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  • Writer's pictureDale Walker


Introduction: We are continuing our discussion on how to flavor and frame a message that can help more people receive and grow in their relationship with Jesus. We’ve been talking about things like “make it practical” and “make it positive.” Today we are discussing how to make it understandable and applicable. A successful message isn’t just about how brilliant our message is; it is about how much people took from the message that helped change their life. The issue is not was I good but are they better? In other words, “Did I put the cookies on the lower shelf?”

Three ways to make the message understandable and applicable: Make it simple, personal, powerful, and interesting!

I. The first question to ask is, “What is the SIMPLEST way to say this?” The more important a message, the clearer you want to say it. Have you ever left instructions and said something like, “Whatever else you might forget, don’t forget to do this?” Then you try to say it in the simplest way you can. That is the kind of thinking we want to apply to our messages.

Paul said,

“I came to you in weakness-timid and trembling. And my preaching was very plain, not with a lot of oratory (flash and drama) and human wisdom, but the Holy Spirit’s power was in my words, proving to those who heard them that the message was from God.” I Corinthians 2:3-4 TLB

Paul’s preferred method was not an oratory style (shouting things, people already knew, or to stir up the choir…). He was focused on planting a life-changing seed (teaching a simple truth in a profound way) not just having an exciting rally. The problem with motivational speakers is that you get fired up, but you aren’t sure what to do next.

A. When Jesus spoke, He wanted the common people to get it.

“… the common people heard him gladly.” Mark 12:37b

1. Don’t try to be DEEP.

“A sermon is like a well. If there’s anything in it, it appears bright and reflecting. If there is nothing in it, it appears dark and deep and mysterious.” Charles Spurgeon

It is easy to complicate the gospel. It takes lots of study and crafting in your preparation to make it simple. Einstein said, “You don’t really understand something unless you can explain it in a simple way.” (Remember K.I.S.S.)

What is not clear is never really applied. One of Satan’s tools is to make things seem fuzzy and complicated in people’s minds, so they become more “temptable”. He wants to make people feel that living the Christian life is too complicated.

Paul said,

“But I am frightened, fearing that in some way you will be led away from your pure and simple devotion to our Lord, just as Eve was deceived by Satan in the Garden of Eden” 2 Corinthians 11:3 TLB (Enticing words of man’s wisdom).

It is part of why Paul in Corinth said he “determined to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (I Cor. 2:2) The message of the cross was the counter to the Greek’s idea of salvation by wisdom- elevating human thinking above the simple gospel.

2. Be aware: only what is simple will stay with people. According to a study done by the U.S. Air Force, people forget 95% of what they hear in 72 hours. This is why we want our points to be simple and provide an outline for people to take notes. By Wednesday, if people didn’t write something down or reread it, they have already forgotten all but 5 percent. (By the way, these numbers are not true if they heard a story. We retain stories a lot better.)


The Lord’s Prayer is 56 words.

Gettysburg's address is 267 words.

Declaration of Independence, 1,322 words.

A government report on regulating the sale of cabbage, 26,901 words.

If our minds are like coke bottles, is it better to fill them with a fire hose or a funnel?

B. How to keep it simple

Think of preparing a message like baking a cake. You are going to read recipes, gather ingredients, but you are going to put it together in a way that is most edible and meaningful. Another example is mining for gold.

What are goals to have?

1. Condense the message into a simple sentence. If they forget everything else, you want them to remember this. Ask the Lord for something to say that will be a “bullet to the heart.” If that point is fuzzy in the pulpit, it will be fog in the pews.

2. Avoid using “religious” terms.

“Many pastors speak in tongues every week and they’re not even charismatic.” Rick Warren

Effective preaching is putting biblical terms in the common and contemporary language of your day (Sanctification, incarnation, justification, depravity). People say, “I’m ready to throw in the towel.” They don’t say, “I’m experiencing moral depravity.”

Our job is to be missionaries to our people. A missionary is someone who “contextualizes” the gospel in the language of the people they are trying to reach. (Peace Child). (Examples: Sin is being selfish and doing things that satisfy your selfish desires, ignoring and not showing you care about the needs of others. Making Jesus Lord is letting Him be president, boss, and call the shots of your life).

3. Keep your outline simple (the strongest messages often have the fewest points).

Rick Warren suggests making the application points, the points on your outline. He said, “The Bible should determine the substance of your message. People’s needs should determine the structure. Points to remember should be things you are spurring them to do so their lives will be different. “If the point of the message is application, then applications should be the points of the message.”

