“I’m back.” With those words, Michael Jordan left the baseball diamond to return to the basketball hardwood. Like a cool sip of Gatorade on a hot summer day, Jordan’s return refreshed basketball fans around the world. For those who do not feel “Life is sport, drink it up,” Jordan’s return has left them wondering, “What’s the big deal?”
“What is the big deal?” you ask. What does Michael Jordan have to do with preaching? Michael Jordan knows how to hold an audience. When he steps on the court all eyes focus upon him. He took basketball to an unprecedented level. He soared the heights only to disappoint fans with his retirement. His baseball strike outs left many of us hoping that Michael would return to the hoops. Indeed he has returned. We watch with amazement as he glides through the air, his tongue wagging all the way. I do not know if Michael Jordan knows Jesus. I hope he does. I do know he gives preachers pointers on how to hold our audiences. Here are a few coaching tips on preaching the truth of Jesus Christ, taking a cue from Michael Jordan.
Stay on The Court
Michael Jordan teaches the preacher — know your limits. Watching Jordan misjudge a fly ball on the baseball field made basketball fans wince. You hurt for him as he struggled on the diamond. The hurt was much like a parent watching his daughter fall in her first dance recital. Enter Michael Jordan, the retired baseball player. He hung up his cleats. He bagged his gloves, baseballs, and bats. Then he announced, “I’m back.”
Michael’s brief words told us what we already knew: Stay within your limits. Any preacher of the truth of Jesus Christ would do well to heed similar advice. Know your limits. Stay with your strengths. Stick to the things you do well.
For example, if your voice is weak, do not try to scream. If you are a good expositor, do not try preaching consistently topical sermons. If you preach heartily with an outline or manuscript, do not preach regularly without one. Good preachers stay within the confines of their strengths.
Does this mean a preacher should not attempt other types of sermons like narrative preaching or topical sermons? Does this mean the preacher should not seek to improve? Does this mean that the preacher should not seek to exceed limits of communication? No! Every communicator of truth should experiment with different types of sermons. Good preachers hone their skills. They chip away at areas of weakness. Yet for the most part preachers who communicate effectively stick to the things that work well for them over the long haul. Preachers who do not stay within their limits wind up frustrated, like a great basketball player shagging fly balls in the outfield.
Work Hard
People admire Michael Jordan because of his so-called “God-given ability.” What they fail to understand is that Michael Jordan has worked hard to achieve status as the world’s best basketball player. His baseball buddies complimented him on being “like one of the guys.” They appreciated Michael’s long hours in the batting cage. They enjoyed watching him slide into third base, dirt whirling all around. Jordan’s baseball coaches commented, “If anybody can succeed, Michael will. He’s got a great work ethic.”
On his journey from hoops to bases to hoops again, Michael responded to questions. “What about failure?” one reporter asked. “I’m not afraid to fail,” Michael echoed as reporters gobbled up his every word. I am reminded of the old saying, “Better to try and fail, than not to try at all.” Michael knows the value of hard work. Good preachers know the same value.
Michael Jordan’s work ethic challenges every preacher. Good communication of the Gospel demands hard work. Dig for illustrations. Visit church members to discover their needs. Grapple with the Scriptures — their word meanings, their historical settings, their practical application. Unearth the simple truths of the Gospel with the gusto of a miner searching for gold nuggets. Take notes along the way. Arrange these sermon notes into a symphony which makes beautiful music to those who hear you preach. To do so requires long days, time on your knees, and a penchant for hard work. Hard work rewards the preacher with addressing real needs of those who choose to listen.
Creativity
What sets Michael Jordan apart from other basketball players? Creativity. Michael’s twists and turns to the goal propel him into the air. He moves with grace like no other. He “creates,” is the sports announcers say. What they mean by this is that Michael Jordan plays in a way unlike others. He is like an artist painting on canvas. He is like a writer crafting a piece of literature. He is like a musician composing a wonderful score of music. He is an athlete whose imagination allows him to perform in ways that astound onlookers. He values creativity. So do preachers.
The challenges of preaching today involve saying things uniquely. The writer of Ecclesiastes spoke truth, “There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9, NIV). Neither is there anything new under the sun when it comes to preaching. The key is saying things creatively. Creativity separates good communicators from the average ones.
John Stott in Between Two Worlds calls preaching “bridge-building.” Preachers bridge the gap between the Biblical world and the modern world. Stott calls this “crossing the cultural gulf.” He says, “It is across this broad and deep divide of two thousand years of changing culture that Christian communicators have to throw bridges.”1
Creativity comes in serious study of Scripture, culture, and human nature. Creativity overflows from this study to speak to one’s hearers. What they hear is not new. The way the message enters their ears makes it seem new. Creativity oozes with freshness. Listeners leave worship saying, “I’ve never heard that passage of Scripture put that way before. That was good!”
