When James tells us that the real goal is to “be doers of the word and not hearers only,” he lays a significant challenge at the feet of the preacher. While renewing our minds is essential to transformation, our preaching and teaching may not stop with conveying information. Inspiring action is a must.
Recognizing this helps us see a crucial connection between preaching and leading change. Here are five insights from effective change leadership that also apply to effective preaching.
1. Establish a Sense of Urgency. In John Kotter’s classic, Leading Change, his eight-stage process begins with the need to establish a sense of urgency. Typically, people do not change until they must change. Our hearers need to feel the urgency of the gospel. Done well, this is about clarifying reality, not manipulating emotions. So consider how to get across a sense of urgency about the main point or a key application in both your words and delivery.
2. Remove Barriers to Change. Another of Kotter’s steps involves empowering action. Taking action can be stopped in its tracks if we fail to address potential barriers. Think about Moses’ conversation with God at the burning bush. Moses raised barrier after barrier to following God’s call. One after another, God addressed and removed them. When we anticipate potential barriers to accepting or living biblical truth, we help people address their barriers to change so they can be empowered to apply the gospel to their lives.
3. “Shrink the Change.” Brothers Chip Heath and Dan Heath include this wise strategy in their excellent book, Switch: How to Change When Change is Hard. Seeing that change involves addressing mind, emotions, and environment, the Heath brothers advise making the change more bite-sized. For our purposes, coming up with a takeaway application that is simple and doable allows people to take one step on the path of change and mitigates fear of making a radical change. Yes, the gospel calls us to radical change. But small steps consistently taken can add up to lasting change over time and even help us open up to greater changes in our lives.
4. “Find the Feeling.” The Heath brothers remind us what every great communicator in history understood. When it comes to change, knowing is not enough. We have to feel something. The sense of urgency mentioned above definitely relates to this, but let us go further. Find the humor, the pain, the joy, and the grief. If we want God’s truth to stick, we need to administer some glue. Feeling is a natural adhesive. Feeling is human. So find the humor, pain, grief, and joy. It’s already there in the scriptures. Find the feeling, connect with the people, and connect them with the change God wants for them.
5. “Point to the Destination.” When someone wants to take us on a journey, we usually want to know where we are going. A third insight from the Heath brothers is the need to help people visualize the destination. Maybe we describe the impact we can make in our communities as we live the gospel or our resurrection hope in the life to come. Most significantly, we can point to the “author and perfecter of our faith,” Jesus, since the goal of the Christian life is to become Christlike. When we point to the destination, we lift our eyes from immediate troubles or trifles and focus on a greater vision. And of all people, we preachers should remember the fate of those without vision.
There are many more worthwhile insights from John Kotter, Dan Heath, Chip Heath, and others, and I encourage you to seek them out.
As preachers, we are in the transformation business. That means change. With God’s help, let’s guide our people faithfully through the change and transformation we are calling them to when we open God’s word together in our preaching