Effective Preaching 2: Emotion and the Fine M-E-S-S

As you think about how well your teaching or preaching connects with the human brain – and therefore engages the hearts and souls of your audience members – 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.”


The M-E-S-S Preaching & Teaching Model

The M-E-S-S model is designed to provide a framework for getting past the brain’s God-designed stimulus filters (sensory gating) and teaching in ways that are remembered and learned.

The M is meaning. There must be content in messages that make a relevant connection to the individual in the pew or seat. It’s not just about what the Bible says, but how God’s Word makes a right-now impact on how a person is living his or her life and/or thinking about his or her life.

E is emotion. Emotion is the most powerful tool a speaker has in making it past the brain-gates. Emotion opens the way to learning and memory. That doesn’t mean that every sermon has to be a “tear jerker,” but every message should appeal on some level to a feeling. (Read the parables of Jesus, for instance, and take note of how they make an emotional connection to hearers.)

The first S is sense-making. When a hearer thinks, “that makes sense,” that doesn’t mean they are necessarily agreeing with what is being said, but they are saying that the words fit what they know about the world. The verbal and non-verbal codes being used can be decoded easily, the metaphors are clear and fit the audience.

Finally, the second S stands for Surprise. And this takes us directly back to the brain. Your ingeniously-created brain works very hard filtering out information. One key in getting the filtering process to stop – which is so important for effective preaching and teaching – is to provide the brain with stimuli it isn’t expecting, forcing it to say, “Hey, wait a minute now…” That’s why surprise is a key element of the Fine M-E-S-S Model.


In part 1, I addressed how to ensure that your preaching or teaching is meaning-ful.

With this post, I will do a little unpacking of the E – Emotions.

emotion-brain-image-resized-600.jpg

From Marta Kagan

We learn emotionally. Or, more specifically, we remember emotionally. In fact, in terms of brain physiology, the learning process starts where emotions are processed, the hippocampus. Learning, memory and emotion are initiated in the same brain structures. The three are virtually, or perhaps practically, inseparable. It’s easy to test this.

Think back on your childhood memories. It’s likely you have some very vivid memories of events that may have occurred 20, 30, 40 years ago or more. You certainly don’t have everything that occurred in your life during those time periods stored in long-term memory, but there are some events that are locked-in powerfully. Those memories are likely associated with strong emotions for you. And that means that your brain stored them with a very strong pathway of neurons, the hippocampus in effect telling you, “You’re going to need this later…” The stronger the emotional connection, the stronger the “wiring” for the memory.

If you can make an emotional connection in your preaching and teaching…jackpot. Powerful emotions have season gate passes. They make it through all the time. Pick an emotional response – joy, laughter, silliness, sadness, betrayal, anger, love, tenderness, fear of the Lord, tears – if you find it, you’ve connected.  I’m not talking about manipulative emotion for emotion’s sake, but an emotional response to a quality of God taught, and realized.

And I’m talking specifically about the effective use of stories, whether directly from Scripture, your own life, or somewhere else. I’m specifically not talking about jokes, per se, which I don’t use in my preaching or teaching. So this is far more than “getting a laugh,” this is inspiring a feeling. And stories are powerful in eliciting a wide range of feeling. Video, of course, is a particularly powerful tool in helping you make that emotional connection, which is why so many of the free sermon illustrations you’ll find on leaderhelps.com are accompanied by video.

For more examples, see this leaderhelps.com post.

And, finally, emotions are likely deepest where a person’s heart is confronted with the truth of God’s love. When I realize what God has done for me, it is impossible not to cry, and to laugh.

As a preacher, can you help me get there?

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