the shape of leadership

Preach Messages That Stick

Contextualizing your sermon for your audience

Joy Qualls on August 3, 2018

Your sermon may represent years of studying, preparation and practice. However, that doesn’t mean it’s connecting with your audience. To deliver better messages — messages that stick with your listeners and help them grow in their faith — you must learn to balance your pastoral style and expertise with the needs of your congregation.


What is your style and gifting as a speaker? Are you more of a teacher or an exhorter? Teaching sermons explain and define the text to help the congregation gain insight into God and His Word. The pastor serves as a translator, bringing together the Scripture, commentary and application in a way that is easy to comprehend. Exhorting sermons provide encouragement through application of the text, inspiring the audience to respond.

Most congregations need both teaching and encouragement. If your style strongly leans toward one at the expense of the other, consider whether you need to incorporate more exegesis or more exhortation. You might also invite a guest speaker with a different style to speak during a series to provide greater balance.


As a pastor, you come to the pulpit with expertise that many in your congregation don’t have. The temptation is to lord that expertise over your audience, intentionally or otherwise. This can create a chasm between you and your congregation that leaves them thinking only trained theologians can connect to the heart of God.

Show your audience how God reaches from the eternal into specific times and places — including the present day.

Your expertise gives you credibility, but it is your job to take that credibility and bring your congregation members along on their own journeys to growing in knowledge and understanding of the Word.

Congregational Needs

Finally, what does your audience need from you as their pastor? Are your congregants young in their salvation? Are they primarily mature believers? What areas of expertise and level of education do your attendees have? Knowing what your attendees bring to the sermon and what they need to connect to the message will help you explain the Word of God and show how it applies to their lives.

Talk about the world in which the writers of Scripture lived, but also discuss how the message relates to today’s world. Show your audience how God reaches from the eternal into specific times and places — including the present day. Help them connect the dots between what was and what is as you draw out the truths that transcend culture, technology and time. This is where your expertise comes into play, but passing on that knowledge to your audience often takes practice.

To find out whether you’re hitting the mark, talk with a diverse sampling of your congregation. Invite them to ask questions and offer feedback. Find out where they sensed a connection to your message but also where there is a need for more explanation or application. When needed, offer several more weeks of teaching through a sermon series, or cultivate small groups that can expand on what you are doing in your sermons each week.

The purpose of the church is to make disciples of Jesus. Of course, the making of disciples is not just the job of the pastor — and it doesn’t happen through sermons alone. Properly contextualizing preaching and teaching creates space not only for connecting with listeners, but also for equipping them to go and make disciples in their own contexts. The multiplication of disciples in ministry is what ultimately yields dividends for eternity.


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