Preaching is the time-honored practice of delivering the divine word of God to the public. When done well, a preacher is often capable of bringing about transformational change to the life of people. Good sermons provide solid takeaways for the listener that is emotionally impactful through a lasting effect on the soul.
The act of preaching is a personal engagement that inspires society and fosters long-term relationships among diverse members within the church community. However, preaching is not simply public speaking, there is a unique set of skills required for effective preaching.
Charisma and faith are just two values possessed by the seasoned preacher that determine the strength of a message being delivered in front of a church audience.
Always Begin with Prayer
All sermons are conducted through the grace of God. Begin each session by communicating with the divine, so the Holy Spirit may intercede in your delivery. Jesus, the only son of God would often pray for guidance. “Yet he frequently withdrew to the wilderness to pray.” (Luke 5:16)
As you communicate with God, ask for blessing, be grateful for the opportunity of preaching the good word and receive the clarity of mind required for your sermon.
John Owen said it best when he mentioned, “a sermon is made not with an eye upon the sermon but with both eyes upon the people and all the heart upon God”
An Impactful Opener
An opener will decide the flow of your sermon and affect the reaction of your audience.
Exegesis is a critical aspect of preaching, but people are uninterested in hearing the same thing repeatedly. Limit the use of church jargon to deliver the eternal words of the Bible in digestible interpretations.
Modern churchgoers have shorter attention spans compared to previous generations. Bored members may log onto social media or play games on their handheld devices. Prevent this, by starting strong and always meaning every word you preach.
There are some ways to achieve this. You could make an attention-grabbing statement like “the Devil is always there to tempt us” or describe scenes in the Bible, such as the stations of the cross or the tragic story of Lot, which are known to evoke strong human emotions.
Another powerful way to engage your crowd through poignant questions. “If God is so great, why are there cancer-stricken children?” These questions will make your audience pause, take notice & reflect. The question will make people ponder over their faith. This also encourages them to tap into their hearts in search of their own answers. The strongest of faith are constantly challenged, like a sword on a whetstone.
Humor is another effective tool when opening a sermon. Tell a light-hearted joke, then link its content to the underlying message of your sermon. Humor will create a comfortable ambiance for your audience. Laughter after all, soothes the soul.
Lastly, everyone likes an interesting story. Share an entertaining tale with deep meaning and perhaps even a plot twist. The crowd loves hearing about scenarios different from their routine lives and discover how God can act through various situations.
A strategic opener will outline the mood and theme of your entire sermon. As Philip Brooks once shared, “preaching is the communication of the Gospel through the personality of the preacher.” So, it is essential to let your energy show right from your first sentence.
Preparation is Key
Preachers must always stay committed to the cause. Deliver each sermon with great preparation. 1Thessalonians 5:6 reminds us: “so then let us not rest as do the rest, but let us watch and be sober. “
Some speakers spend hours, days and weeks planning for the perfect sermon. Prepare notes, graphics and everything else that can support you in your delivery.
Research, research and more research. There are two approaches to this. You could either select the specific biblical quotes and constructing your message from there or decide on a theme and seek the most suitable biblical statements to reinforce your message.
Revise your sermons multiple times before the day of delivery. Some pastors spend most of their effort on a single sermon in a month. This in no way suggests that the rest of their sessions are lackluster or rushed. It simply means that they prepare for a “main event” where they invest themselves in delivering the most powerful message while the other sermons are either edited versions of earlier sessions or rehearsals for their “main event”.
Pace yourself when rehearsing your sermons. For more loquacious speakers, it is often tempting to go on for as long as possible but there is a limited time in a church service. Stick to a consistent duration such as 25-30 minutes and condense all information to fit your time slot. Summarize points if necessary, keep the most powerful hooks and eliminate the excess details that might muddle your message.
Flowcharts are effective tools in ensuring that you are on cue at any point during the sermon. Apply anchor words that redirect you to the main message, which prevents digression. Insert the aptest biblical quotes in segments where they will leave the greatest impression.
Quoting the most fitting phrases from the Bible by rote is extremely useful when it comes down to preaching. But this does not happen overnight. Through constant research and sermon preparations, preachers can mentally generate a cascade of quotes from a single keyword.
Gather feedback from those people around you. Ask if your audience feels that your message is effectively driven across and ask them for their honest opinion and constructive critiques for your sermon. You may discuss the sermon with your partner, children, or even the friendly grocer from your local neighborhood. Their feedback serves as a sample of the response you will receive from the congregation. By accumulating more quality feedback, you can fine-tune the technique that works best.
