Over the past few years I have had the privilege of preaching at numerous venues, from small intimate crowds to larger, more intimidating masses. At the risk of sounding arrogant (after all false modesty is a sin, too!) I feel that it is one of my spiritual gifts, and that I am reasonably good at it. While I firmly believe that God equips us to do what He wants us to do, I also believe that we have a duty to try and develop our gifts through practice and not just expect God to do all the work. So, I thought it might be useful to share some of the techniques that I have found useful when it comes to preaching.
Finding your own method is important. I have seen preachers who stay rooted at the platform and those who roam the stage, some who work from a fully written out piece of paper to those who ad lib the majority, and I can think of examples of all these types who have been extremely effective. The points listed below are what work for me, and may not apply to you at all, but it might give you a starting point.
There is nothing worse than a public speaker who simply looks down at their pages and drones on for the whole of their sermon or speech. I struggle with eye contact at the best of times, but what I have found is the best way of connecting with the audience is to pick someone to look in the eye for a few minutes at a time, before you move on to someone else. This gives the congregation the feeling that you are, in fact, speaking to them. Just don’t stare at one person for the whole time, that is just creepy!
People want to feel like the person up the front knows what they are going through, that they are speaking from the heart and that they struggle with the same things. Use examples from your own life to illustrate a point rather than only ones from theoretical situations. They carry far more weight that way.
It is a sad fact that people’s attention spans are not what they use to be. Think about the average person, they watch a TV show and they only have to concentrate for about 5min before there is an ad break. People are used to having a stop start focus. This may change as people download/record more TV (a discussion for another time), but for now, allow for it. I will try and say something funny, or controversial, every five minutes or so to grab people’s attention as it begins to wander away.
I don’t know how many sermons I have sat through desperately fighting the urge to jump up and begin to rail against the tepidness of many of the messages we hear. Often they are simply feel good life style coaching, the sort of thing more at home on Oprah than on the platform. You could substitute the words “the power of you” for the Holy Spirit, “self actualisation” for prayer and “positive thinking” for Jesus and get about as much real teaching. Make sure that your sermon cannot stand if you take God away, and that you back up your opinions with Biblical truth.
Don’t put yourself up on a pedestal. You don’t have to be perfect, or have it all together. Yes, you need to be trying to follow Christ in your life, but if you are talking about something you struggle with, admit that. The congregation don’t need to be given a false idol to live up to, they need to know that they are not the only ones who struggle and fall short from time to time. I don’t know how many times I agonised and beat myself up because I couldn’t be perfect like my leaders seemed to be. When I realised that they too had their trials it made me realise that perhaps I wasn’t a lost case after all.
When you are listening to someone else preach, don’t just be passive, really listen. Think about what is working for you, and what isn’t. Learn from how they are doing it, whether good or bad.
Make sure you know what you are talking about. One of my pet peeves is when people use and example or story and present it as a fact, when I know it is an urban legend and that five minutes searching on the internet would have revealed that. Make sure any facts you present are, in fact, correct. Read the history of a subject and what those who have gone before have preached on in regards to it. We truly do stand on the shoulders of giants, take advantage of that!
Preach to your audience. Are they all people who have knowledge of the church and of the faith? Are they seekers? Are they completely unchurched? Tailor your message. And, make sure that every level of intellect and education and maturity will get something out of what you say.
Practice your diction and projection at home. Give your message a read through first.
The most important thing, though, is to listen to what God wants you to say and don’t rely on your own intellect or biases. Be a conduit for God’s Word, and let Him speak through you. I have heard the amateur of speakers give a sermon that has opened the gates to intense spiritual experiences, and the most polished of presenters give shallow, useless words. It is about God, not about the preacher.
I hope that these tips have been of some use to you. Please feel free to post tips of your own in the comments!