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 the shape of leadership

Preaching on Good Soil

Sermons that make Jesus accessible

J J Vasquez on August 12, 2022

What is the purpose of preaching?

If you answered, “To tell people about Jesus,” you are only halfway there. And before you judge that statement harshly, you should know it comes from Jesus’ teachings.

In Matthew 13, Jesus told a parable about a farmer sowing seeds. For our purposes, let’s think of the story as that of a preacher delivering sermons.

The seed (sermon) encountered three obstacles that threatened the fruit of the farmer’s (preacher’s) labor: the path, the rocks and the thorns.

As Jesus explained, the rocks represent a lack of depth, which results in a person falling away when persecution comes.

The thorns symbolize common hindrances: “the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth” (verse 22). Thorns are distractions that keep people from prioritizing God and His Word.

These are tough challenges. There is only so much a preacher can do about persecution, worry, and material concerns among parishioners. So, we turn our attention to the seed that fell along the path, the first reason preaching does not produce fruit.

Jesus explained it this way: “When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path” (verse 19, emphasis added).

That’s it. It’s that simple. Preaching fails to produce fruit when it is not understandable.

By contrast, verse 23 says, “The seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown” (emphasis added).

I’ve heard people say, “Just preach Jesus. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to illuminate.”

That is true. But according to Jesus, it is our job to make the message accessible. We must scatter the seed on the soil, not on the path where it has no chance.

The seed isn’t the problem. God’s Word is as relevant as ever. The gospel has always been, and always will be, good seed. You don’t need to change your seed. You just need to adjust your aim.

An accessible sermon is not only understandable, but also applicable, practical, memorable, desirable, and possible.

I’m so passionate about this, it is literally the mission statement of the church I lead: “We exist to make Jesus accessible to anyone.”

We understand our niche in the body of Christ and in our city. That’s why 60% of our attendees are people who became Christians within the past three years and who did not previously attend a church.

If you are sowing seed on good ground, you too will have to learn to preach to people who have never been to church. That means you can no longer assume your hearers know who Noah is, or Paul, or even Jesus — especially Jesus.

When you show people who Jesus is, they will want to know Him. If you make Jesus accessible, many will choose to follow Him.

It starts with changing the way you think about the structure of your sermon.

 

Establish the Problem

Instead of writing an introduction to your sermon, establish the problem.

One of the most common mistakes preachers make is assuming people care about what they have to say. Church people may care. The unchurched probably do not.

You don’t need to
change your seed.
You just need to
adjust your aim.

But everyone cares about their problems.

When I was in high school, I failed chemistry twice — mostly because I didn’t care about chemistry. I could not hear the teacher speaking over the voice in my head asking, When in my life am I ever going to use this?

In the opening seconds of your sermon, attendees are asking the same thing. And that question will drown you out until it is answered.

For example, you wouldn’t start a sermon with, “Today I’m going to talk to you about Paul.”

No one cares.

Instead, you might begin by saying, “Today I want to help anyone looking for a second chance.”

What are the pain points of those in attendance? What are their felt needs? What personal story can you tell to let people know you share their pain? Consider starting there.

 

Put Flesh On It

John 1:14 says, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” Jesus made God accessible to you and me by entering our world.

Accessible preaching does the same. It puts skin on theory, theology, principle, precept and prophecy — making these things relatable and applicable for daily living.

As you prepare the message, ask yourself, How does this apply to the businessperson, single mom or dad, cancer fighter, abuse survivor, college student, or retiree? How does your message enter their world?

It’s not necessary for every message to touch every sphere of life. But as you work through this process, you walk in the footsteps of Moses, who brought the Word down from the mountaintop of revelation into the valleys where the people needed to live it out.

 

Apply Principles to the Problem

Instead of crafting points, think about how to address the problem.

Start with practical actions, the application of biblical principles to everyday life. Then move to the heart issue.

As an example, my wife, Liz, recently preached a sermon called “Slow your Soul.” She used SLOW as an acronym for four action steps:

  • Take a sabbath. This is practical and doable, even for people who don’t go to church. After all, who would dispute the value of taking a day off?
  • Less is more. In other words, don’t overcommit.
  • Be open to interruptions. Jesus made time for people. We can create margin in our schedules to do the same.
  • Weight on God. Weight is a play on words. Liz’s point was that we can never experience true peace until we ask Jesus to forgive our sins and take the weight of anxiety from us (Matthew 11:28–30). This is the heart issue.

 

Deal With the Heart Issue

The heart is the aim of preaching. It is what Jesus wants to transform.

No matter the sermon title or action items, the heart issue is always the same: People need Jesus.

Preachers are not motivational speakers. We preach Jesus. But people don’t know they need Jesus. So we use human needs and biblical principles when pointing to the Cross.

People think the sermon is about them until they finally realize the truth: It has always been about Jesus. We end on the heart issue because everything that separates us from God and one another originates in the heart.

When we preach to the heart issue, God will change hearts, and good fruit will follow. It begins with inviting people to surrender their lives to Jesus.

Life is complicated. But the gospel is not. Accessible preaching is as simple as establishing a problem, applying Scripture, providing action steps, and pointing to Jesus — the One some won’t know they need until you finish your message.

 

This article appears in the Summer 2022 edition of Influence magazine.

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