Questions In Your Preaching
One simple way to engage a congregation in preaching is through asking questions in your message. If your teaching style tends to be lecture format, with no break in the stream of facts and conclusions, your can leave your listeners wondering whether there’s anything left to explore on the topic. The goal of preaching is more than just simply conveying information—Wikipedia can do that. Rather it is to be a carrier for the work of the Holy Spirit which is transformational in nature. Through God’s work in the moment, preaching changes people. Questions and doubt, the need to clarify, and the desire of the listener to have their puzzled looks answered are a natural part of hearing and processing a sermon. Keep these ideas in mind:
Most questions are rhetorical. A question can just be a simple pause in your rhythm, or help you change the subject or move to a different point. You’re not asking and expecting an audible answer—but simply inserting a question where one would naturally go. If you have difficulty finding these spots, let a trusted friend or mentor read your message draft and ask questions. You may find points you can clarify, or even eliminate if they cause confusion.
On occasion you may ask for an actual answer from the congregation. I’ve found that most people don’t come to church expecting a quiz, so vocal feedback should be rare. Do not put someone on the spot—if you want a specific answer from a specific person, approach them ahead of time and “plant” that question. Another “out loud” question format is the survey—“How many of you think the answer is A? How about B?” These kinds of questions are best if there is not a really clear answer—it leaves people wondering what the real answer could be.
Sometimes a tangent is a good thing. Questions can lead you down a side-road in your message. Occasionally that’s a good thing. If you were preaching on Jesus meeting the woman at the well, for instance, and your church had a missions emphasis coming up, you might ask “Why is it significant that Jesus was talking to a Samaritan?” And that might lead to a short section on going outside of our culture and context to reach people with the Gospel. Maybe not the key point of your sermon, but germane to where your church is at the moment. Tangents should be used sparingly.
It’s okay to not know the answer. I’m not talking about the big points here—heaven, hell, Jesus’ deity, etc. But occasionally we come to areas of Scripture that just aren’t completely clear. Life is messy, faith is a journey. It’s not your job to tie every loose point up in a neat bow by the end of your teaching time. It’s okay to say, “I’m not sure why this is here or what is meant by that.” Even better, it’s great to say, “I had a question about this as I was studying, and here’s what I learned…” because that conveys that you too are being transformed and growing, just as the congregation is growing in their faith.
Preaching isn’t Jeopardy. Just like any other teaching device, you can’t go overboard and make it all questions and answers. Preaching isn’t a game show. I’ve seen and been a part of teaching series that seek to answer “life’s greatest questions”, and those are good from time to time. But don’t let questions drive your preaching entirely. Sometimes you have to answer questions that people aren’t asking. Often the Gospel is presented as a question as to what is missing in your life. That’s one way to teach the Gospel, but most people don’t walk in the door thinking, “I’ve got something missing in my life. Wonder what it is?” It may take that question to lead them to that understanding.
Questions are a great preaching device and should be used regularly, skillfully, intentionally. Questions make you think for a bit what the answer might be. In that moment when the congregation is thinking, they are engaged in more than a listening experience. They’re trying to figure something out. Those moments of awareness and activity in the mind are among the exercises that help keep them in tune with the teaching.
Author: Eugene Mason, Communications Director for Cross Pointe Church under the leadership of Dr. James Merritt.