WACO—Preachers must connect with people before they can persuade them, Joel Gregory told participants at a workshop during the Baptist General Convention of Texas annual meeting.
Gregory, professor of preaching at Baylor University’s Truett Theological Seminary, distinguished persuasive preaching from coercion or manipulation.
Persuasion is communicating with others to bring them to an agreement, he explained. So, effective preaching gets people to “agree with something,” Gregory said.
Communicate, not impress
Some preachers seek to use extravagantly deep theological references in their sermons, but they often fail to communicate with most worshippers, he said.
“If you do not communicate, you are just throwing theological Frisbees over the congregation,” Gregory noted. “They will just say, ‘Our pastor sure knows a lot about theology.’”
People will not be persuaded by how much theology a preacher knows, but they will be persuaded by the connection a preacher establishes with them, Gregory asserted.
“A preacher has to engage at the beginning of the sermon,” he said. “If you do not, you are not going to connect with them later in the sermon.”
Persuasion is an art, Gregory insisted. As such, it requires practice and strategic planning, he observed.
The preacher should structure the sermon to develop a clear message and think strategically about where to place persuasive points. It is not as important what structure a preacher chooses, but it matters if the structure is well planned, Gregory said.
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As important as it is to plan a sermon’s structure, connect with people and persuade the congregation, Gregory reminded the conference participants God alone brings about transformation.
“No amount of technique can substitute for what God can do in that moment of preaching,” he said.
Gregory recalled how his father started a barbecue. His dad would stack the charcoal, pour the lighter fluid and throw a match. Sometimes the fire would leap up, and sometimes it would fizzle out quickly.
Preaching is exactly the same, Gregory observed. Sometimes after a preacher follows the same steps in the same order, the outcome remains unexpected.
“Preaching is doing only what you can do,” Gregory said as he pointed to John 11, when Jesus called people to remove the stone that sealed Lazarus’ tomb. “You can do the stone moving, but God is the only one that can bring out Lazarus alive from the tomb.”