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I'm preaching in my church's main service this upcoming Sunday, so I've been busy preparing what God would have me say to our church family.

Every time I preach/teach, I keep these five questions before me as a sort of grid to keep my content focused in the right places. These aren't my own questions; I think I stole the basic framework from Bob Hyatt (I honestly can't remember), but over the years I've tweaked and shaped them into my own.

Here are five questions I ask myself as I prepare a message: Where in the message do I ...

1. Clearly point to Jesus?

Whatever the topic or the passage of Scripture that we're addressing, I strive to preach Jesus every single time.

I tend to lean toward narrative preaching, having been influenced by Eugene Lowry's book, The Homiletical Plot. In the narrative of the sermon, the Gospel message and the person of Jesus tend to be the "climax" of each story, with the whole sermonic narrative leading up to Him.

I strive to share about the Father and Holy Spirit, too, keeping the sermon trinitarian, but the nature of kerygma is to preach Christ and Him crucified.

2. Speak to Christians?

I try to specifically address the Christians listening to the sermon, acknowledging that even if a person has been in church and following Jesus for a long time, the gospel is still good news.

Good news never gets old, and Christians need specific and clear reminders of its goodness.

3. Speak to non-Christians?

I also try to address people who may be investigating spirituality and Christianity who are not yet followers of Christ, usually with a statement preceded by "if you're just checking out church and this whole Jesus thing, then ... "

This is out of a desire to be inclusive and to recognize/acknowledge that not everyone in a church or youth service knows Jesus yet. I don't have a hidden agenda either. I make my agenda quite clear—I hope they come to know Jesus because He's the source of life and love and joy and grace.

4. Speak to the heart/attitude?

This is where Jesus went every time.

While outward actions and behaviors are also valuable, they are only a reflection of the inward heart motivations we carry. If I'm just speaking to behaviors, or only giving application points that are behavioral in nature, I'm missing a huge component of spirituality: the heart, the interior, the desires and affections of the human soul. 

5. Give people something to do immediately?

In harmony with speaking to the heart, I want to also give a clear and defined action step for people to do.

If a person hears a sermon and can walk out the door thinking, "That was nice ... but I have no clue what to do with any of that," then I haven't communicated clearly enough.

There need to be clear pathways on how to respond, whether that's relationally, emotionally or with a particular action. Pray for someone today. Sign up for this class or mission trip. Forgive someone in your heart. Read a passage of Scripture every day this week. Go invite one of your neighbors to dinner or coffee.

Specific, clear and immediate practical steps need to be taken lest we become only hearers of the Word and not doers.

What question resonates with you the most? Pastors and preachers: What questions do you ask yourself when you're preparing to preach?

Joel Mayward is a pastor, writer, husband, and father living in Langley, British Columbia. He’s been leading in youth ministry since he graduated from high school in 2003, and is currently the Pastor of Student Ministries at North Langley Community Church. A writer for numerous youth ministry publications and author of Leading Up: Finding Influence in the Church Beyond Role and Experience, Joel writes about youth ministry, film, theology, and leadership at his blog.

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David Buffaloe

commented on Apr 23, 2013

Good points. Let God tell them what to do - you just preach.

Jeff Strite

commented on Apr 23, 2013

Those were all good points... but one more point drives me: WHY do I preach this sermon? What difference will it make if I preach it, or not preach it? That kind of question pushes me to strive harder to have the Spirit guide me in my preparation and make the sermon as intriguing and interesting as I can manage

Mark Nielson

commented on Apr 23, 2013

Sometimes folks need a nudge in knowing what to do...or in understanding how to make the message practical in their lives! Life application of Biblical truth is one of the greatest challenges for any Christian. Hearing what God is saying is one thing...doing something about it is the essential step number 2! I have many folks in my congregation who like to have action steps....suggestions as to how a particular truth/message should affect daily life!

Julia Chou

commented on Apr 23, 2013

As a preacher, I also always ask this question while doing the preparation, "Does this sermon speak to myself as well?"

April Rogers

commented on Apr 23, 2013

Thank you for these questions. I believe I can benefit from them immediately!!

Toney Allen

commented on Apr 23, 2013

Thanks for the questions! I can certainly use them as well!

Andre

commented on Apr 23, 2013

I think this is something that I was trying to but now I see a clear way of presenting the Master. This great. Thanks, Bro. Andre Robinson

Joey Kennedy

commented on Apr 23, 2013

Thank you so much for sharing this. This is the very best article I have read this year. As a pastor myself I love to see the messages that I preach through the inspiration of the Holy Ghost touching and molding people into becoming who The Lord would have them be. God bless!

Hylton Davidson

commented on Apr 24, 2013

Excellent points to put into practice. These questions mirror what I was taught when I was studying to become a local preacher in the Methodist Church.

