Okay, that’s a really long title for a blog, huh? Let’s see if I can make the post disproportionately brief! Let’s take it in parts.
1. Study public speaking: Years ago, my wife desired to sell Mary Kay Cosmetics. However, she was afraid to speak to groups. That’s a problem. So she went to Toast Masters and learned how to give a speech. Her first night, she brought home a trophy! She never became much of a Mary Kay consultant, but developing her skill as a speaker has made her an effective and able teacher and speaker at ladies events, retreats, and classes. My suggestion to men training to be preachers, young preachers (or boring ones), is to take every chance possible to speak in front of a group of people no matter how large nor how small. Also, read books on “How do speak in public.” Go to Toast Masters if you can. Take a class on public speaking. Seminary will not prepare you well for this (nor should they). The seminary, if it is good, will teach you how to study the Bible and form the message. But you must work on your mechanics for as long as you are a preacher. Some might think that this is somehow unspiritual, that if one is called then the power of the word plus natural gifting will be all that is needed. However, most of us are not so naturally gifted –and even if we are, we can improve. To preach involves a craft that we should seek constantly to improve and master.
2. Preach long sermons: I once preached a wedding and afterward, one of the guests came up and said, “Good message but too long.” Perhaps because he caught me in an unguarded moment, I couldn’t help responding with a smile, “short sermons are very popular in hell.” He laughed and was not offended (I am thankful!). By “long,” I do not mean “longer than the content or coherence.” Who has not listened to a sermon and thought, “had he stopped 10 minutes earlier, that would have been a great message!” Or as I overheard one person comment, “Pastor preached a powerful message in the Spirit this morning. Unfortunately, the Spirit stopped preaching 15 minutes before he did!”
By long, I mean long enough to say what you have planned to say. I realize that each opportunity to preach has its social restraints that need to be respected. However, if you are going to preach regularly to one flock, I suggest adjusting the time of the service to fit the length of time you need in order to say what you have planned –do not get in the habit of cutting up your sermon to satisfy the service. The preaching of the Word is the central part of our gathered worship. We must value it and teach others to do the same. If the people are not bored, they will not mind.
3. Preach emotional sermons: When I became a Christian, I quickly learned that my emotions were often my biggest enemy! They would often not “feel” like obeying, often “feel” like sinning, etc. I began to see that my emotions couldn’t be trusted to lead me. And that remains true. But that does not mean that my emotions are not important –they are extremely important (and so are yours!). Happy emotions are the end result of all that God is doing with us. Wait! Before you think I just spoke shallow heresy, think about the Word of God. Jesus came that we might have “joy.” And when He returns, He will wipe away every tear. He will exchange our mourning for gladness. In His right hand are pleasures for ever more. Salvation that does not result in our neverending joy is not salvation.
God’s emotions are also active, passionate, powerful, and wonderful. We are made in the image of a very emotional God. We live in a difficult world, filled with emotions of all varieties.
The flock you preach to lives seeking peace, joy, courage, happiness, etc. All emotions. So, when preaching, it is our job to interpret the text emotionally as well as intellectually. We should be joyous at the right time, sad at the right time, etc. These emotions must show in our preaching. Dead pan preaching gives the hearer no signal to the importance of the ideas spoken. An emotionless preacher, expounding on the danger of sin or the joy of salvation, takes away from the Word. It is better if he just read the text and sat down, for his preaching will only take away the fear of sin and lie about the joy of salvation. We must exhibit our emotions when preaching –from beginning to end.
4. Preach loud: I realize that style comes into play here. Some people yell well, and some don’t! However, before there were public address systems and microphones, to speak to a group of people required exaggeration. A preacher could not stand still, speak softly, and expect the microphone to help him be heard, or the video screen to help him be seen. His body and voice would have to rise, and at times he would even shout and wave his arms around. A naturally “loud” body and voice are far more interesting than an artificially amplified monotone delivery. Preacher, you are not in a one-on-one conversation. You must not speak as if you are. You are talking to a group, so you must be loud and demonstrative enough for everyone in the room to engage. We use the technology, but we must learn to preach loud, in body and voice.
5. Preach Coherent messages: If a preacher doesn’t preach coherent messages then he should just shut up and sit down. I had a friend who told me that he never prepared for sermons. He just waited to see what the Holy Spirit “zapped” him with every Sunday. Listen, you and I are not Peter or Paul or Steven. We should not depend on the Holy Zap. Instead, we teach the words of the apostles and prophets by studying hard and preparing a message that makes sense from the introduction to the conclusion. Preaching must present a passage of Scripture; make that passage understandable; expound on principles, implications, and objections to what the passage says; and challenge the hearers to embrace the message, making changes to mind, emotion, and action as needed. Each sermon must do all this. To accomplish this and still have one coherent set of ideas requires hard work, forethought. If you don’t know if your messages are coherent, ask people who listen well! No one will remember all you say, but if you remain coherent, people will follow you from beginning to end, building in their desire to hear where the text is going.
The sermons I have preached that have been “too long” and “too boring” have almost always been because I gave insufficient attention to preparing a unified, coherent message. Rambling lists of truths, sermons that work too hard to be profound, etc –all the result of not being ready with a single, traceable narrative or line of thought.
Additionally, know that hard study will not automatically yield a coherent, unified message! In fact, many times preachers make the mistake of "downloading" to the bored congregation all of their brilliant insights, profound Greek definitions, and random truths discovered in the study.
When a director makes a movie, he never just throws all the film he took into the project. He cuts, and moves, and thinks, and re-shoots scenes, until he sees that the story he is telling makes sense from the opening scene till the ending credits. Preachers must do the same with the fruit of their study.
6. Don’t fear man: say the hard stuff, with as much love as you can. If you knew that the moment you finished preaching, you would die and join Jesus, would you not concern yourself intensely with the final words you were speaking in the presence of the Savior? Who would care then if some deacon didn’t want to hear the words? Who would care then if anyone said, “well done.” on earth? We preach to all in the room, but we preach for only One. Fear Him. We don’t only live by faith, we preach by faith. We make our offering with a clean conscious to the One who died for us. Then, we let it rest and know that one day, He will measure our words.
7. One last word: confirm your calling. If after time invested in learning to speak in public, preparing sound coherent messages, and practicing delivering them in real situations, you either a) would rather be doing something else in ministry or b) are a dreadful bore, you should seriously reconsider your calling. If you are a boring preacher and cannot remedy the situation, quit. If you don’t have a passion for preaching that causes you to value the delivery of the word above all else you do in ministry, quit. You don’t have to leave ministry, but you should not assume that God has called to you be a preaching pastor. We are called; we do not call ourselves.