Saturday, March 26, 2011

How to Deliver a Strong Sermon

Many sermons with good content are less effective than they could be because of poor delivery. Once the sermon is prepared, the preacher’s work is not yet complete. Additional effort must be expended to think of ways to deliver that sermon so that it catches the attention of the congregation. Though nothing can replace the power of the Holy Spirit, good rhetorical skills are important for effective preaching.

When considering ways to keep the audience’s attention, preachers would do well to realize people learn in different ways and what helps one person learn may not help another. In a classroom teaching environment, there are dozens of teaching methods that might be used. In the church setting in which a sermon is normally delivered, there may be fewer options available, but variety can still be effectively utilized.

Some people are auditory learners. These learners listen carefully and comprehend the spoken word easily. One might say their motto is “tell me.” These are the learners who gain the most from a traditional sermon that is delivered via lecture method.

Some people are visual learners. These learners rely on pictures to help them learn. One might say their motto is “show me.” They will enjoy a graph, diagram, chart, or other such visual aids that help them “see” what is being talked about. These are the learners who gain the most when a preacher uses a power point presentation, provides a handout, or uses an object lesson as a part of his sermon.

Some people are kinesthetic learners. There are the learners who need to do something physically. One might say their motto is “let me do it.” They want to get out of their seat and take part in the learning experience. These are the learners who gain the most when asked to give a testimony or sing a piece of special music that illustrates the truth of the sermon. They also learn more when the preacher asks the congregation a question for which he wants some type of actual response (i.e.: verbal answers, clap, saying “Amen,” etc), or when the congregation quotes something together. They are often more moved by some of the liturgical aspects of worship, such as taking communion or lighting candles. They need to “experience” something that drives home the point of the sermon.

As the preacher moves from the study of the text to logistics of how the sermon will be delivered, the following principles can be helpful:

1. A well delivered sermon will have a strong central thesis that can be easily communicated to the audience. That thesis should be communicated early and often using a variety of ways so that auditory, visual and kinesthetic learners can all understand it.

2. A well delivered sermon will include facts, dates, figures or other objective points of information that can be verified by others. This gives credibility to the sermon and shows that the preacher knows his subject well. Document those sources if it is appropriate. These can be passed out in printed form, or included in a power point presentation.

3. A well delivered sermon only uses sources that are reliable. Avoid using commentaries or study Bibles that are known to contain incorrect material or poor translation/interpretation techniques. Individuals in the congregation may know more than the preacher realized and stop listening if they perceive he is using inaccurate materials to make his points.

4. A well delivered sermon has a good flow of logic without huge gaps in thinking. The congregation should be able to follow along the minister’s flow of thought without too much difficulty.

5. A well delivered sermon uses body language and tone of voice to project the right message at the right time.

6. A well delivered sermon is articulated clearly and the words are pronounced correctly. Otherwise the audience will tend to focus more on the lack or articulation or poor pronunciation instead of the point that is being made. They may even conclude the speaker does not know the subject matter very well that has serious long term implications for a preacher.

7. A well delivered sermon shows genuine emotion in appropriate ways and at appropriate times.

8. A well delivered sermon has been practiced out loud before being preached to others. Even though the sermon may change some during the actual presentation, hearing the words spoken will make the preacher more confident. It will also help determine the length of the sermon and adjustments can be made beforehand if needed.

A key concept to remember when preaching to adults is that they want to know “WHY SHOULD IT MATTER TO ME?” Often sermons contain theological truths but fail to explain why that truth is relevant in daily life. A well delivered sermon seeks to think of ways to make the truth come alive for daily living. Delivering a sermon is often as hard as preparing the sermon. But when a good sermon is delivered well, it can be life-changing for the hearers. Therefore, it is worth the extra effort to deliver the sermon well.

This material is adapted from a chapter in the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway.

2 comments:

  1. That "Why should it matter to me?" question is one I am asked quite often when I have young adults with me. Sometimes the speaker assumes that the entire congregation has more of a back ground or understanding than they do. Those who are regularly churched have a very different frame of reference than those who aren't. And that one fact can really change what the listener gets from the message. Thats just based on after service conversations we've had over the years.

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  2. It is well worth the effort to deliver the sermon with skill. Languishing in the sermon creates languishing in the congregation. And, Susan, you're right. Preachers (including myself) forget that those who listen don't have the same background and might not comprehend something the same way that it is being said.

    I.e.: I heard a preacher tell a woman who struggled to have a prayer time because of the busyness of her home and her children that what she needed to do was to wake up before the kids. What he said, however, was "Well, ma'am, you just need to beat 'em up." Certainly he understood what he meant, but the woman was perplexed by the advice - until it was explained.

    Again, Terry, thank you for your instructions.

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