Of all the hermeneutics you can study, it all comes down to a few simple points of execution
by Doug Murren
A friend of mine suggested when I was just starting out that I write one statement at the top of every set of sermon notes before I spoke. Here it is, “What are you trying to do to these people anyhow?”
There are many points that could be made about developing your sermons. But allow me to be rudimentary and start with one word—clarity. Your weekly sermon is the primary place that will solidify a return visit or actually reach someone to become part of your congregation. Start with establishing clarity in your speaking opportunities.
Believe it or not, after analyzing thousands of churches, and pastoring a few, the most common complaints I have gathered from church visitors can be reduced to two simple issues: One, “They aren’t friendly.” Two, “I didn’t understand what they were saying.”
I can state for certain that a church’s friendliness and openness to a new person is right at the top of our perception issues. But really, the way a sermon is given and whether it is easily understood is the highest act of friendship a church will bring on any Sunday morning.
I enjoy hermeneutics and have taught preaching at all levels. I enjoy it. For several years, I preached twelve messages each weekend and two mid-week messages. To do that successfully, I wanted to understand how people listened and how to hit the mark as best I could. To be successful, I called the best speakers in many fields. I asked them for insights about how people listen, what they hear, and skills I should master. My list included prosecuting attorneys, professors, preachers, teachers, top salespeople, songwriters and filmmakers, to name a few.
It’s my privilege to share with you some wisdom I gleaned, which I’ve shared with thousands of other pastors and speakers. I have reduced a great deal of information to just seven key points. If you’ll invest in these as preparation exercises, your disciple-making sermons will bring people back for a second or third time, or even for permanent participation in your church.
My friend gave me that one sentence of advice when I was a young preacher. I developed it further, using the wisdom I gleaned from others. After all these years, all this training, speaking, and education, the following is what I put at the top of my notes for every message I ever give anywhere. Do a crisp job of answering these questions before you address any group—a one-time event or your congregation every week—and you will be sought out for your messages. People will even bring their friends to hear you.
Here are the seven preparatory questions on my list before I finish my final draft and notes:
- What do I want them to know? Most people will remember no more than three things. In fact, their frustration level will rise with each one you add beyond the first three. Facts are only helpful if people perceive them as helpful.
- What do I want them to believe? Most of us believe wrongly about many things. So, help your listeners have solid biblical beliefs. In discipleship, you are killing a lie and replacing it with a good belief.
- What do you not want them to believe? Best to kill just one lie at a time.
- What do I want them to feel? This just might be the most important point that is too often left out. Emotions and how you affect them just might be 90 percent of all communication. This is worth practicing and getting very good at it. You may want them to feel sad, or happy, or regretful or safe or any other emotion. I have a list stored in my computer of every emotion humans can feel and I study them from time to time.
- What do I want them to have? As a speaker in our line you are called to give “gifts.” So what gift are you going to give them in your message? That is a big one. And remember not all gifts are free. Some will cost them nothing, some will cost them something. So don’t hide price tags either.
- What do you want them to do? I am leaving this in bold for this reason. The primary complaint that listeners have about church or most speaking is they don’t know what they are supposed to do about what they just heard. HELP THEM. Never close a message without giving some short and simple action steps. Trust me, this will bring people back. Spell it out.
- What do I want them to remember? How does that work? Give a review. And highlight no more than three things they just heard that you don’t want them to forget.
Finally, you need one killer story in your message that closes the deal.
So in review. I suggest at the top of every one of your sermons notes you put this short list and make certain you are prepared to address each one.
What do I want them to know?
What do I want them to believe?
What do I not want them to believe?
What do I want them to feel?
What do I want them to have?
What do I want them to do?
What do I want them to remember?
This little checklist will make your work much easier. This list will help you know in advance how good you are going to be as a communicator. I can give a guarantee that if you master this approach plus learn to tell one story in an above-average fashion, in time you will fill most rooms with people connecting with God and His joy.
Yes, I’m leaving out solid hermeneutics and obstacles to hearing. But this list will occupy most of us for a lifetime. It has me. CGM
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