A Pastor’s Toolkit: How Beliefs Are Formed




September 21, 2016

When I was in Bible college, I remember sitting in my homiletics class learning how to structure a sermon, how to study for a sermon, what to say, how to say it, watching my hand gestures and facial expressions, and creating the “big idea.” We learned a lot, but I remember one question that never got answered for me and it stumped my professor: “how are beliefs formed?”

My professor said he had never come across any resources on the matter when it comes to preaching. Sure, it is a topic for the philosophers and they can go deal with it… right? But what if I told you that this is incredibly relevant to your preaching. And what if I also told you that you already know how beliefs are formed, but you may not implement this very well into your sermons? Let me illustrate.

I will give you a million dollars to do whatever you want with if you can do one thing: you need to genuinely believe that there is a pink elephant with wings flying around your head right now. Now why can’t you do it? You’re motivated to believe that because you want the money. But you understand something: no matter how emotionally motivated you are to believe something, you cannot decide to believe something. Or to put it another way, you are not in total control of your own beliefs. 

Now that may sound wrong. You aren’t in control of your own beliefs? No. You are not. Think back to a time where you suddenly realized you doubt something that you’ve always held to be true. Did that surprise you? Was there a time where you all of a sudden found yourself being more open to an idea after vehemently opposing the idea for years? Although you may have kept up the facade after realizing this, you knew in your heart that your perspective had changed. Not over night, though, but over a long drawn out process that you may not have been aware of. You cannot change your own beliefs simply by willing it, you must be shown.

You need to be shown why your beliefs should change (or be reaffirmed), and your congregation needs to be shown too. 

Have you ever told someone that they “shouldn’t believe that”? Or “how dare you say that? Do you really believe that?” I can all but guarantee that that was not productive, and although it may have guilted them into saying they don’t actually believe that… they do. And not only that, but they are now not going to share with you what they actually believe. Guilt does not create conversation and belief formation, but arguments do. 

Arguments are not quarrels, fights, or bickering, and we’ve all had those. An argument is a logical flow of thought that leads to an unavoidable conclusion (if the premises are true). If preaching is meant to be persuasive (which it is), an argument is your best friend. I do not mean you have to form your sermon into a logical syllogism that looks like this:

  • Premise 1
  • Premise 2
  • Conclusion

Here is one example of an argument that you can use in an Easter sermon:

“Did you know that the Bible is the Word of God? But did you also know that it isn’t the word of God just because it says that it is? If the Bible is the Word of God just because it claims to be, then why isn’t the Qu’ran, the Book of Mormon, Buddah or any other book or religious leader also from God? Didn’t they claim to be also? And yet Christians would say that those books or people are wrong and we are right? How do we know this? Because Jesus rose from the dead. If Jesus rose from the dead, everything Jesus said is true and He is God (When Jesus was asked who He is, He answered, “I AM.” Therefore claiming to be equal with God). If everything Jesus said is true, Jesus affirmed and commissioned the apostles to continue His teaching, AND he put his stamp of approval on the Old Testament (making it authoritative and from Him).

(For a fuller version of this approach, click the link below)

Jesus Validates the Bible (not the other way around)


How much more effective would you be as a preacher if you made your case when you preach instead of saying your case. The approach of belief formation is crucial to preaching. When you understand that even if your audience wanted to believe what you are saying they still need to be shown why what you are saying is true, that changes your preparation, content, and delivery.

This new series, The Pastor’s Toolkit, is designed to be a quick resource of ideas of how you can implement little snippets of apologetics into your preaching. This is because arguments make persuasion persuasive! But friendly tip, you do not need to create an argument for EVERY SINGLE POINT. Focus on your main point, and build a case for it. If you would like another example, check out the sermon Love and Lust by Tim Keller. He uses contemporary sociology as a great way of building his case for covenant marriage.

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