Recently, I was at a Christian bookstore browsing through different preaching books. The title of one book caught my eye, so I thumbed through it. One chapter in the book had a title that intrigued me: “Teaching Like Jesus.”
I began to read through the chapter because who doesn’t want to teach and preach like Jesus? The author pointed out how Jesus engaged people with stories, humor, metaphors, and practical, down to earth teaching. His recommendation was that if preachers want to be effective they will model Jesus’ style by using lots of stories, humor, metaphors, etc.
Without a doubt, Jesus is the greatest preacher to ever live. Thousands would gather in amazement at his teaching. Obviously, preachers would do well to learn as much as possible about communication from Jesus to communicate as clearly and effectively as possible.
However, the more I’ve thought about preaching like Jesus, the more I’ve concluded that preaching like Jesus is an absolute impossibility. After all, I’m not Jesus! What made the preaching of Jesus so unique was not that he used stories, or that he used humor, or that he asked a lot of questions. What made the preaching of Jesus unique was that he was the Son of God. It’s impossible for me to preach like Jesus because:
(1) I am not the revelation of God.
When Jesus preached to the masses, they were hearing the voice of God. When I preach, people are hearing my voice. While I do believe that God uses preachers to proclaim His message, I am not the revelation of God. I am not the voice of God. I am simply a messenger with the task of pointing people to the life-changing message of Jesus. That’s why it is so important for the preacher to focus on expounding the Bible from a Gospel-centered perspective so that people might hear how every page of Scripture points to the ultimate revelation of God: Jesus Christ.
(2) I am not the one people should be in awe of.
People were amazed at the preaching and teaching of Jesus not because of his clever communication style. People were amazed at the preaching and teaching of Jesus because he taught as one who had authority (Matthew 7:29). In his preaching, Jesus was pointing people to the reality that he was the embodiment of the Kingdom of God and that all authority belonged to him. It is impossible for me to preach like Jesus because I am not the one in authority. I am under his authority. People should not hear my preaching and be in awe of me, they should be in awe of the authoritative King of kings and Lord of lords.
(3) I am not the one people should conform to.
Jesus taught with a specific goal: to call people to follow him and conform to his will. In Luke 9:23, Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Jesus’ message called for a radical response. This life-altering invitation to follow him made his teaching urgent and powerful. The goal for the preacher is not to design carefully crafted, engaging sermons that cause people to put the preacher on a pedestal and admire his homiletical prowess. The goal for the preacher is to extend an invitation for people to follow and emulate the One who went to a cross and died in the place of sinful man only to rise three days later to guarantee eternal life for all who follow him.
It’s not that preachers shouldn’t learn from Jesus’ communication style. We should. However, it would serve all preachers well to continually be reminded that Jesus’ primary mission was not to give stale preachers a fresh methodology for keeping people’s attention. Rather, Jesus’ primary mission was to redeem people from their sins and give them eternal life. The goal of preaching isn’t to preach like Jesus. Rather, the goal of preaching is to preach Jesus – his life, his death, and his resurrection. Instead of aiming to preach like Jesus:
(1) Preach to exalt Jesus.
If you are a preacher, saturate your sermons with Scripture. Show people from the Bible the majesty and glory of Jesus. Your sermon should be an act of worship as you preach in such a way that you lift Christ high as the exalted King.
(2) Preach to call people far from Jesus to follow Him.
You’re preaching should show people the love of God in Christ and call people to give their lives to him in full surrender. Sure, use a variety of methods to communicate the biblical text, but don’t get so caught up in methodology that you neglect your responsibility to call people to faith and repentance.
(3) Preach to call Christ-followers to conform to Jesus.
The church doesn’t need to be entertained or wowed by your preaching technique. The church needs to be humbled before the cross of Christ and called to conform to his way of life. Preach in such a way that believers are constantly challenged to ask themselves the question: “What’s the best way I can live for God and His Kingdom?” rather than, “What’s best way I can live for me and my family?”
Pastors, let us be good students of communication theory and methodology. Let us use a variety of tools to communicate the message of the cross. However, let us not get so caught up in methodology and theory that we forget the clarion call to preach Christ crucified and resurrected with urgency and passion.