Written by Michael Green and Jane Holloway
You can download the PDF of this resource here.
It’s not going to be as hard as you may think – because the Lord is with you! But some practical suggestions may help…
What sort of event is it? Are they churchgoers, enquirers, fellow Christians? Is it a large or small meeting? Will it be in a home or in a larger building? How do you fit in with the rest of the meeting or service? If others are speaking, singing or acting, what are their themes?
How long should you speak for? It is very important to find out - and keep to. Most people tend to over-run.
What is your aim? Be clear on your aim and stick to it. This is of utmost importance. Say to yourself, ‘What is this talk intended to do?’ Put that aim down on your paper as you prepare, and make sure that everything is subservient to it. Cut out all that is not, however precious it may be. Make sure the aim arises naturally from the passage itself and is not read into it. If you are not clear about the aim, nobody else will be. Do not have a split aim. It must be simple, and it must be expressible in a single sentence. This is vitally important.
Do not make the mistake of underestimating the great difficulty of preaching the good news in such a way that people may have their whole lives transformed. Mercifully, it is God's work, not ours. Only God can reveal God. Only he can shine in blinded hearts. But he has deigned to use us in partnership with him. We are his ambassadors, his messengers, his heralds.
We will be operating in a godless place in a post-Christian age. Preaching in the churches is at a low ebb. There is often little sense of authority in many a pulpit, little biblical content, little attractiveness in the message, little variety in the presentations. The structure of many sermons can be hard to follow. They are often not bathed in prayer. They do not have the seriousness of a dying man pointing another dying man the path to rescue.
Our preaching has got to be different. It has got to be striking. It has got to reach to the heart. And all this in an age which is eaten up with selfishness and materialism, has little belief, rejects authority, has sold out to relativism, is ignorant of the Bible, and is dominated by TV.
One further thing. If God is the evangelist, so are you! This is not a mission based on a big preacher; this mission is multi-faceted, and depends on you. In many a meeting, if people do not hear the good news from you they will not hear it at all.
Be open to God. Offer yourself wholly to him. Ask him to rekindle that first love of yours. Open yourself to any gift and equipping that the Holy Spirit can give you. Open yourself to wait on God and see how he will direct you. Open yourself to the possibility that he means to use even you! You need to come to God for your message, not to dream it up and then ask his blessing.
Soak yourself in Scripture. It is dynamite. Let it speak. It will be far more effective than your own best thoughts. Present it without apology, so that it lives for your hearers. No dry bones. They must sense in it a taste of new wine. It is through the Word of God that people are in fact born again. Use it. Let it be a sword in your hand. Hide behind it. Break it up memorably and attractively so that people sense its power and see its truth.
On the whole you will thrill others most with what has thrilled you. So if you have the opportunity for free choice of subject, choose something that has spoken to you in your own devotional times recently.
Be a modern person and relate to felt needs. Learn from plays, sport, music, films, and sense where people are at. You need to be firmly rooted both in Scripture and in the modern world if you are going to win people from the modern world for Christ. Attack areas where modern man is vulnerable: lack of meaning, lack of love, lack of moral power, hunger for fulfilment, relationships, loneliness, etc. Don't start with a text, but let your handling of the theme be biblical.
Be Christ-centred. That is what people need. They will never really be helped unless they are brought face to face with Jesus, divine, human, atoning, risen and challenging. Show who he is. Show what he has done. Show that he is alive. Show the difference he can make. Show that a decision is required.
a. Read the passage you have been given, or have chosen, again and again.
b. Make random notes of things that strike you. Arrange them in coherent order.
c. Prune everything that does not subserve the aim.
d. Get memorable headings and arrange material under them. Clarity needs bold headings. You know what you are going to say. They don't. All headings should be crystal clear.
e. Make sure all your points come from the scripture. Seek to unfold the scripture and let each point lead on to the next. Thus John 3:16 lends itself to the analysis: God's great love… man's great need… your great decision (believe). Three main points is about right!
f. Use illustrations wherever appropriate. Try to have a good illustration for each main point, but don't contrive this. Good illustrations do not draw attention to themselves, they shed light on the path. They are drawn from what is familiar to the hearers. They are not verbose. They are not too highly coloured (so that folk remember the illustration but not what it means). They serve both to let the light in and to rest the concentration as you pause in the argument.
g. Make sure your talk is applied to the needs of the hearers, and not left hanging in the air. The challenge to do something about it may well come at the end, but need not be restricted to that. God's truth always challenges response. So should your exposition of it.
h. Prepare your ending. The conclusion is critical. The issues of human need, God's provision, and the need for a step of commitment must be made crystal clear. Give yourself time to plead with people, to challenge them, to tell them that you are going to invite them to open up their lives to the Lord. You then need to anticipate the more obvious objections they may have, and deal with them briskly: ‘Are you afraid? Not surprisingly. Many are. But you need have no fear. Perfect love casts out fear, and you are about to invite Perfect Love on board!’ Then repeat your challenge.
i. Have your notes on cards small enough to fit into your Bible - large enough for you to see, but not obvious to your hearers.
As you speak
a. Your manner is important. As an ambassador of Christ you should dress unostentatiously, and speak naturally, clearly and loud enough to reach everyone. You should have your Bible out in front of you as if to show it is your authority. Practise in a full-length mirror. Avoid mannerisms and anything that will distract attention from your message.
b. Be enthusiastic. It is unusual in a laid-back society, but is very attractive. That enthusiasm comes from having found treasure in Christ. It is sustained by keeping close to him in the face of disappointment and opposition. It is sustained also by a sober recognition of the issues. Evangelistic preaching is no optional extra, but a matter of life and death.
c. Be bold. Most inexperienced preachers are not. They are embarrassed to put the knife in, to say ‘you’ when they mean ‘you’, and to challenge people to decision. You can be modest but bold at the same time. You have nothing to be ashamed about.
d. Give yourself time to end. You may well do so in silence and prayer.
Silence is powerful. Do not be afraid to use it. Let them consider what you have said for two minutes of silence. And then, tell them that you are about to lead them in a prayer of commitment: those who feel ready to take this step can be invited to join in, under their breath or out loud. Suggest some such prayer as this:
‘Lord, I have kept you out of my life for far too long. It is amazing that you should bother about me when I have bothered so little about you. Thank you for showing me I need you. Thank you for dealing with the rotten things in my life on the cross. Thank you that you are alive, and willing to come and share my life. Lord, I want to ask you in, here and now. Come in, and never leave me. And I will seek to be your loyal servant for the rest of my life’.
Gathering up the results
Some of the results will not be known until eternity. But some will be there to be collected at once. Make room for this.
a. Ask people either to come and see you afterwards or to chat to a colleague, and to sign up for an Enquirers' or Discovery Group.
b. Challenge undecided people to read one of the Gospels, to be open to the challenge of what it contains, and to be prepared to follow wherever it may lead.
c. Draw people's attention to appropriate material on the booktable.
Finally, be open to unexpected opportunities to speak. Don't just wait for the set piece. Evangelistic ‘preaching’ may happen on a bus or a ferry, in a bar or at a party. Don't wait for the formal occasion. And if it comes, don't let it be formal. ‘Redeem the time…!’
Michael Green and Jane Holloway.
© Michael Green and Jane Holloway.