The Nancy Drew Principle: How to Help People to Follow Your Logic.

Everyone who wanders into your church, plops themselves down on a pew, and cranks an ear for 30 minutes is asking a question: “So what?”

The easiest way to answer that question is with a question. Here’s the principle: “Help people approach your sermon like a detective.” Let people know where they’re going to place the information you’re about to tell them. Demonstrate in the first five minutes that you’re going to solve a mystery (or a few mysteries) by asking good questions. Here’s why:

1. Questions help people categorize further information. When we ask a relevant question (or a few), people are able to follow the logic of our sermon smoothly – “I’ll hang in there if he’s going to answer THIS for me.” Even if your logical connections aren’t immediately apparent – and they hardly ever are – asking questions gives people a “coat-hanger” for the rest of your message. It lets them know that everything you’re saying will add up to an answer, and that’s worth a listen.

2. Questions help you edit your sermon. Questions don’t just help the congregation, they help the preacher. Rather than stand up and loose the canon of exegesis and hope something sticks, questions help us to pinpoint the information we’re trying to communicate. If it’s not helping to answer the questions we’ve posed, it can be thrown away.

3. Questions are a promise of application in disguise. Throughout your message, people are always asking, “Does this matter to me?” Launching into an exposition of a text without answering doesn’t exactly feel wrong – after all, YOU know why it matters. But to folks who don’t know the “application” of your sermon, it simply doesn’t. Your job, as a preacher, is not just to explain the word of God, but to tell people why they’d benefit to listen up. It’s to say, in essence, “If you listen, this will change your perspective. That will change your life.”

4. Questions communicate preparation. Don’t you love the beginning of a story? Or the smell of a well-prepared meal? Solid questions do that for people – it’s wafting the scent of the meal forward. It lets people know you’ve prepared something filling, satisfying, life-altering. It lets them know you’ve put in enough work to keep your message focused and relevant to daily life.  

5. Questions cause intrigue. What’s a foodledangle? I’ll tell you – it’s nothing. It’s a completely meaningless question. But you can’t help look at the answer. Even the most trivial questions force us to read, listen, or look onward. Questions – all questions – pique our interest. It’s part of being human.

6. Questions teach people how to study the Bible.  If you need to preach something rigorously exegetical, why not help people to see the questions you’re asking that lead to your conclusions? John Piper is a master at this. I’m not sure if I’d follow his sermons without his amazing questions. He clearly lays out the logic of his message by showing people how to ask good questions of the text. When we ask good questions of the Bible and teach people how to answer them, we’re giving them a holistic, methodological way to study the Bible for a whole host of inquiries.

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Nicholas McDonald is a blogger, pastor, and author of the book "Faker: How to Be Real When You're Tempted to Fake it." He studied creative writing and communication at Oxford University and Olivet Nazerene University, and received his M.Div from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. He currently resides in Lexington, NC, with his wife and two boys, Caleb and Owen.


  1. This past Mother’s Day the sermon got started with a great question: “You might be asking yourselves, ‘Why on earth would any pastor choose 1 Timothy 2 as the text for a Mother’s Day sermon?!'”

    It was a gutsy choice. Paid off handsomely too.

  2. As an indie writer, I think that these principles also apply in writing. Questions, the right questions, can not only guide a listener or reader, they can also create new and necessary questions that lead to more truth. Which in turn stirs up more … and the cycle continues. Thanks again.

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