Have you ever mused on the question, “Why does one minister have more visible success than another?” Like it or lump it, some do have more visible results. I am not referring, necessarily, to those larger denominational congregations that mostly grow because of their particular affiliation. That’s not always spiritual growth.
Let’s lay out the obvious things we notice about successful preachers.
1. He is handsome. Ok, rule that one out. I have seen some plain looking preachers who do very well in the success field. Looks have little to do with it. However, you should look as good as you can.
2. He has more money. Money? Are you talking about personally? I have seen some successful preachers who have few material goods to their name, but when they preach God blesses and souls are stirred, men and women flood the altar.
3. They have more wealthy church members, their members give more in the offerings. Now you know better than that. We are not here speaking of facade. We are looking for distinctive differences that will make a big difference.
4. Successful preachers are more articulate, better educated, have more earned degrees. Nope, not that. If that were the case Simon Peter would still be fishing for a living and you would have never heard of him. Matthew would still be collecting taxes and never mentioned in the Bible.
5. Successful preachers have better manners, better personality and are more friendly.
I think we can agree that we have known some pastors and evangelist that are so plain spoken that folks don’t cater to them at the first. Some murder the King’s English. How do you account for those you have heard and even seen on TV who have significant speech impediments? Yet they attract great crowds and see many converts added to the church.
6. I think we can come to an agreement that some ministers, some Gospel preachers are more successful than others and we have not touched on the reasons. Oh, some of the above can have a small effect on the overall ministry, but little.
Let’s look at three (3) reasons why some preachers have a greater degree of success than others. These may not be the only reasons, but are the three I have selected. It might be an interesting exercise if you think of others that might be just as effective, or more so. A good sermon makes you think. So think. But while you are thinking…
We will use the three letters of the word KEY to form an acrostic for our outline.
I. “K.” stands for “Keep it simple.” Here I am referring to your message.
We could say, Keep it Simple; Keep it Scriptural; Keep it Short.
Too many preachers try to create a sermon that is designed to impress other preachers. The words they speak have a preacher sound to them. Preachers are usually your worst audience. They wish you would come down and let them up there and preach. Another distressing thing is the length of too many sermons. You should try never to preach longer than the weakest kidney in the room. Our generation is a TV audience. People are used to having a commercial break. A time where they can get up and roam around for a minute or two and take care of issues. When you preach over 30 minutes you run the risk of losing 90 percent of your audience. The other 10 percent need to go use the restroom or get a drink of water. I realize you have to study harder to be brief than you do to run long. Study harder! Keep your sermons short. Keep your people wishing you had more time. If you preach long and your people are looking at their watches–they are not wishing you had more time. They are hoping you will bring that thing in for a landing. Accomodate them.
Don’t use complex illustrations that tend to detract from your theme and stay away from those that are chosen to impress other ministers–preachers that usually are not present when you preach anyway. Make sure your illustrations create word pictures in the minds of the regular people in the pew. Make them ring true, because they are true! When Jesus used the illustration of the fig tree it was an actual tree. He was longing for fruit. Listening to Him teach in Scripture do you have any difficulty visualizing those fig leaves and seeing Him searching for figs. No figs. No fruit. We get the picture. We understand His emotion. That is a “Wow” type illustration. According to the leaves it was time for figs and He had every right to expect them, but there were no figs. Even though it was not the proper season for figs, the leaves promised fruit. That illustration lives.
An illustration should be a window that lets the true light of the Gospel into the souls of men and women. Choose your illustrations wisely. Project them precisely. Select them with the skill of a surgeon in an operating room choosing his instruments. Apply them with the creative touch of a painter’s brush on the canvas of man’s heart. Let your hearers leave saying in their heart, “The preacher was speaking directly to me today. I felt every word.”
Simplicity is one of the key ingredients of a successful message. If you go back and retrace all of the messages Jesus delivered you will not find a long, boring, sophisticated, blowhard message in the bunch. They are all simple, honest and straight on. He didn’t put on the dog. God knows He could have.
Here was a Man who could raise the dead, make the blind to see, He could walk on water and heal every soul brought to Him. He could turn water to wine; He could feed five thousand hungry men with a few fish and biscuits.
He could get the job done. But that didn’t enter into His preaching by way of bragging. Look at His work. Read His sermons. Listen to His words. Those unlearned fishermen could understand every utterance. Those simple villagers heard him gladly. In fact they followed Him everywhere he went just to hear more of His Word. The multitudes followed Him. Again and again the people and His disciples were impressed with the words He spoke. No one ever spoke like this Man. The Bible says, “The officers answered, “Never man spake like this man.” John 7:46
Never…Never…Never…did any man speak like Jesus!
Just how did Jesus speak? He spoke with honest simplicity. He spoke TRUTH. Some of His words, though simple for us to understand today, were hidden truths from his disciples prior to Him being put to death on the cross. Much of His teaching had parts hidden from those who followed him. When God wanted to hide truth from people He wrapped that truth in simplicity.
Look at His parables. They were very simple, pointed teaching from the mouth of that “carpenter’s son”. But His words were deeper than the ocean and packed with more meaning than all the books in Yale and Harvard combined. His sermons were simple, Scriptural and short. No man spoke like Jesus.
II. The second letter of our KEY is the letter “E” and it should stand for EMPATHY.
Empathy not Sympathy, Empathy not Sarcasm, Empathy not Sanctimonious.