Clarence Bolton

commented on Apr 24, 2013

Great article - things we all try to do but this is a little something I can paste in front of me when I preach what God gave me.

Tamale Richard

commented on Apr 24, 2013

Thanks for the questions,but there is another one which i believe is so important, like 'what does God really want this congregation to hear?'

Hugo Fries

commented on Apr 24, 2013

The sermon can be a narrative art form and Lowry has a great structure - but please, not every week. A congregation will tire from this after a few years. WE have a natural bent to 'works'. "If I do what the pastor says this week, then I'm good." Giving an assignment every week re-enforces our difficulty understanding and accepting grace. We earn merits on our driver's license, we earn a raise, we earn good marks - grace is so counter cultural, it's something that breaks us and makes us from the inside out.

Hugo Fries

commented on Apr 24, 2013

...like Peter Mead stated in earlier article point#3 "Turning response into responsibility is to turn gospel into legalistic burden."

Bill Williams

commented on Apr 24, 2013

@Hugo, that is a great observation. Looking at it from a different perspective, though, Dallas Willard writes: "Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning." You're right, it is so easy to go from responding to the Gospel on one hand to legalism on the other. In our effort to combat legalism and embrace grace, however, we do need to be careful not to diminish the role in preaching of helping people respond to the Gospel. Peter ended his sermon at Pentecost by giving the people something to do immediately: "Repent and be baptized." So, the concept is not without Biblical merit. But as you pointed out, we must be careful that we do not turn such a response into a burden, of course. Thank you for your thoughts!

Dennis Cocks

commented on Apr 24, 2013

Also in response to what Bill is saying, James 1 :22 "But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves."

Tim Secrist

commented on Apr 24, 2013

Joel, how often do you get to preach, and how long have you been preaching?

Toney Allen

commented on Apr 24, 2013

Thanks for the questions! I can certainly use them as well!

Joel Mayward

commented on Apr 24, 2013

@Tim Secrist, I've been in ministry since 2003, and preaching/teaching on a weekly basis since then in variety of contexts (mostly youth ministry, as that's my vocational calling, but occasionally in main services or speaking events). Thanks for reading, and for asking!

Jo Vanh

commented on Jan 9, 2016

The fear of "legalism" is one of the devils most clever disguises and the church has swollowed it hook line and sinker. What happened to the fear of God. What happened to our first love. What happened "you have need of endurance so that AFTER you have done the will of God you may inherit the promises" what happened to "doers of the word is blessed" nowadays everyone is shouting legalism when it comes to duty, wow is me if I don't preach the gospel, like a good soldier we endure hardship. Oops, I used the forbidden word, hardship, His yoke is suppose to be easy and His burden light. What was I thinking, if I love Him I should feed and tend His sheep/lambs. But that sounds like legalism if you say "he who loves me, keeps my commandments " Grace, my dear brothers empowers us to do, to be faithful to do, to go to church, NOT forsaking the assembly of yourself together as the practice of some" "unless you deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow me" Seek His kingdom first means we love Him more than my comfort and put others first. That's the first principle qualification for leadership. To say that to give the people something to do, to act upon the word is to make clear and help the people to become doers of the word. This is why the church is so weak and powerless. We have a whole lot of talkers and very few laborers. Jesus had the same problem. He saw the huge harvest and very few laborers. Laborers are workers, doers and not hearers. Nowadays they say, it's not my calling to do this or that, I don't feel led, the Holy Spirit has not told me et. Just another manifestation of flesh, man in charge, no servants heart, immature children playing religion. I sorry if this sounds harsh, please believe me I have no hatred or ill will toward these things ir people. I just feel a great sense if desperation of the condition of the church and I despise the devil with his deception and lies. This hyper grace gospel that is being preached is VERY evil and damaging. Blessings to all. ,

Brandon Vernoy

commented on Jan 9, 2016

Paul says faith without works is dead and works without faith is dead. Jesus gave an assignment to all believers. The Gospel demands a response and love produces action not compelled by the earning of salvation, but by a loving desire to honor God with our lives. This article is well-written and that is the obvious context. It is wise to be careful not to assume one of God's servants is taking a position of legalism.

Felicia Vaughn

commented on Jan 9, 2016

thanks joel. I must share my appreciation. I'm not a pastor, but this also helps with "writing" as well! great comments on here! I do recommend that if you do not feel led it is wise to be prayful about "doing" anything in church. stay planted as long as there is no leading. Christ was 30 before He went into ministry, Moses was on the other side of the mountain for 40 years. too many square pegs in round holes! people need to be established in "the righteousness that comes from Christ first." our number one problem! Isa 54:14-17; 2 Cor 5:21,

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