I’m trying to produce “Jesus followers.”
So in my preaching, I do want to use an abundance of stories, analogies, parables and word pictures because they speak to people—as much today as they did in Jesus’ day, and Jesus used them in abundance. I want to be interesting because God, Jesus, and the Bible are interesting. I want to be as accurate as possible in explaining what God has revealed to us in the Bible. I don’t think the Bible is as incredibly complicated and hard-to-understand as some make it out to be. I don’t want to make things more difficult. The gospel is straightforward, and I want people to understand it. Following Jesus is also straightforward, and I want people to know how to live that life.
I want to lead people to believe in Jesus and to follow Jesus.
In my preaching, as much as is humanly possible, I want to be like Jesus. That’s a tall order for any preacher. I’m certainly not claiming that I’ve even come close to achieving it.
But that’s my goal.