I was a political science major as an undergrad. I took every political rhetoric class I could. There I learned about what is considered one of the best speeches ever given. (Well, only sort of given, since this all actually comes from the pen of Shakespeare.)
Caesar has been assassinated by a group of conspirators led by Brutus. Brutus had just delivered a speech in which he claimed that the murder had been done in the name of freedom. Mark Antony takes the stage, then “un-takes” the stage. He steps off of it, and down to the level of the people. He looks at the crowd and says, “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears…” and in a brilliant and creative speech, Antony turns the mob against Brutus and the other assassins.
What was so brilliant and creative about Antony’s speech? Part of it is how he started. Antony broke the barrier between himself and his audience by stepping off the stage. Brutus spoke to the Romans, Antony spoke as one of the Romans. He made this clear with his opening word, “Friends…” He doesn’t demand their attention, he requests that they lend him their ears.
There’s a reason Antony’s speech is considered brilliant and creative and proved to be so effective. And we need to learn to capture his brilliance and creativity for our sermons to be effective, especially in speaking to cynical, skeptical people who are far from God…
The first key is to have a dialogue. The person who is far from God and who you’re trying to connect with has a bunch of questions and objections to what you’re saying in your sermon. If you don’t acknowledge that, they will walk out with those same questions and objections. Yeah, maybe they listened to you, and hopefully you planted some seeds. But, more likely than not, they left thinking, “He believes he knows what he’s talking about, but he wouldn’t if he knew my questions and objections. If he let me ask my questions and make my objections, I’d make him look dumb. He’d discover he doesn’t know what he thinks he knows.”
So how do you overcome that? You have a dialogue. You ask his questions and present his objections. Then you answer them. (I’ve heard of a few churches that actually allow dialogue, so that dude is given a mike and a chance to throw down. That’s an option.) For me, I ask his questions and present his objections. In fact, I sometimes fear that my sermons might sound a little schizophrenic because I spend a lot of time having a dialogue … with myself.
So it might go: “So God asks us to give Him ten percent of our income. And you’re like, ‘Are you kidding me?!?’ No, I’m serious. So you’re thinking, ‘But it’s my money. And how in the world could I afford to live on 90% of my income? I can’t even make it on 100%! This is just another church trying to get rich while I get poor.’ Man, those are good questions. Let’s talk through them…”
Or, “…and so our problem is sin. Now I know what you’re thinking. ‘Great, another church talking about sin and telling me that I’m bad. But you know what? It’s not you. It’s all of us. Me just as much, maybe more than you. Let’s talk about what sin actually means…”
And, “and our choice to sin leads to separation from God, and if we die in that state we’ll be separated from God for all eternity, which is what the Bible calls Hell. And you’re thinking, ‘Unbelievable! You’re gonna go there? I thought this church wasn’t like that!’ Well, I don’t like talking about this either, but if I believe it, and I care about you, what kind of jerk am I if I don’t talk about it? Now the question you’re probably asking is, ‘Why would a loving God send someone to Hell?’ And that’s a great question. So let’s talk about it. I think there’s probably three answers to that question ….”
Make your sermon a dialogue. Try not to let the skeptical cynics leave with questions you haven’t answered or objections you haven’t addressed.
A second thing we need to do is let people know that we know that they know we sound crazy. Let people know … what? Here’s the deal: Let’s suppose one day you’re talking to your neighbor and he says, “Yeah, last night I saw a UFO hovering over the neighborhood.” What do you think? That dude is nuts! But what if he said, “Listen, I know this is totally crazy, and you’re not going to believe me, and I don’t blame you, but last night I saw a UFO hovering over our neighborhood.” What do you think? You’d still probably assume he’s nuts, but you’d wonder. His admitting that he sounds nuts would make you wonder if maybe he’s not. I mean, nuts people don’t know their nuts … do they? His telling you that it was difficult to believe would open up at least the slightest possibility in your mind that you should believe him.
You may not realize this, but lots of what you say in your sermons sounds crazy to the non-Christians who have shown up. You stating that you saw a UFO, or that Brittany Spears is a great mom, or that God created the world in six days, or that there is a real devil, or that Jesus was born of a virgin and rose from the dead all sound equally nuts to a lot of people. So what do you do about that? Well, one you can do is say, “I know this may sound crazy, and you may not believe this, but … I’ve come to a point where I believe that God literally created the world in six days … I believe there’s an actual being named Satan … I believe that Jesus really was the Son of God…”
Simply admitting that you realize it sounds crazy makes you less crazy. If you don’t tell me it seems nuts, I’ll suspect you are nuts.
So look over each sermon you preach – what in it will be thought of as unbelievable to someone who’s not already convinced? Let them know that you know. What else should you do with that stuff?
Third, we need to give the why. Some guy tells you he believes we didn’t really land on the moon. You think he’s off his rocker. But then he tells you WHY he thinks that way – you’ll still raise your eyebrows, but at least he’s given proof that he has a brain and has given this some thought.
So in the middle of a sermon you’re going to mention Satan. If you want to connect with people who are far from God, you can’t just mention Satan. Say, “I realize this may sound crazy, but I’ve come to a point where I believe in Satan. I mean, I look at the world and think, well, there’s got to be a source for all this evil.” OR … “And so God caused the sun to stop. And I understand that sounds impossible. But you know what? If there is a God, well then, nothing’s impossible for Him. I mean, making the sun stop is a piece of cake I guess.” OR… “Today we celebrate the fact that Jesus raised from the dead. And that might sound like a myth to you, like a tall tale, but did you know that there is volumes of hard core evidence to prove this? In fact, did you know that a ton of people, highly intelligent people, have tried to disprove the resurrection and actually ended up proving it and becoming believers in Jesus.”
Fourth, be yourself. That dude who came in to your service for some odd reason but thinks this Christianity and church thing is a load of crap, he needs to think that he could hang out with you. If you seem like someone who is too religious, too holy, too cheesy, well then it may hardly matter what you say. He needs to think, “Oh, wow. That guy is normal. I could hang with him.”
So be normal. I make sure I’m myself. That may seem, well, obvious and very easy to do, but it’s not always. There are expectations on preachers. You know the bible totally, you never sin, everything is together. It’s difficult to not live up to all that. But it makes you real when you don’t. So be honest when you don’t know the bible, sin, or don’t have all your stuff together.
I will actually push this pretty far, perhaps too far. I will make jokes that border on inappropriate and irreverent, to help ensure that no one could possibly leave thinking I’m the “typical preacher.” The people who want a “typical preacher” won’t like that, but I’m not concerned about them. If they leave and won’t come back to my church, they’ll go to some other church. I’m focused on the people who if they leave, may not go to church ever again. I want to bust their negative stereotypes of pastors and help them realize I’m a guy with whom they could hang. So I have to be real, be normal, be myself.
Four ways you can preach Mark Antony Style, and see people who are far from God making a move towards Him because of your teaching.