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How to Preach Like Jesus: Start With People

There has never been a more appealing and interesting preacher than Jesus. Why not model him?

Jesus’ preaching attracted enormous crowds, and the Bible often records the positive reactions of those crowds to his teaching.

  • Matthew 7:28—“… the crowds were amazed at his teaching.”
  • Matthew 22:33 (TLB)—“… the crowds were profoundly impressed.”
  • Mark 11:18 (TLB)—“… people were so enthusiastic about Jesus’ teaching.”
  • Mark 12:37 (NASB)—“The great crowd enjoyed listening to Him.”

These crowds had never heard anyone speak to them the way Jesus did. They were spellbound by his delivery.

To capture the attention of unbelievers like Jesus did, we must communicate spiritual truth the way he did. I believe that Jesus—not anyone else—must be our model for preaching. Unfortunately, some homiletics classes pay more attention to Aristotle and Greek rhetoric than to how Jesus taught.

In John 12:49 Jesus admitted, “The Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it.” Notice that both the content AND the delivery style were directed by the Father. This is extremely important to note. We often overlook the manner in which Jesus preached.

There’s so much we can learn from Jesus’ style of communication, not just his content. But for now I want to briefly identify three attributes of Jesus’ preaching.

Jesus began with people’s needs, hurts and interests.

Jesus usually taught in response to a question or a pressing problem from someone in the crowd. He scratched where people itched. His preaching had immediacy about it. He was always relevant and always on target for that moment.

When Jesus preached his first sermon at Nazareth, he read from Isaiah to announce what the preaching agenda of his ministry would be: “The Lord has put his Spirit in me, because he appointed me to tell the Good News to the poor. He has sent me to tell the captives they are free and to tell the blind that they can see again. God sent me to free those who have been treated unfairly and to announce the time when the Lord will show his kindness” (Luke 4:18-19 NCV).

Notice his entire emphasis on meeting needs and healing hurts. Jesus had Good News to share, and people wanted to hear it. He had a message that offered practical benefits for their lives. His truth would “set people free” and bring all sorts of blessings to their lives.

Our basic message to the lost must be good news. If it isn’t good news, it isn’t the gospel. We must learn to share the gospel in ways that show it is both “good” and “news.” The gospel is about what God has done for us and what we can become in Christ. A personal relationship with Christ is the answer to all of man’s deepest needs. The good news offers lost people what they are frantically searching for: forgiveness, freedom, security, purpose, love, acceptance and strength. It settles our past, assures our future and gives meaning to today. We have the best news in the world.

Crowds always flock to Good News. These days, there is plenty of bad news in the world. The last thing people need to hear is more bad news in church. They’re looking for hope and help and encouragement. Jesus understood this. That’s why he felt so compassionate toward them. He knew that the crowds were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

By beginning with people’s needs when you preach, you immediately gain the attention of your audience. Practically every communicator understands and uses this principle except pastors!

Wise teachers know to start with the student’s interests and move them toward the lesson.  Effective salesmen know you always start with the customer, not the product. Smart managers know to begin with the employee’s complaint, not their own agenda. You start where people are and move them to where you want them to be.

Pick up any textbook on the brain and you’ll learn that at the base of your brain stem is a filter called the Reticular Activating System. God graciously put this filter in our minds so we don’t have to consciously respond to the millions of stimuli that we’re bombarded with on a daily basis. It continuously sifts and sorts the things you see, hear and smell—forwarding only a few of those stimuli on to your consciousness. This way you’re not overloaded and overwhelmed. If you had to consciously respond to every stimuli your senses pick up, you’d go crazy! Your Reticular Activating System determines what gets your attention.

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Dr. Rick Warren is passionate about attacking what he calls the five “Global Goliaths” – spiritual emptiness, egocentric leadership, extreme poverty, pandemic disease, and illiteracy/poor education. His goal is a second Reformation by restoring responsibility in people, credibility in churches, and civility in culture. He is a pastor, global strategist, theologian, and philanthropist. He’s been often named "America's most influential spiritual leader" and “America’s Pastor.