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Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Number One Mistake Most Preachers Make

Preacher2 Bruce Johnson has an interesting post on one of the biggest mistakes he thinks a pastor can make.  Bruce writes:

So what is the number one mistake that most preachers and communicators make?  They don't hook their congregation/audience. 

Now, don't rush past that comment.  I just said something incredibly profound that could change the impact of your preaching/communicating forever (and all of the changed lives that go with it)!  In other words, most preachers/communicators tend to assume that people want to listen to them.  So they just dig in to their (catch the pronoun) material.  Bad decision.  The focus is all wrong.  The assumption is, I have a message to give and you need to listen to it.

However, as ministers, we have a responsibility to communicate to people.  So, the starting point (apart from God and his Word/Truth) is the person with whom we're communicating.  In other words, we need to figure out, how does this truth connect with this person and how can I convince them that they need to listen to this so that their life can be changed and get into greater conformity with the way that God wants them to do, be, think or feel. Assuming that people want to listen is usually a bad assumption.  Why?  Because everyone, including you and me, listens to one radio station, WIIFM (What's in it for me?)  Everyone.  Not convinced yet?  Then listen to these two different introductions to Ezek. 37.

Typical preacher intro.

"Good morning. I'd like all of you to open your bibles and turn to the book of Exekiel, chapter 37, this morning  and let's begin reading in verse one......."

Person centered intro

"How many of you have been feeling kind of dry spiritually lately?  Maybe you've been having a hard time connecting with God or you're dealing with some things in your life and you're emotionally spent.  Or maybe you feeling like you've just been going through the motions.  You're coming to church, attending you small group, having your devotions, but you still feel powerless inside? In other words, you're at a place where God feels distant.  Well, if you've been feeling like that lately, God has some good news for you today.  You do not need to remain there.  And if you'll turn with me to the book of Ezekiel, chapter 37, in your Bibles, I think you'll find the answer to what you've been struggling with."

Now, which preacher would you prefer to listen to?  It's not even close.  Yet, day after day and week after week, I listen (as do millions of Americans) to messages where the preacher/speaker/communicator misses this simple principle.  Sometimes I just want to create a "Did you hook them?" sign and send it to every preacher in America.  And it'd not just about one hook, it's about hooking every single audience every single week in every single message.  Now, how do you go about hooking an audience?  Well that will be tomorrow's post (Did you just get hooked?).  But, in the meantime, why don't ask yourself these two simple questions, "In my last message, what was my hook?"  And secondly "How do I know if I hooked them?" If you'll start asking those questions of every message,  you'll be astounded at how much better people listen to you and then are changed by your message!

Your thoughts?

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June 1, 2006 in Leadership Issues, Senior Pastors | Permalink

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Comments

I would agree. I am a newly licensed minister as a second career, first career was in sales/management. I know it is the argument about churches shouldn't be run like a business but if you look at the Bible and the highly planned and organized manner God functions in, this really isn't the issue. We are told to not be of this world, as in relation to sin. Being highly motivated, striving after the best, organized, and highly efficient and being are best with what God has given us, seem to be principles the world took from God and His creation. These are not ideas that we are stealing from the world.

Businesses grow and increase because good business people are always striving after how to "do it" better & more efficient. That are no sacred cows in business, there is "what is working" and "what isn't." Businesses that hold on to the tradition instead of what is creating returns do not survive. Why should we in church not strive after what is working and get rid of what is not!

If we know that our message will be better recieved if we plan better and use also our knowldege of mankind and human characteristics why would we not use this knowledge. I am not talking about a "watered down" message but a well thought out, well planned, the best we can do as well as bathed in prayer and spiritual toil.

If good thoughtful "hooks" and the learning of better presentation skills will help to change lives and lead men to Christ will not our God be pleased! Just read the parable of the talents!

Might our Father say of us all..."Well done, thy good and faithful servant!"

Posted by: Chad Dvoracek | Aug 1, 2005 2:45:45 PM

Absolutely right on. Why? Two reasons - most preachers don't have a clue what the Big Idea is they want to communicate, and many preachers are as creative as a rock.
The "hook," no matter how creative, has to drive us (accurately) to the Big Idea. That requires two things: really thinking about the passage, and creativity. How many hours do most preachers spend in the text they're going to preach? 5 hours? 7 hours? What about Acts 6? Preaching and praying. How many pastors have those two things take up most of their week? I wonder. Solution? Teaching pastors and executive pastors. One man can't and shouldn't do it all.