4. Take time to prune your content. The fruit is what you want to present, not the branches and the leaves.

a. Eliminate “rabbit trails”.

b. Shorten sentences. A sermon should help people take the shortest distance between two points. Don’t over explain… keep moving.

c. Constantly differentiate what might be interesting to you from what is most needed to them.

d. Have some clear buckets that you are going to put the content in.

A sermon structure:

  • Establish a need. Why talk about this?

  • Give personal examples.

  • Present a plan.

  • Offer hope.

  • Call for a decision/commitment.

  • Expect results.

II. A second way to make a message understandable is to make it PERSONABLE.

What people need most in following Christ is an example.

“Follow me as I follow Christ.” 1 Corinthians 11:1

We communicate through what we know; we connect by sharing who we are. Being open, authentic, and offering hope by our journey includes failure and progress.

A. The most personal way of saying something is the most powerful way.

“We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened our hearts to you.” 2 Corinthians 6:11 NIV

“Because we love loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel but our lives as well.” I Thessalonians 2:8b NIV

*Note of caution: We don’t make our experience the point; we always make God’s Word the point. Our experience is to show the validity and application of the word. People don’t need “helpful hints from Heloise”; they need to see how God’s Word is applied to their life.

B. Ways we make it personal

1. Honestly share your struggles and weaknesses.

“I think you ought to know, dear brothers, about the hard time we went through in Asia. We were really crushed and overwhelmed, and feared we would never live through it.” 2 Corinthians 1:8 TLB

Today, more than ever, authority comes from authenticity. Authenticity makes us believable. Especially when we are teaching Christian audiences, the issue isn’t: “Is the Bible true, as much as it is: “Does it apply and can it help me?”.

Our testimony gives people a pathway and confidence that they should listen to a message. It also creates a rapport.

We must establish a rapport if we hope to get a positive response!

Confessional teaching lends to credibility and receptiveness.

2. Not only share where you struggle, but where you are making progress.

“Be diligent in these matters; give yourselves wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.” I Timothy 4:15 NIV

“We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it…But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us.’ 2 Corinthians 1:8-10

The point is that most people need the backstory to our success, which includes failures, struggles, and doubts, just like they are going through. The bottom line is: People are helped the most when they see how the Christian life is a journey of progress and not perfection and understand the practical choices people, who are like them, can make to go forward. I like to say, when you teach, don’t teach like “gods”; teach like “guides.”


A. Share what you are currently learning. Making it personal and understandable is best accomplished if what we’re sharing is “today’s manna.” It is good to share past testimonies, but even better if it is a fresh story and lesson. Just like reality TV, there is power in what is happening at the moment.

Paul said,

“Our gospel came to you... with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction.” I Thessalonians 1:5a (NIV)

B. Share from your heart.

As I’m thinking about what I am going to share, I want to ask the question, “What is gripping me?” IN this content, I want to ask, what is the Holy Spirit saying to me and the church now?

This is the PROPHETIC.

A Rule: “If I don’t feel it, I forget it!”

The two big reasons for this are anointing and passion. Conviction is telling me what God is anointing. When I feel it, I will preach from my heart, not just my head. People change not as much when they think it in their mind as when they feel it in their heart.

Spurgeon said, “A lot of preaching has too much brains put into it and not enough gut.”

IV. People grasp and understand it when you make it INTERESTING. Making a teaching interesting is about opening windows that bring light to the truth that is being shared (Stories, illustrations, examples, testimonies, current events, humor).

A sermon filled with truth alone can be described like a 40-minute train ride through a dark tunnel. You are going somewhere, but you lose concentration. Illustrations are windows that help you stay on the journey and shed bright light on what there is to grasp.

A. Learn how to use stories.

“Jesus always used stories and illustrations like these when speaking to the crowds. In fact, he never spoke to them without using parables.” Matthew 13:34 NLT

B. The best stories come from testimonies. One of our goals is to have a better system for continually collecting the stories of our people.

The best illustrations come from current events, practical life illustrations from things your audience is going through. In today’s world of media, the more visual, the more effective. Movie clips, object lessons, pictures, and any other visual device you can use, ups the chance of people learning and remembering.


1. Give an example of an unforgettable point or story Jesus used to teach people. How was that simple, personal, powerful, and interesting?

2. What is something you went through this week that could be an illustration for a point of Scripture?

3. What is an example of someone using a frustration, discouragement, or insecurity to help you understand how to apply God’s Word to your life?

4. Describe how you’ve taught something to your kids, class, or home group by being simple, personal, convectional, and interesting?

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