Why don’t we preach like Jesus? Why do so many preaching books fail to refer to our Master Model as the master preaching model?
How could we forget Jesus the Preacher? Didn’t the people abandon cities and villages to listen to his sermons in the wilderness?
Didn’t the “common people hear him gladly?” Do we remember his critics who said, “Never man spake like him?”
Jesus lived in a story-telling culture. Traditions and hero stories were the oral entertainment. Hebrew history passed from one generation to the next by the telling of these evening stories.
Values, morals and customs rode on the narratives exchanged by the fireside. So story-telling was in his blood. He taught such heavy concepts as compassion, forgiveness and personal responsibility with simple stories of the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son and a Sower. His stories not only captured attention, they convincingly drove home unforgettable messages. Never worrying about a three-point sermon, Jesus pushes only one concept with each parable.
Like King Saul, who looked at the boy David with his puny slingshot and decided to dress him in grown-up armor, we look for ways to dress up Jesus’ preaching. The straightforward narratives of Jesus seem to embarrass us. We want to restructure. We want to re-arrange. We want to show our learning.
Yet Jesus’ preaching, like God’s Word itself, offers an invaluable course in communication strategy, a practical model of effective pulpit style. Jesus, like the Bible, is inductive.
His preaching has much to say: Life’s stories can instruct and enlighten listeners. Examples lead hearers to their own conclusions (and God’s) without a lot of strong opposition. Comparisons, questions and narratives can gently lead to the same strong conclusions the exhorting deductive preacher traditionally accents from the start.
Twenty percent of the New Testament consists of the direct words of Jesus–some 34,450 out of a total 181,253 words. They would equal about 10 thirty-minute sermons. Surely that’s enough to help us catch his spirit and technique for inductive preaching.
Other preachers in the Bible, before Jesus and after, use a similar inductive approach.
The Preacher in the Book of Ecclesiastes models the inductive process. He cites experience from the womb to the worms as concrete elements of life leading to cryptic conclusion at the end of his powerful 40 minute message:
“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.”
Sermons in the Book of Acts also demonstrate inductive structure. For example, Paul tells the story of his conversion three times on differing occasions, Peter is inductive at Pentecost and Stephen postpones his own execution by telling the stories of nine patriarchs in his history of Israel.
Not only Jesus, but every other preacher, every book in the Bible (with the exception of Proverbs) accents the inductive process. These all suppose we can learn from experience. All tell their stories. All begin with life, the concrete, the known. All ask questions. All are inductive, starting with life and experience, leading to conclusions, concepts, principles.
What changed the narrative inductive nature of early preaching? How did homiletics crowd preaching into the Greek deductive mold of declaring our propositions at the outset of our sermons? Where did preaching lose its stories?
A pastor wrote me recently, “In seminary my professors told me, ‘you only have 25 minutes to raise the dead. Don’t waste your time telling stories.’ But my 10-year experience forces me to tell stories or lose the whole congregation when I preach. Inductive preaching helps me not to feel guilty. It encourages me to do what my experience crowds me into doing–begin by sharing experience, telling stories.”
That’s what Jesus did. Why don’t we preach like Jesus?
For further discussion, see Inductive Preaching: Helping People Listen, Crossway Books, Westchester, IL; 1983; Ralph L. Lewis with Gregg Lewis.

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