Effective Preaching: A Fine M-E-S-S

If you have to preach or teach on a regular basis, you already know well the challenges that are presented when tasked with fidelity to God, skill with the Scripture and the ability to hold an audience’s attention so that your teaching results in real impact.

As you think about a particular approach to teaching, you may consider two ends of the spectrum. At one end you’ll find the no-frills philosophy. This is the idea that the preacher essentially reads from the Bible – and probably the King James Version – and the Holy Spirit does the rest. On the other end are the entertainers, the kitchen sinkers – those who drown out the Holy Spirit with anything and everything except Biblical exposition, whatever will keep a congregation, or a TV audience, coming back for more. The former folks are deep but dry, while the latter are sizzling and shallow.

And, since you’re reading this, you’re probably of the mind that effective teaching and preaching ministry lies somewhere in the middle.


Jesus didn’t just read from the Scriptures, although He could have, nor did He seek to tickle ears with fluff.

First, He did the Will of the Father. After that, He taught Truth and at the same time used illustrations that would connect with his hearers. He told stories, wrote parables, gathered children in His arms, and spit in the mud.

Jesus connected.

Of course that’s too simple. He is the Connector.

So, to get at an approach to effective connecting with humans, I’d suggest we start inside their heads. Think about designing effective teaching based on how people learn – and that is, in my view, linked closely to the way God designed the human brain.

I’ve written on this topic previously. So you can get caught up here.

As you think about how well your teaching or preaching connects with the brain, I’d encourage you to consider the M-E-S-S model. I know it appears worrisome at the outset, but think of your preaching as a “Fine Mess.”

Preaching: A Fine Mess





You need those four elements to help keep your hearers’ brains from filtering out what God has to say through you and, instead, say: “Hey wait a minute, this is important.” And establishing meaning is one of the most important keys to access our brains’ locked gates.

Something is Meaning-ful to us either because we immediately evaluate it as important to us right now, or because we can easily put ourselves in a relevant situation based on your teaching.

Establishing Meaning

When I’m watching The Passion of the Christ and I see the Lord beaten mercilessly, I actually wince with each blow, even though I’m just watching digital images on a screen. The images have such meaning to me, they are so immediately relevant, that they create a physical reaction. When my pastor tells me the story about the birth of his son, I lean forward in my seat, connecting intimately with the birth of my own daughter. When a Bible teacher asks me (rhetorically) what I would have done if I, like Paul, had been stoned within an inch of my life, I am forced to feel, because I’ve been drawn into a story on the basis of its meaning to me.

One challenge is that, often, stories from Scripture aren’t meaningful immediately to our audiences. We can wish they were, we can make the argument that Scripture is Scripture and should make an automatic connection with our audiences, but not even Jesus held that point of view. He made the Scriptures relevant – He made them meaningful – by connecting them to stories of wealth, poverty, business, agriculture, children, etc.

Further, there is a big difference between telling me what the Scriptures say and telling me what God wants me to know in the moment. That’s what congregations need from preachers and that is at the heart of MEANING.

Finally, in order to preach in ways that are meaningful to me, you must know me. Preachers, teachers, Bible Study leaders, Sunday School teachers…who are those people listening to you? Who are they, at heart?

Many of the posts on leaderhelps.com attempt to get inside the minds of our audiences. That’s work you’ll need to do depending on your audience. Just know that it’s nearly impossible to convey meaning to an audience without having a strong sense of the people in that audience.

In the next post, the E in the M-E-S-S: Emotion


  1. […] part 1, I addressed how to ensure that your preaching or teaching is […]