Posted by: Greg | Aug 1, 2005 5:48:19 PM

Excellent. I don't care how much you know until I know how much you care...pretty much sums it up for me. So enjoy these articles, Todd!

Posted by: Eight | Aug 1, 2005 6:47:28 PM

Yup, common senses, it's called "relevance."

...Bernie
http://freegoodnews.blogspot.com

Posted by: bernie dehler | Aug 1, 2005 7:18:25 PM

Very insightful and helpful. Reminds me of the "Acts" sermons.

Posted by: JMH | Aug 1, 2005 10:30:08 PM

Jesus was a Master of hooks. Sometimes He would just make an observation "Consider the lilies of the field..." The typical pew warmer asks, "Why am I here?" and "How does this apply to me?" and "When is lunch?" Sometimes I will ask the congregation to turn to a passage and read it. Then I will present the hook ... as Jesus often did with, "You have heard ...but..." The scripture says ... but what does it mean to you and me .. not a bad way either.

Posted by: dsurvivor | Aug 2, 2005 12:04:12 PM

While I was in Air Force Recruiting many years ago we called this the "Ho Hum Crasher!" A statement or comments which grabs the listeners attention and gives them a revelant reason to listen. After all, in all that Jesus was He was also very revelant in His message to people.

Posted by: Larry E. Beauchamp | Aug 2, 2005 7:04:26 PM

dsurvivor says:
"Jesus was a Master of hooks. Sometimes He would just make an observation "Consider the lilies of the field..."

Some preachers still don't get it. They take parables too literally, such as thinking the parable of the talenets is teaching about how to making money... when it's supposed to be an earthly illustration of heavenly things...

...Bernie
http://freegoodnews.blogspot.com

Posted by: bernie dehler | Aug 2, 2005 9:05:32 PM

Richard Borden in his little book, Public Speaking as Listeners Like It, gives the 4 Listener's Laws for connecting with your audience:

1. Ho Hum! -- In other words, get my attention. Don't assume I am sitting on the edge of my seat waiting to hear from you.

2. Why Me? -- Okay, you've got my attention, now why should I keep listening?

3. For Example? -- Don't just give me theories; I want to hear real stories about real people.

4. So What? -- I've listened to all you've had to say--now what do you expect me to do with it?

These four rules have been invaluable in creating sermons that reach people where they are.

Posted by: Richard Moulton | Aug 2, 2005 11:22:23 PM

I agree with the idea that it is important to make sure that you know your congregation and that you are relating to them on their level. However, I have a problem with your statement that "it's not just about one hook, it's about hooking every single audience every single week in every single message."

I think that much of today's preaching has centered around trying to figure out just how to hook everyone in the congregation to the point that relevance and delivery usurp truth being preached.

By this I mean today's preacher is marked as good if a person comes away aying "Wow! That man is passionate about the Word of God. He sure kept my attention." Instead I think a good preacher is one that will make you come away saying, "Wow! I didn't know the Word of God said that. I didn't know that the Word of God even spoke on something like that. I feel inspired to really dig into the Word of God for myself. He has lit a fire under me to discover what the Word says - to abide in It and It abide in me."

I have found the opposite of what you said to be true. Too many preachers are more concerned about being relevant, about having nice jokes, about having a powerful delivery, about finding "that hook" that you speak of - all at the expense of having no substance.

Let me share something of a personal experience. Last year a well known preacher came to my school and delivered a powerful sermon. I raved about his preaching and his passion to a fellow student who had not heard him preach. Having intrigued the student, the student asked a simple question, "What did he preach on?"

I couldn't even remember. How embarassing! All I could remember was that he was lively and that he had a powerful delivery - yet he failed to communicate that the SUBSTANCE of his message was most important.

I think you will drive yourself insane if you are constantly worrying about what everyone thinks of your sermon and also trying to figure out "how to hook" everyone. That is a task (in my opinion) that only God can fully acheive. I say a preacher's primary focus should not be on an interesting delivery (though that never hurts) or striving to be so relevant (that I would argue that you are IRRELEVANT - see Os Guinness' thin text "Prophetic Untimeliness: A Challenge to The Idol of Relevance" for a better explanation of what I am getting at), rather preaching the Word of God and focusing your efforts on making the audience come away wanting to dig into the Word of God themselves.