Hang Time
How does Michael Jordan “create”? Hang time, of course. I eagerly awaited Michael’s return to hoops for one reason. I missed his fantastic ability to lift to the air, hold the ball in one hand, and scoop the ball in the bucket. How many times have we seen Michael hang in midair, then pass to a teammate? How often has Michael attracted the defense only for him to find a three-point shooter standing in the corner? Michael knows what every preacher knows, the value of hang time.
What is “hang time” in preaching? It is speaking at a rate of speech pleasing to your hearers. It is pausing at appointed times to rally the attention of those who listen to the sermon. My preaching professor remarked that people cannot listen at a rate faster than 200 words per minute. Clyde Fant addresses the rate of speech, “Webster spoke at 80-100 words a minute; Lincoln, 100; Franklin Roosevelt, 117; Henry Clay, 160; and Philip Brooks, 215 words a minute.”2 Varying the rate and pitch allow the communicator to speak the point clearly.
Yet the pace of the sermon occasions suspense when the preacher learns to use pause. A preacher who pauses before a major point in the movement of the sermon opens the eyes and ears of those who digest the sermon. Pause forces the listener to concentrate on the next word. Pause stops listener distraction. Like a magnet the power of pause pulls the hearers into the energy of the sermon. A pause is the hang-time in the sermon. After all is said and done, it leaves us wondering, “Wow! How did he do that?”
Passion
We know one thing about Michael Jordan. He never loafs on the court. He does not “dog it,” as athletes say. He hustles. He runs the floor. He dives for loose balls. Sweat pours off his brow like a construction worker putting in a long day in grueling temperatures. Michael has what is missing in so much preaching today: passion. “I came back for pure love of the game,” Michael said after completing his first game back. Passion drives the preacher to excel.
Calvin Miller in The Empowered Communicator speaks of passion when he says, “The ultimate plateau is reached when the hard work of creative preparation combines with the preacher’s natural passion.”3 Passion comes as a preacher responds to the Holy Spirit at work in the soul. Passion in preaching lets the hearer know that you preach “for the pure love of the Lord, for the pure love of preaching.” Passion transfers preaching themes into the hearts of the listeners. Passion energizes the congregation. Passion invites the people to do something for Christ because of the sermon. Passion inspires the hearer to live for Christ in the daily grind of life. Michael knows passion. Preachers know it too.
End Well
The epitome of Michael Jordan’s talent thrusts him into the limelight at the end of the game. Who do the Chicago Bulls turn to when the game is on the line? How often have we seen the tongue-wagging, hang-gliding Mike shoot the game-winning basket? What about that thunderous dunk that finishes off another opponent? The images of Michael celebrating basketball brings to mind an old saying that says, “All’s well that ends well.” That could be written of Michael Jordan. It is also written of preaching.
“Like a pilot a skilled preacher should never have uncertainty about where his sermon will land,” says Haddon Robinson.4 Michael knows where he will land once he elevates. A communicator of Biblical truth crafts the sermon with a solid ending. The ending summarizes all that the communicator of Biblical truth crafts the sermon with a solid ending. The ending summarizes all that the preacher has spoken. Ending with an interesting story condenses the sermon into one final thought. A strong conclusion helps the preacher end well. A smooth landing ultimately sends the hearers into the halls to give witness to all they have seen and heard.
That’s what Michael knows about preaching. He knows how to hold an audience. Better yet, he knows how to send fans home satisfied. He knows how to send them to their neighborhoods talking about the game. Good preaching does the same. It sends saints into the world eager to tell the good news of Christ.
“I’m back,” says Michael Jordan. Your preaching can be “back” too. Preach within your limits. Work hard. Slow your rate of speech. Pause. Preach creatively, passionately. End well.
Michael Jordan, wherever you are, I give you this charge: Play basketball; Be prepared in basketball season and out of season; fly in the air, soar and dunk — with great power and energetic skill! Preacher, I give you this charge: “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage — with great patience and careful instruction” (II Timothy 4:2, NIV).
1John R. W. Stott, Between Two Worlds (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 1982), 138.
2Clyde E. Fant, Preaching For Today (New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, Inc., 1975), 178.
3Calvin Miller, The Empowered Communicator Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1994), 154.
4Haddon W. Robinson, Biblical Preaching (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1980), 167.

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