Making A Message Memorable
By Ken Gurley
Is your preaching memorable?
The poet George Herbert once likened the preacher to a window through which the congregation could see into eternity. Through the sermon a person should be drawn closer to the heavens. Encounters with heaven are always memorable.
Much popular preaching in America is something less than memorable. The preacher is no longer a window into eternity; he is a mirror reflecting the thoughts and concerns of those on the pew. The pulpit does not serve as a conduit into glory, but the collective drain through which swirls the congregation’s flotsam and jetsam.
Most mega-church pulpits utilize a problem solving approach. The preacher begins by admitting he once struggled with something. Such an opening proves the preacher is human, creates a connection with his audience, and reveals the sermon’s subject matter. In the body of the message, the preacher explores the various approaches employed to find help and settles on a solution. At this point in the message, the preacher tips his hat to God and mentions several verses or stories from Scripture. A solution is offered, and a recap of the lessons learned, laced with healthy doses of encouragement, conclude the sermon.
Such sermons are popular for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is they focus people on the obvious present and not the obscure future. Hearers are engaged, but not changed. The sermon’s net result is that described by John Milton, “the hungry sheep look up and are not fed.” Husks fill but don’t satisfy.
How does preaching become memorable?
Memorable preaching has a firm grasp on the heavens. If the preacher is a window, he should always be opened towards God. Only then can he hear and know what “thus saith the Word of the Lord.” This presupposes the man of God to be a godly man.
The Sermon on the Mount is an excellent example of this. Our Lord’s message revealed what matters most to heaven. The subjects of heavenly attitudes, imitations of the Divine, change-agents in this world, obedience from the inside-out, and so forth indicate Christ’s connection with the heavens. His closing call to commitment was an all or nothing proposition. Memorable!
Preachers who delight in revealing their own inadequacies might win a following to themselves, but not to the heavens. The memorable preacher starts and ends the message with God, not with himself. God seeks messengers who can truthfully convey His mind and will, and He wants these men and women to speak with authority—the authority of having been in God’s presence.
Memorable preaching has a firm grasp on the human condition. While on vacation a few years ago, I toured the Mystic Seaport in Connecticut, a recreation of a nineteenth century seaport. I wandered into the church and heard a scratchy wire recording of a message originally preached by T. Dewitt Talmadge concerning the spiritual vacuum found in a modern society. As I listened to a century-old message, it struck me how relevant the message remained. Such preaching is memorable, not disposable.
The human condition has not changed since the Garden. Left to our own devices, we want paradise but choose misery. An upward call is needed to lift us from our downward proclivities. We need a preacher who has a firm grasp on heaven, but whose hand can reach us where we live.
Memorable preaching is passionate. The same God who puts angels in the storms also makes his ministers flames of fire (Psalm104:4). Book reports are to be heard and forgotten; sermons are to be heard and remembered.
I have a few sermon books in my library with the same theme: If I had only one sermon to preach, what would it be? In these books, each of many preachers offers a sermon that he would like to be his last to preach. A sense of urgency runs through the entire volume—a dying man preaching to dying men. Passion is the life’s blood of memorable preaching. I picked up an early American gospel recording entitled Goodbye, Babylon. One CD featured excerpts of some of the earliest recorded sermons including A. W. Nix’s “Black Diamond Express Train to Hell.” Nix preached this two-hour message across America. Few preachers today would have the strength to match the same torrent of words and emotion. I can only imagine the results of such preaching. Passionate preachers persuade people.
Memorable preaching is a window to heaven; disposable preaching is that which mirrors the congregation. When windows become mirrors, heaven is hidden and preaching is in vain. We should labor to be relevant and practical. We should labor more, however, to be memorable.
This article “Making A Message Memorable” written by Ken Gurley is excerpted from Forward Magazine a July/August 2007 edition.