Some of you may have more thoughts and insight on how to acheive this. My short list is this: 1) use only the Word of God while preaching, this meaning don't use notes or only have a list of the Scriptural references taped in your Bible (i.e. have your sermon memorized) - this allows you to have better eye contact with the audience and allows you to know your sermon well and 2) encourage your congregation to flip in their Bibles along with you - how many times I have heard preachers complain that people don't bring their Bibles to church (well, if you actually had the congregation flipping in their Bibles and using them a lot, they might).

Check out this website for a clearer thought on what I am saying here: http://notsodeepwater.blogspot.com/2005/06/preaching-that-obscures.html

I hope this helps. Thanks for reading!

Justin

Posted by: Justin | Aug 4, 2005 11:18:22 PM

I agree with the idea that it is important to make sure that you know your congregation and that you are relating to them on their level. However, I have a problem with your statement that "it's not just about one hook, it's about hooking every single audience every single week in every single message."

I think that much of today's preaching has centered around trying to figure out just how to hook everyone in the congregation to the point that relevance and delivery usurp truth being preached. By this I mean today's preacher is marked as good if a person comes away saying "Wow! That man is passionate about the Word of God. He sure kept my attention." Instead I think a good preacher is one that will make you come away saying, "Wow! I didn't know the Word of God said that. I didn't know that the Word of God even spoke on something like that. I feel inspired to really dig into the Word of God for myself. He has lit a fire under me to discover what the Word says - to abide in It and It abide in me."

I have found the opposite of what you said to be true. Too many preachers are more concerned about being relevant, about having nice jokes, about having a powerful delivery, about finding "that hook" that you speak of by spending most of their study time in trying to learn new anecdotes and stories which may or may not “hook” them at all - all at the expense of having no substance.

Let me share a personal experience. Last year a well-known preacher came to my school last year and delivered a powerful sermon. I raved about his preaching and his passion to a fellow student who had not heard him preach. Having intrigued the student, the student asked a simple question "What did he preach on?" I couldn't even remember. How embarassing! All I could remember was that he was lively and that he had a powerful delivery - yet he failed to communicate that the SUBSTANCE of his message was most important.

I think you will drive yourself insane if you are constantly worrying about what everyone thinks of your sermon and also trying to figure out "how to hook" everyone. That is a task (in my opinion) that only God can fully achieve. I say a preacher's primary focus should not be on an interesting delivery (though that never hurts) or striving to be so relevant (that I would argue that you are IRRELEVANT - see Os Guinness' thin book "Prophetic Untimeliness: A Challenge to The Idol of Relevance" for a better explanation of what I am getting at), rather preaching the Word of God and focusing your efforts on making the audience come away wanting to dig into the Word of God themselves.

Some of you may have more thoughts and insight on how to achieve this. My short list is this: 1) Use only the Word of God while preaching - this meaning don't use notes at all or only have a list of the Scriptural references taped in your Bible (i.e. have your sermon memorized) - this allows you to have better eye contact with the audience and allows you to know your sermon well. 2) Encourage your congregation to flip in their Bibles along with you - how many times I have heard preachers complain that people don't bring their Bibles to church (well, if you actually had the congregation flipping in their Bibles a lot and making use of their Bibles, they might actually bring them).

Check out this website for a clearer thought on what I am saying here: http://notsodeepwater.blogspot.com/2005/06/preaching-that-obscures.html

I hope this helps. Thanks for reading!

Justin

Posted by: Justin | Aug 5, 2005 8:08:33 AM

It's Speech 101. You've got to grab their attention. What you do in the first 90 seconds makes all the difference. That's why I spend as much time planning my transistional statement to begin my message as I do in deciding which applications to make at the close of the sermon.

