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What do you do during the sermon?

  • 2003 15 Sep
What do you do during the sermon?
Some people catch a few zzzz's. Others concentrate on fidgety children. Some deliver the sermon.

Sermons are often easier to conceive than to deliver. The moment of utterance, in many ways, is the moment of truth, since this is the time when all the hard conceptual labor spent on the sermon must be brought to life in a credible manner. The challenge is how to be good news while preaching the Good News.

It is always good, for even the most-seasoned preacher, to take a fresh look at his or her preaching.

Goals of delivery:

  • Be authentic. This is the ultimate goal for communicating the gospel in our time. Preaching is self-offering. To ring true while preaching, preachers will want their manner and mannerisms to be true to themselves and true to life.

  • Use natural delivery. This comes from dwelling intently on the material and letting the delivery flow from that. Your thought should be in the message and your eyes on your listeners as you seek to bring the two together.

  • Be appropriate. Every congregation will have a set of expectations for what constitutes effective expression from their preachers. You need to remember this when you preach. Be sensitive to the comfort level of your people even as you expose them to alternative styles of preaching.

  • Project your voice. Speak to the person in the back row. Ask for feedback from those in the congregation to make sure the sound system is working for you, not against you. Clearly enunciate all your words.

  • Learn to breathe. Deep breathing, instead of shallow breathing, will support your whole statement. Guard against dropping your voice at the end of sentences. Make a commitment to eliminate "uh" and "uhm" from your daily and preaching vocabulary. Video tape a service and see for yourself.

  • Prepare the sanctuary. Allow adequate time before the service begins to attend to any of the technical details that will affect the message. Check that scripture lessons are properly marked. Confirm that the sound equipment is on, make sure there is a glass of water in the pulpit. Rule out all problems in advance. Even if this is the responsibility of someone else, remember it will be you who is embarrassed. Double check.

  • Remember to take time to pray before the service. Good preaching is both an artistic and a spiritual discipline. Find the way to give yourself - and your message - over to Christ. A certain amount of creative tension is essential to preach at your best, yet remember that God gives grace for the moment.

  • Be yourself. Don't imitate other preachers.

  • Avoid excessive nonverbal behavior. Little behaviors that you don't even notice are very noticeable - and often annoying - to a congregation. Ask for a critique of your voice, hand movements, footwork, etc. See what is worth eliminating.

  • Try not to get distracted. Be prepared for all contingencies - from sirens outside the church to crying babies, coughing parishioners, and equipment failures. It takes a great deal of poise, concentration, and adaptability to anything when things go contrary to expectations.

From Best Advice for Preaching edited by John S. McClure. Copyright (c) 1998 by Augsburg Fortress Press, Minneapolis, Minn., 1-800-328-4648. Used by permission.

John S. McClure is the Frank H. Caldwell Professor of Preaching and Worship at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Among his many publications are The Four Codes of Preaching and The Roundtable Pulpit.