This is about removing assumptions in our preaching and sermon content, so ironically, we need to begin with a few assumptions.
When you preach, I assume your hope is to reach every person in your audience, connect them all to a new way of thinking, and lead them all to apply a new way of living. That’s the basic idea preaching, right? Provide true information that compels helpful application.
If we hope to lead everyone in the room to the truth of our message, we must start by connecting everyone in the room to us and our message. That’s not a simple task.
For instance, if you only had an audience of one, developing a message that will accomplish your connecting goal would be relatively simple. To grasp where one person is in their faith, understanding of God, and engagement in a Christian worldview is likely. Not necessarily easy, but certainly possible.
With an audience of 10, the task gets more complicated — potentially 10 times more complicated in fact. A larger audience brings a larger diversity of backgrounds, understandings, willingness to believe, and willingness to apply ideas or new truths.
Grow the audience to 100, or 1,000, or 10,000, and the task gets exponentially more complex.
In the face of this complexity, there is one preaching mistake I see more than any other:
Too many sermons are crafted around unshared faith assumptions.
We don’t do this on purpose. We certainly don’t aim to alienate anyone in the room. We don’t want to communicate in a way that forces a portion of our audience to disengage unnecessarily. But when we craft a sermon around assumptions, we have no choice but to lose a portion of the listening public.
Assumptions in a sermon are subtle:
- “When we stand before God and give an account…”
- “Our sin is separating us from God…”
- “There is a God…”
- “Jesus died and rose again…”
I know, this stuff is true! And these are truths we want our audience to embrace, but when we deliver a message with any of these Christian beliefs baked into the content, we leave behind those who don’t believe exactly what we hope they will one day believe.
Most commonly, I see these (and so many more assumptions) used as motivations to apply Scripture. “You should help serve the poor, because one day we’ll give an account to God…” Here’s the thing, most of these assumptions are probably accurate, but if an actual truth isn’t a shared truth, it’s a poor motivation from which to build an argument.
The secret to bringing everyone in the room along the journey of our message is to include all the rungs on the belief ladder without assuming anything along the way. When we craft a sermon, we must find ways of building to beliefs, not assuming beliefs. The best preachers lead people to beliefs without assuming people have beliefs.
We do that by building a sermon without any assumed beliefs.
Here are six questions I like to ask when writing a sermon to include everyone in the room:
1. What do I want the audience to eventually believe?
2. What does the audience currently believe?
3. Does my sermon idea have any Christian beliefs assumed?
4. How can I structure my message to build to beliefs rather than assume they exist?
5. If there are unavoidable assumptions, how can I help everyone understand the assumption and not disengaged because of the assumption?
6. How can I ensure my internal assumptions don’t sneak into the message while I’m preaching the message?
Over time, this kind of thinking becomes natural, and developing content with this in mind will become not only easier, but way more fruitful for everyone in your audience. Of course, we can just continue preaching and ignoring our assumptions, but if we hope to reach those without Christian beliefs, we can’t afford to preach with assumptions that include those beliefs.
In the end, building a sermon based on your belief assumptions is cheap and easy. Everyone can do that, but not everyone is willing to dig deeper and build to beliefs rather than assume there exist. That’s better preaching. And that’s actually what Jesus displayed over and over again.