Posted by: Les Smith | Aug 5, 2005 8:17:37 PM

Jesus used parables and miracles to get his audience's attention. Then, his message took over and carried them to his Father. Seems simple enough. I think what most audiences struggle with today is the issue of authoritarian preaching versus authoritative preaching. The first preacher relies on positional/doctrinal statements because that is probably what hooked him. But that is conditional on the belief that everybody learns like he does. On the other hand, it seems to me that the authoritative preacher know his text so well, has done his research well in advance, and sees the relevance to his audience which motives him to communicate it in language and with methods that reach his people. There are so many good tools for innovative delivery methods that it seems silly to use just one. Jesus used dialogue, metaphor, simile, parable, stories, object lessons, and generally whatever was handy. Recently I preached on the passage dealing with Jacob fleeing from Laban and Rachel stealing her father's idols. I began the message by entering through the back door of the church, dressed as a modern traveler, hauling a rolling suitcase. I whistled as I walked as though walking down an airport concourse. When I arrived at the front of the church I set the suitcase up as though I was settling in to a hotel room. Then I unpacked each item as I talked about the things that people bring into their relationships when they get married. I talked about the foundations some marriages have as I pulled out a Gideon Bible. I talked about the attitudes we bring into marriage concerning money by removing a small wooden chest filled with faux jewels. Then I pulled out a slinky bedroom shoe as a picture of attitudes toward sexuality. Then I pulled out a miniature skeleton to illustrate that every family has a "skeleton" or two in their past. Finally, I pulled out a small statue to talk about beliefs that people bring into their marriages, some true, some false but each must be brought into the light and discussed. This was a "hook" as we then discussed what Rachel's mindset might have been as she hid her father's idols in her tent, why she took them, what research indicates could have been her reasoning, and why ultimately, if you have to break one of God's commandments to carry out his will you should re-evaluate your understanding of his will as well as your responsibility to Him. Hookem, reel them in slow and steady, and deliver them to the Lord for inspection. By the way, the sermon title was, "What's In Your Suitcase?" playing off the commercial that sounds kind of like it (credit card).
Anything that creates interest in the message will stay with the listener and when you incorporate aspects of peoples' learning styles (auditory, visual, kinesthetic, tactile) into the message you will reach more and reach them with more.
Thanks for reading.
Pastor S. A. Shorrosh

Posted by: S. A. Shorrosh | Aug 9, 2005 1:00:34 AM

I know probably nobody will read this. However, I thought I would comment anyway.
I agree the first minute of your sermon probably determines whether you listners will tune in or tune out. I always open up with a story that relates to the topic. A funny story if I can. If you can get them to laugh within the first min. they are going to listen the rest of the time to see what will be said next. I always tell a story to introduce the scripture. I think it has been very helpful tool God has used to "Hook" the audience in.
The best speakers in my mind are also good story tellers.

Posted by: Jade | Dec 15, 2005 11:56:52 AM

I read ^that^ Jade!

Posted by: Jeff | Jun 1, 2006 12:19:07 PM

Jade, I agree with you about the laugh. It breaks the ice, opens the heart, relieves anxiety of anticipation, and makes me like the person more. I think many people would agree with this.

I also would love to be in the church to listen to Mr. Shorrosh preach. That kind of ingenuity and willingness to go out on a limb to make a point will prick up many ears and hearts. We each learn thru different ways, visual, kinesthetic etc. and novel approaches and object lessons are great. I applaud preachers who use them and know when not to use them.

I'm not into fads or the latest thing. I don't need the pastor to be overly polished or overly hi-tech. But, rightly or wrongly, I do subscribe to that radio stations, WIIFM, and if it's full of static on Sunday I may not tune in with my whole attention. I do want to listen to your sermon every week, but if it's on same ole same ole, I may feel like I'm in "poor-attention-span theater".

Posted by: Abbey | Jun 1, 2006 12:30:29 PM

I'm probably on the wrong side of this, but I'd prefer the first guy - the boring one. I agree with interactive, inventive and stimulating preaching. My primary concern is that the second guy immediately established the entire sermon to make the listener the subject of the sermon. "It's all about you and how you can feel better."
Neither opening is great, but I'd prefer a boring intro that lets the text breath and speak over one that immediately goes for my "felt needs" and is trying to make Ezekiel's prophecy about me and not God in Christ.

Posted by: Joe Johnson | Jun 1, 2006 1:13:13 PM

It should be a no-brainer to use a good intro to hook your listener, but what happens when the speaker gives the hook only to bore you with a dry sermon?

This happened to me two weeks ago. If people are going to get behind the pulpit I think they ought to have the ability to communicate with some conviction and enthusiasm.

Just my thoughts for now.

