We’ve got a preachers’ Qualifying Day coming up at Mars Hill Church that I’m excited about. Currently, we have 50 or so elders at Mars Hill and maybe that many more in training. Some of the men are sensing a call to preach and cover the Sundays when I’m out of the pulpit.
So, we thought we’d have some fun with it and have a day when they each take the stage at Mars Hill Ballard to preach. We’ll give each preacher a different text one week in advance. They’ll show up to preach, and we’ll evaluate them.
And, you are welcome to come sit in if you like for all or part of the day. It’s all going down Tuesday, November 15 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Mars Hill Ballard.
Only three men will preach this round, but there will be other rounds forthcoming. This round's contestants will be Pastor Thomas Hurst of Mars Hill Bellevue, Pastor Scott Mitchell of Mars Hill Everett, and Pastor AJ Hamilton of Mars Hill Albuquerque. They will have 30 minutes each with a shot clock and buzzer. They can bring only a Bible with them on stage.
This will be fun…for some of us. For our Mars Hill version of American Idol for preachers, I’ll play the part of Simon Cowell, minus the deep v-neck and British accent. Joining me on the judging panel will be Dr. Justin Holcomb who runs Resurgence, Pastor Scott Thomas who runs Acts 29, and Pastor Dave Bruskas, the executive elder who oversees all our churches.
In anticipation of this event, I made a list of 16 things that I’m looking for in a preacher or teacher’s sermon:
1. Tell me about Jesus. Connect it all to Jesus. If you don’t mention Jesus a lot, you need to do something other than preach. And tell me that Jesus is a person, not just an idea. Help me to not only know him but to also like him.
2. Have one big idea. Hang all your other ideas on the one big idea. Otherwise, you will lose me or bore me.
3. Get my attention in the first 30 seconds without being gimmicky. Get to work. Don’t “blah blah blah” around, chitchat, or do announcements. That will make me start checking my phone. Get my attention, and let’s get to work.
4. Bring me along theologically and emotionally. Preaching is not a commentary. Commentaries are boring for even nerds to read. Your job is to do the nerd work and bring it to life. Raise your voice, grab my affections, and bring the living Word.
5. Make me like you, trust you, and respect you so that I can't dismiss you. If you want me to follow you, you have to get me to that point.
6. Avoid Christian jargon and explain your terms. The average person has no idea what fellowship means, or even God for that matter. So, tell us what you’re talking about and don’t assume we have your vocabulary.
7. Don't have points as much as a direction and destination. Take me somewhere. Take me to a place of conviction, compassion, conversion, etc.
8. Don't show me how smart you are, because it makes me feel dumb. I assume you’re smart since you’re standing up talking and we’re all sitting down listening. If you quote words in some language I don’t know, or quote dead guys to show you’re a genius, that makes me feel dumb, which doesn’t serve me well. Don’t come off like that kid in school that the rest of us wanted to give a wedgie to every time they raised their hand.
9. Invite lost people to salvation. Some people in the seats aren’t Christians. So, tell them how to become one. Talk about sin, Jesus, and repentance. At some point in every sermon just do that. If you do, people will bring lost friends. Don’t be a coward.
10. Whether it feels like a wedding or a funeral, be emotionally engaging and compelling. Some sermons are a funeral—convicting, deep, hard hitting, and life shattering. Other sermons are a wedding—exciting, compelling, encouraging, and motivating. Pick an emotional path. Have an emotional trajectory to the sermon, not just a theological point. If you pass the audition and get to preach publicly, have the entire service flow emotionally. If we do wedding songs after a funeral sermon, I’m emotionally confused. Likewise, if we’re singing melancholy hymns after a big motivational sermon, I’m also emotionally confused. So, you and the guy in skinny jeans with the guitar have got to get this figured out together.
11. Look like someone who has it together from clothes to haircut to overall presentation. You don’t need to be a model, but you should look presentable. If you have bed-head, your fly open, keep losing your place in your notes, your shoe is untied, your mic battery dies, and you say, “Um,” a lot because you’re unprepared, I may feel sorry for you but I’m not following you because you don’t seem to have a clue where you are going.
12. Tell the truth and don't be a coward. Look me in the eye and don't flinch. Don’t apologize for what God’s Word says—just say it. Say it like you mean it. Say it like it’s true. Sure, I may despise you, but at least I’ll know what God said. Get over your fear of man and assume that I may just hate you.
13. If you get lost or mess up, make a joke about yourself and keep me interested. I know at some point you’re going to mess up. The Bible is perfect, you aren’t. If I can laugh at you while laughing with you, I’ll trust you.
14. Don’t just preach repentance but also practice it. Don’t talk about everyone else’s sin and never your own. Don’t tell me all the victories you’ve had or that your sin was a long time ago. Jesus is the hero, not you. I don’t trust smug, religious folks who preach how great they are and how I can become like them. It’s smarmy.
15. Answer some objections. You know how most of us are going to push back, question, disagree, or wiggle off the conviction hook. So, anticipate those objections and answer some. Brawl with me a bit, show me you can go a few rounds, get me in a corner, and work me over until I give in and obey God. But, you have to work at it.
16. "It" is the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in you and through you. I’m looking to see if you have it. I can’t explain it, but I know it when I see it.