There can be a great deal of difference between the word Sympathy, and the word Empathy. When you have sympathy for another person you are stimulating certain feelings in your mind that are similar in kind to those that affect another person. Those feelings may trouble you and probably do, but they won’t necessarily move you to help. It might cause you to feel pity for the poor soul.
But if you have Empathy for that person you are mentally taking on the feelings and problems of the other person like their situation has become yours. It can weigh you down. Empathy drives you to participate vicariously in another’s trouble. Another word that is closely associated with empathy is compassion. Jesus saw the multitudes as sheep without a shepherd and He had compassion on them (Mark 6:34). Compassion moved Him. How long has it been since you were moved by the challenges some other person is wrestling with? How long has it been since one of your sermons moved you? Mark this down and remember it well: Good, sound preaching always hits the preacher first!
President Clinton was famous for him saying, “I feel your pain.” There is a great difference in saying that and actually “feeling that pain.” Sympathy can honestly look at a bad situation and say, “I am so sorry you are going through that.” But do nothing to remedy the matter.
Empathy steps into the other man’s shoes and feels every pang of hurt, every stab of guilt or whatever that person is going through and does what he can to alleviate the problem, or help the person, but always careful never to participate in his sin or folly. Empathy will give the very shirt off your back to cloth a naked person. Sympathy will look at the same naked man and say, “Well bless your heart. You need to put on some clothes.” What does that mean? What does that do to help? He goes on his way without doing anything.
When you, the preacher, have genuine spiritual empathy for your congregation your words will communicate truth to their souls. You will telegraph “I care” and the person hears those words in his spirit. He knows you care. He feels it, he believes it. Your words massage his troubled soul and lifts his spirit to new highs. It makes him able to leave that service with hope. God’s people need fresh hope; fresh oil; fresh encouragement.
The preacher does not learn spiritual empathy in Bible school or the seminary. He doesn’t pick it up from the latest sermon outline book or Sunday school quarterly. He learns it by internalizing the Word of God in a personal way.
The Word become more necessary to him than the food he eats and the pillow upon which he rests. God’s Word is acted out in the very fiber of his being through the words he speaks, the actions he takes and the kindness he reflects where needed; and the firmness he projects when that is required.
Spiritual empathy is never harsh, but it can be firm; straight shooting. It is never rude. It is never hurtful, but always prayerfully administered. That is not to say others might not view the preachers actions as being rude, or hurtful, but the recipient, God’s people, or the convicted sinner will receive your words as given. Though the preacher’s words might at first sting, they find a resting place in the hearer’s heart and work there to perfection.
Empathy can be like that two edged sword—cutting away the cancerous sin or obstructions that hinders the sinner from hearing the truth or doing the right thing. Empathy better be bathed in your prayers and supported with Holy Spirit power, or it will likely morph into something very different and become at best, ineffective.
III. The third and final letter of our acrostic is the letter “Y.” This letter stands for YOU.
You, sir, are God’s key for reaching lost people. You are God’s instrument to teach His people. You are God’s “watchman” to protect them from evil. His people can not hear without a preacher (Romans 10:14). You are necessary. You are important. Why? Because God called you to be important; you are His workmanship (Ephesians 2:10) . Preach the Word! The Apostle Paul wrote, ” Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” — 2 Timothy 4:2. Again Paul said, “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.” Mister, that is a mouthful! Are you a “watchman” or a watch man?
“O son of man, I HAVE SET THEE A WATCHMAN unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me… IF THOU DOST NOT SPEAK TO WARN THE WICKED from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but HIS BLOOD WILL I REQUIRE AT THINE HAND… IF THOU WARN THE WICKED of his way to turn from it; if he do not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but THOU HAST DELIVERED THY SOUL…” – Ezekiel 33:7-15
“…Be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers. FOR THERE ARE MANY unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision (the religious crowd): WHOSE MOUTHS MUST BE STOPPED… TEACHING THINGS WHICH THEY OUGHT NOT… This witness is true. WHEREFORE REBUKE THEM SHARPLY, that they may be sound in the faith…” -Titus 1:9-13
You are part of His plan. You are somebody. Whether, or not others see you as that, you have to recognize that you are an integral part of God’s plan for this time on earth. You have an important job to do. You have to feed the sheep. You have to win the lost. You have to make disciples. You have to watch for the souls of your congregation and keep them sound in the faith. You have to lead the congregation.
You are the KEY! The Holy Spirit takes that KEY in His capable hands and opens doors that seem impossible to open. He uses that KEY to melt hearts that seem colder than ice. He uses that KEY like a hammer to break open a heart that is harder than any rock. He uses that KEY to speak peace to the troubled souls of God’s people. Your sheep should feel better when you are near.
Some times all the man of God has to do is be there. Hold that dear old saint’s hand. No words need to be spoken because your empathy radiates an unspoken message from your spirit to theirs. That message is as real as if you have spoken and written your words down on a card and given it to them. The current of God’s spiritual electricity is flowing through your veins to them. Dear man of God, you are The Lord’s special KEY for this generation.
If you are the spiritual KEY for your church, your mission, your revivals it matters little that your church or mission is small in number or very large. There are no small works for God. Each is important and provides an avenue for the Lord to work. When you are living out the ideals expressed in this message you will find even a small work begins to reflect the spiritual light of your preaching. Christians become revived. Souls are saved. People are added to the church. May this message sink deep into your heart and spirit and stir your mind with a new vision and give you fresh ideas about reaching the lost and teaching the saints.