Ed.

Posted by: Ed Mooneyhan | Jun 1, 2006 1:31:04 PM

Hook them, yes, but please don't promise something that you can't deliver. I've heard some that promised a lot at the beginning, but the ending turned out to be kind of a letdown.

Posted by: Nora | Jun 1, 2006 1:46:04 PM

I am with you. What needs to be added to the

Joe Johnson.
I am with you. I don't need to be entertained, The Word of
God, if preached in the power of the Holy Spirit, will through the unction of the preacher touch souls whether it is delivered according to human standards, dry or entertaining in style.

Posted by: Joe Johson, | Jun 2, 2006 2:41:00 AM

intros/ plays/ entertainment/may have have it place, but not in church, just to be honest and fair,lets not get fast and loose in jugdement toward the pastor and the leaders: the church-goers, for the most part must be also held to account!one can only see:if there is no entertainment in the "church of the first entertainmet" That wayword "church" would and must fail a tragedy indeed.

Posted by: Tomas E. | Jun 3, 2006 2:37:26 PM

Hook, book, look, took.

That's how it was taught back in the 1980's.

Two more keys to effective communication: Brevity and repetition.

Posted by: Greg | Jun 5, 2006 9:20:07 AM

Propose the question
Answer the question
Apply the question

Start with the Word and end with the Word.
Preach expositorily and make it come to life by looking at it 1st person, 2nd person, third person. Be abstract. Look for opposites. Ask yourself the question why each character in the biblical text is responding/reacting the way they did. The same heart motivations then, are the same ones today. Put your commentaries away. People want to hear what God is saying to you. Don't qoute some illuminary christian or from a commentary. That is not depth. Anyone can read that. Get the correct history, background, and culture from that era in scriture and let the Holy Spirit become creative in you. Your interpretive accuracy will be strengthened, and they will have ears to hear. The mind won't procure what the seat won't endure.

Posted by: Greg | Jun 5, 2006 12:01:21 PM

I agree with much of the spirit of the essay (and actually practice it to some extent)...but have two concerns:

1. It's not a good idea to pit a "typical preacher" intro vs. a "people centered" intro. Bad wordage. I don't think this was the writer's point, but you've made it all about people...and it's clearly not. You do people know good and feed into their sin of narcisism by not making messages Jesus-centered...which brings up this issue:

2. I fear there are many good "speakers" in the church and few good preachers. My contention is that men who are not called (or qualified) for leadership can fake it for years on speaking techniques such as the technique espoused in this article. However, a called and annointed preacher can do a "typical preacher" intro (or the other intro) and still draw people to the Word of God.

So my question is...has technique replaced the hard work of study, prayer and contextualization? I don't know for sure, but my hunch is a resounding yes.

Posted by: Rick White | Jun 5, 2006 1:25:13 PM

Great point! I've sat through some boring messages before...even guilty of giving some. So with that said, let me make my point and get outta here. The reality is that we live in a very consumerism driven society. Many people , including good Bible-believing Christians are accustomed to public speaking which is geared to attract and entertain. No doubt. Jesus wouldn't have been so popular if he hadn't of made some pretty startling statements to get people's attention. Great speakers can hold your attention for hours. I've been in services where the preached a boring message straight from God's Word for 20 minutes and I wanted to get out after the 5th minute, and then there have been speakers I've listened to who held me on the edge of my seat for 2.5 hours, and I still wanted to hear him more. The difference: The second knew how to take timeless truth's from God's Word, backed up by Scripture and very Biblically based, but package them in a way that made sense to my life. God's Word was written to communicate God's Word to mankind. Don't you think God would want it to speak to our lives. It's not being self-centered to want God's Word to make sense to your life. Gosh...I went through Bible college, learned all the facts about the Bible and all the theology and I came away with a very dry faith. All because it was just so bland. When I hear a preacher take God's Word and explain it so that it makes sense for a 21st century faith, it refreshes my spirit and makes me want to dig into God's Word even more. I loved the post about how the World has taken God's methods and used them, and that we should reclaim them in the spreading of the Gospel. Isn't God worth us doing the absolute best we possible can to do the Work to which he has called us. I think that could have something to do with that whole thing about being a faithful steward of our "talents"

Posted by: Andy | Jun 6, 2006 12:56:42 PM

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