Preaching Articles

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.

--Albert Einstein

This article continues a series of articles on 8 neuroscience-based principles that Jesus modeled for us that can profoundly improve our preaching and teaching. They are based on my latest book, If Jesus Gave a TED Talk: 8 neuroscience principles the Master Teacher used to persuade His audience. Today’s principle is Principle 1--Begin with the End in Mind (Clarity).



Jesus often experienced tension with the religious elite of the day, the Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees. They approached faith in God from a pure behaviorist approach. Follow the law. Do what we tell you to do. Focus on prescribed behavior. Say the right prayers. Quote the right Scripture. Follow the right traditions. 

Jesus of course believed in the Scriptures, in prayer, and in obedience. He fulfilled the law perfectly. He knew the Scriptures well and He constantly prayed and communed with His Father. He wanted His followers to follow Him (which implied right behavior), but to do so from their hearts.

His ultimate goal for His followers was a transformed heart, a change in conduct and character that flowed from their soul. He sought to reshape intentions, motivations, inclinations, thoughts, and actions. Jesus often contrasted His teaching with the teaching from the religious establishment with, “You have heard that it was said…but I tell you (Mt 5).”  His way was different.

Jesus knew His overarching purpose (to do His Father’s will, Jn 4.34) and what He needed to say to the masses. He was clear about his goal for His followers, that they become like Him. He said, “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher (Lk 6:40).” Jesus began His ministry with the end in mind, to do His Father’s will. And in doing so, people’s hearts would be transformed. As they become His followers, they would become salt and light and fishers of men.

Jesus never lacked clarity about His mission and His teaching reflected that clarity.

We preachers must also be clear about where we want to take our congregations. It’s crucial to clarify your sermon’s main idea or big take away from the start. One helpful way to do that is to frame your talk and your main idea as an answer to questions like one of these.

Why should your learners want to listen to you (the What’s in it for me? question)?

What is the central question you want to answer for your listeners or the problem you want to help them solve? 

What do your learners need to know to answer the question or solve the problem?

If your learners could only remember one idea, what would it be?

How clear are you on what you hope they will do with what you say?  

The throughline

Every screenwriter writes a movie or TV show script around a clear ‘throughline.’ It’s like an imaginary chord that connects the various scenes and components of the movie or show, a “connecting theme that ties together each narrative element.” View your big take-away in your sermon like a throughline to connect all your points, ideas, and illustrations. One way to view your throughline is to see it (your big idea) like the trunk of a tree. All your points, illustrations, and explanations would then be like the branches attached to the trunk. 

You’ll want to summarize your throughline into a single sentence of less than fifteen words that clearly states what you want your audience to take away. TED talks garner millions of viewers partly because the organizers expect every presenter to craft a clear and compelling throughline. When your audience knows where you want to take them, they’re more likely to follow. Developing a clear throughline implies that you must ‘plan backwards.’ That is, you must first decide what you want your learners to take away (based on the Scriptures of course), and then develop your talk based on that. Note: don’t confuse a throughline with a title. A throughline gives more meat than what a title might convey. Let’s say you’re speaking on biblical love. A title might be, Love: the Greatest Force in the World. A throughline might be, We experience the power of love when we allow the love of Christ to flow through us.

Gist or verbatim?

Double PhD scientist, Dr. Carmen Simon describes in her book, Impossible to Ignore, another perspective of memory, gist and verbatim memory. Gist memory relates to the general meaning of something we recall, less specific than verbatim memory which is more word-for-word recall. Gist memories tend to last longer and if you aim your talk toward gist memory, you can get away with giving more content. Our learners attention will wax and wane when we speak and preach. When their internal dialogue is more rewarding and valuable than our words at that moment, the brain releases stronger brain chemicals which strengthens gist memory around the meaning they are making during those moments of reflection.

So, when you develop your main takeaway (throughline), ask yourself which kind of memory you want to evoke, gist or verbatim. As Dr. Simon writes, “Do you want people to remember exactly what you say or…sort of what you say?” The  kind of memory you hope to evoke can help guide you as you craft your main idea and choose appropriate communication tools for your talk. Your intended audience will also influence this decision whether you choose gist, verbatim, or a combination of the two. If you are speaking to a group of scientists, you may want to target verbatim memory. If you’re trying to connect to your youth group, you may want to target gist memory. When you want your leaners to act upon what you say will also help you decide. If you want them to quickly act upon what you say, choose verbatim memory. If want them to act later, choose gist memory since it lasts longer.

So, when you write your sermons, keep this key principle in mind: Begin with the End in Mind (Clarity).

I hope you’ll check out each article. The upcoming article will look at Principle 2—Pique Interest (Attention)

And, if you’d like a free chart that captures all the principles and key components, you can get a free one by clicking here.

This article was adapted by permission and comes from Charles Stone’s 7th book titled If Jesus Gave a TED Talk: Eight

NEUROSCIENCE principles the Master Teacher used to persuade His audience (Freiling Publishing, 2021).

For a free chapter, go here.

You can follow Charles at


Charles has been a pastor for forty years in the US and Canada. He has authored seven books, and his writing has appeared over 300 times on leading Christian leadership websites. His passion is neuroministry, intersecting Biblical truth with neuroscience. He has earned four degrees and is currently completing his PhD. He has been married forty-one years to his wife Sherryl, and they have three adult children and three grandchildren. His current book is If Jesus Gave a TED Talk: 8 neuroscience principles the Master Teacher used to persuade His audience (2021, Freiling Publishing).
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