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Making Sermons Come Alive
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By James A. Cress

Photo: Stephen Coburn
The weekly sermon may be the most important part of Sabbath worship. It brings the Word of God to His people. It mediates a message, offers comfort, directs lives, and shows meaning for the present as well as the future. Yet how often the sermon hour becomes a period of boredom to the parishioners. How do we make preaching come alive for our people?

In his book Present Truth in the Real World, Jon Paulien suggests six areas in which any pastor can introduce vitality to the worship service, particularly the preaching part—without arousing the wrath of those who resist change.

Language. Use simple, newspaper-style language. Everyday words communicate your faith in a language everyone can understand and in a manner that holds the attention of your listeners. While there are about 40,000 words in English, only about 8,000 of those words comprise the basic language of everyday life. Do not assume that people will understand words beyond this basic vocabulary. In fact, whenever newspapers and magazines use such words, they define them. If you cannot translate your message into simple language, perhaps you don't understand it yourself.

Don't use theological jargon. Avoid code words that may be loaded with meaning for those within the subculture but have little or no relevance to everyday life.

High take-home value. Few will be offended if your sermons have a practical emphasis that makes a difference to their real world. What you say on Sabbath should deal with where your members will live the rest of the week. Before preaching any sermon, determine what you want your hearers to do about the message next week. Expect them to act upon your message and present it in a way that shows them how.

Excellence. About 100 hours of work go into every minute of broadcast advertising. What excuse do you have for throwing a worship service together at the last moment or cobbling a sermon together the previous night? If you come to Friday and have nothing to preach, you are unlikely to find inspiration in the few hours of desperation that await you. Plan ahead and put your best into your sermons. If you ask 100 people to give you an hour of their attention, perhaps you should invest the necessary hours of preparation.

Attention-grabbing. Societal trends make it increasingly difficult to keep listeners' attention. Television watchers channel-surf by clicking the remote control about every three to five seconds in search of something that will grab their attention. If you don't focus people in the first moment or two, you have lost your audience. They might as well physically leave, because they will have "checked out" mentally. Use catchy titles, advertise your sermon topics, provide outlines with fill-in blanks, and place your message in the most appealing setting possible.

Strong spiritual tone. People want to know how to know God. Propositional truth is not sufficient to keep people. Show your audience how to apply the message of Scripture to their daily life. Most former members still believe doctrines. They long to see these truths applied to their personal situation. Point people to Jesus and to His gift of salvation. Preach the cross and the second coming. Tell people how to find God's grace and to prepare for His return!

Genuine authenticity. The pulpit has no room for phoniness. Does our practice match our profession? Today people are looking for something more than just "going through the motions" of worship. Discerning people are looking for that which is genuine. If we are going to "talk the talk," we must "walk the walk."
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James A. Cress is secretary of the General Conference Ministerial Association. Reprinted with permission from More Common Sense Ministry, p. 76. This resource is available through the General Conference Ministerial Resource Center. Better Sermons © 2005-2008. Click here for usage guidelines.



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