The young man was puzzled.
He heard me and other panel members cite the inherent limitations
of regular lectures and sermons. After we encouraged the audience
to insert some experiential elements into their teaching, he raised
“But what about the biblical mandate to preach?” he asked.
Now I was puzzled. First, I wondered how his concept of
preaching confined itself to mere lecture. In order for preaching
to be preaching, must it exclude everything that’s not one guy
lecturing at a microphone?
Then I wondered about his assertion of “the mandate.” I told the
audience that I didn’t conclude that “the mandate” of scripture was
to preach. Yes, Jesus instructed his disciples to go out and
preach. But when I think of a “mandate,” I think a little bigger.
I’d consider scripture’s mandate to be something big, such as “make
disciples,” or “help bring people into a growing relationship with
Jesus,” or accomplish Jesus’ Great Commandments: love God, love
Those are mandates, with significant outcomes. And, as faithful
followers of Christ, we need to find effective ways to pursue those
mandates. That may include some preaching. But, ultimately,
we’re not called to preach. We’re called to reach.
If we want to be effective at following the real mandates, and
to be more successful at reaching people, at communicating, we
would do well to look at the methods of the master communicator,
COMPLETE THE COMMUNICATION
First, Jesus modeled a true understanding of communication. He
knew that communication is not merely sending information. In order
for communication to happen, people need to receive and be
transformed by the message. It’s Jesus’ Parable of the Sower.
I often hear preachers defend the flat lecture method as pure in
its own right, armored with theological education, marinated in
exhaustive sermon prep, and festooned with biblical truth. All of
that is good, but if it doesn’t complete the communication process,
it’s a waste of everyone’s time. It’s akin to asking your child to
join you for a game of catch, and you hurl beautifully thrown balls
in every direction but your child’s. You may feel like a
wonderfully athletic pitcher, but you’re not playing catch. You’re
playing with yourself. And your kid gets nothing out of your
Jesus used lots of methods to communicate and transform lives.
He didn’t confine his messages to flat lecture. He engaged his
people with memorable experiences and interaction. He involved
people in colorful feats. He used fish and dirt and rocks and water
to engage his people. He encouraged questions. He didn’t fear
When he set out to teach about humble servanthood, he could have
given a plain lecture. He could have handed out a fill-in-the-blank
worksheet. But he didn’t do that. He dropped to his knees and
washed his people’s feet. He engaged them in a way that connected,
in a way they would never forget.
FOLLOW THE LEADER
If we desire to effectively pursue the big mandates, we need to
act a lot more like Jesus. How? Include captivating, meaningful
experiences. Allow questions. Give opportunities for everyone to
talk and engage with those around them.
One Sunday in my church we decided to re-enact one of Jesus’
lessons on forgiveness. The youth group rigged up a wooden pallet
with a pulley at the ceiling. On cue, the kids lowered the pallet
into the sanctuary. A form on the pallet was covered with a sheet.
The pastor told the story of a similar experience that Jesus used,
as recorded in Mark 5. “This is an account not only of healing, but
of faith and forgiveness,” he said. He then walked over, slowly
removed the sheet, and revealed a loaf of bread and cups of wine.
The congregation gathered around for a most memorable
Another pastor friend wanted to engage his congregation in an
experience of running from God. Before people arrived he placed an
overly ripe dead fish in front of a fan in the sanctuary. For the
message time, he asked everyone to move to the center aisle and
stand in darkness as he related the story of Jonah. He asked the
people to share with one another a time they felt like running from
God. Then he asked them to share how they were feeling about this
dark, confined, smelly experience.
They connected-with the message, with one another, and with God.
Weeks later, one man told the pastor that this fishy experience
came flooding back to him just as he was tempted to enter into a
shady business deal. He turned it down because he didn’t want to
run from God and find himself in a “dark, smelly mess.”
That’s transformational teaching. It’s an experience. It’s