Q. I always struggle preparing sermons. Sometimes they seem so dry -- I notice the congregation nodding off. What can I do to improve sermon delivery?
A. The preaching of God's Word is the stewardship of the Lord's Priesthood ministers, those to whom the welfare of souls is entrusted. As one Methodist minister rightly observed: "Good preaching is really a kind of conversation which connects with people's lives as intimately as two friends talking and nodding together." When Jesus preached the Kingdom of God came near and they were touched by the Spirit.
To preach well you must know how to communicate with people not just in the pulpit but in their homes, on the street -- anywhere. You must be able to relate to their needs, radiate sympathy and understanding and a genuine interest to help them. It is no good going up to the pulpit, reading a prepared text, and then walking off. You have to talk to people. Ask yourself: do I come across as a newscaster on TV or as a person communicating intimately about life's needs?
Preaching is, admittedly, rather different to talking to someone on a one-to-one basis. You are talking to a whole congregation. What, you may ask yourself, if their needs are different? Well, that's where Priesthood ministry on the personal and domestic level comes into play. Elders and deacons are supposed to visit member's homes and find out just what those specific needs are. In Church the need is communal and general, even though sometimes the Holy Spirit will occasionally lead to you administer to a single individual prophetically.
I always prepare my sermons thoroughly beforehand. Very frequently I abandon them altogether when I get to the pulpit. I try to sense the need and listen carefully to the whispering of the Spirit. Occasionally I come with two sermons. Sometimes with just a few hastily prepared notes and sometimes with nothing at all. Some of my best sermons have been given with minimal preparation (sometimes they have been my worst).
Many preachers maintain that "style of delivery" is important. Perhaps, to some extent, but it can become artificial and quenching of the Spirit. I have noticed that reading prepared text is 90% guaranteed to kill off the Spirit and the audience's interest. They can read it themselves afterwards! Sermons need not be good prose. The language should be simple, direct, and easy to remember. Many preachers (myself included) use Hebrew chaismus -- repeating what I say twice but in a different way for emphasis and memory. Many of the scriptures are written that way.
Preachers should never preach on pet themes -- on things which interest them (and perhaps only them!). Neither should they use the pulpit to make veiled attacks on others whom they are too cowardly to confront directly. (I would make the same comment about some public prayers which are often just sermons to the congregation).
If the atmosphere is sleepy, indifferent, or even negative, then only prayer will break it...and getting personal. I remember once coming into a new meeting hall and feeling an oppressive spirit. I said outright: "Is it me, or is there a dead spirit present today?" We talked about it, prayed about it, and then I gave my sermon. Don't shift the blame onto the congregation (even if you are feeling super-spiritual and ready to give your all). Make it a collective question -- for we are all one Body and one Covenant. Don't try, as some have done, by trying to "sing" the atmosphere away in praise if there is a genuine problem that needs confronting and sorting out. Lay your gift of worship to the side of the altar of our heart and get down to the nitty gritty root problems. Dealing with sin, clearing the air of resentment, of whatever, can create a fantastic atmosphere for a sermon. The cause of most bad atmospheres is usually a lack of repentance. Don't preach a one way sermon on repentance (unless the Spirit directly commands you to) but get down off the stand and talk directly and honestly. If you're not the Pastor or officer presiding at a meeting and feel uncomfortable taking such an initiative, consult him first.
This page was created on 16 October 1997
Last updated on 26 February 1998
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