Preaching School with MLK

MLKDo you ever feel that when you preach no one is listening? Do you feel that your preaching lacks power?

I’m a big proponent of expositional preaching. But while expositional preachers are rightly focusing on the text and ensuring their content is the text’s content, sometimes they do a poor job of actually delivering the excellent biblical content that they have researched and drawn out of the text. This is where us expositional preachers could learn from great orators and preachers who know how to communicate well.

Here are 3 big lessons that I was reminded of from Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech as analyzed by Nancy Duarte. I found her analysis fascinating. I’d also recommend watching the speech in whole.

Create Tension

Particularly in the beginning of a sermon, you want to create tension in the mind of the listener that will keep them engaged for the whole sermon. Reveal to them a problem that the text will solve or raise a question the text will answer. Highlight the tension between what is and what should be.

Martin Luther King quoted the founding documents which made promises to them which were not being kept. He brought attention to the big gap between the normal and what was promised to them.

Most people come into a church gathering distracted and content. They don’t dwell on or feel the tension of their sin. They don’t wrestle with their unfaithfulness in evangelism. They don’t struggle with their slow progress in sanctification. They feel fine. We want to show them the discrepancy between the normal they have grown accustomed to and what God has for them. It’s when they see how big this gap is that they turn to the text to hear God’s answer and be changed.

Use Imagery

Don’t just tell people the truth, show them. Let them taste it and feel it. Use rich imagery to paint a picture for your listeners.

Martin Luther King’s best image is the extended metaphor of a chequing account. He says that America wrote them a cheque, a promissory note of freedom and justice for all, but this cheque has bounced. It’s at the climax of this extended metaphor that the people really erupt for the first time. They obviously connected with the image on a deep level.

We see Jesus using this same method of communication. You ask a theologian about love and he’ll quote definitions and word studies of hesed or agape. You ask Jesus about love and he’ll say “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers…”

Cast Vision

Conclude by showing (not just telling) people what life could be like if we obeyed, or believed, or applied this passage to our lives. This is what Duarte calls “the new bliss.” Have them imagine their life, their church or their city if this biblical truth were believed on and lived out.

Martin Luther King cast vision of a day when black children and white children would hold hands as brothers and sisters, a day when freedom would ring from the mountains, a day when his four children would not be judged by the colour of their skin but the content of their character, a day “when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’” He paints such a glorious picture of what could be, that the audience responds powerfully and moves to action. Fifty years later we still remember this speech.

Don’t just tell people what to do or believe, by paint for them a picture of what their life could be like if this truth were really believed and lived out. Show them that what could be is so much more glorious than the normal they are living in now.

Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was an important moment in the civil rights movement. He had a powerful message to share and ultimately he paid with his own life. The preachers of God’s word also have an incredibly powerful and important message to proclaim. Believing what we have to proclaim is the power of God to transform the world we need to unleash it in such a compelling way that our listeners feel it deep in their bones and must respond to God’s word.