All preachers should discover their unique inner voice. This process may take a while, but constant practice will get you there.
Start by modeling and emulating the style of your favorite preachers. Take pointers from the most successful names out there. Cherry-pick the most attractive qualities in each speaker and combine them to form the foundation of your unique voice.
The late Billy Graham is considered one of the greatest preachers of all time because of his unique unaffected style. He would appear as a calm fatherly figure. Yet, when he stood at the pulpit, he spoke with unmatched fervor and authority. It was this unique personality that moved generations of people to believe in the power of Christ.
Always remember that churchgoers decided to attend your sermons to be spiritually inspired. These folks could have prayed in the privacy of their own homes, but they chose to visit the house of God to benefit from the energy in your voice. Converse with them as you would with your closest friends and loved ones. You can perform the perfect delivery only by staying true to yourself.
Some speakers might get caught up with biblical jargon, quotes and other technical details, but preaching is never a restrictive process. And preaching is not about showing off how much you know about the Bible.
Preaching is about opening your heart and mind to the blessed Holy Spirit. Let it work wonders through you. You are here to make a positive impact on the lives of those who are ready to listen.
Dip into the reservoirs of knowledge from every aspect of your life. Recount the stories of your neighbors, examine the lyrics of your favorite songs or share something interesting that you read in the morning papers. Any information can be examined for something useful in your delivery.
Everything you have ever known can be linked back to the great handbook of life, the Bible. The scriptures say, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)
Real-life issues create empathy among your listeners, they can feel where you are coming from. They will relate to the times they faced something similar and understand the context better. Biblical context infuses your words with the power of faith, which amplifies the messages that you deliver.
Create engaging sermons by leading your audiences to the intersection between real-life issues and biblical context, where spirit meets the body as embodied by Christ.
Lastly, implement a call-to-action at the end of every sermon. All effective communicators require much from their audience. Preaching may seem like a monologue but in truth, the practice is a two-way street. Propositional sermons are more memorable and allow congregations to live out what they have learned, spreading the word of God beyond the gates of the church.
Technology can enhance the delivery of your sermons. Play video snippets related to a topic to provide a visual presentation of your subject. You may also include meaningful music and soundtracks to create an immersive experience. Challenge boundaries by using non-religious music for a fresher perspective. Any medium can be interpreted through the works of God.
When sharing about the sacred act of baptism, use vibrant images of world rivers and stills taken from classic biblical movies, talk about Christ’s own experience at the River Jordan with John the Baptist. Mention about the essence of water as a source of all life.
Pair your messages with vivid illustrations that add color, vibrancy, and shapes to your subject.
But remember, these tools are only there to supplement your sermons so be sure to use them sparingly. Your message should remain the key objective, do not depend too much on technology.
Be Genuine to the Cause
Jesus was an exceptional speaker because he was fully devoted to his plan for salvation. There were no second thoughts, no vacillations or doubts in his words or actions. He had an unwavering attitude toward fulfilling his destiny. Similarly, all respected preachers should always believe in the things that they say – from the tiniest blessings up to the most solemn oaths.
It is meaningless and counter-intuitive to deceive a crowd with pretense because true religion is all about trust in the good word of the Lord. A contrived speech can be easily detected by the faithful crowd. This compromises the integrity of the speaker, which loses the respect and support of his communities.
Faith is indispensable when it comes down to the art of preaching. Without an unquestionable belief in goodness, the message will lack substance.
The faith of the preacher must be pure of intention. There should be no monetary gain or other ulterior motive attached to the words of a preacher. Genuine faith is directed by kindness and tolerance, which naturally translates into compelling words of grace.
In the Bible, a man by the name of Simon Magus attempted to purchase the power of God in Samaria, upon witnessing the miraculous spiritual powers acted through the disciples Peter & John.
Peter reacted strongly to the misguided intentions of Simon. (Acts 8:20-21) Peter answered: “May your money perish with you because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this ministry because your heart is not right before God.
All preachers must remind themselves to stay humble and sincere in their daily devotion. This mindset preserves a clarity of mind to achieve the highest quality of preaching, unburdened by extraneous forces.
A healthy preacher is an effective representation of Christ. Therefore, it is vital to get enough rest, eat well and exercise regularly. By preserving a healthy body, mind, and spirit, you will be able to better convey the word of God as a shining example to your church.
Proverbs 3:5-8 teaches us to steer clear from the harms of evil, so God may keep us healthy and strong. Listening to our inner needs will prevent us from abusing our bodies so God can act through us.
Pastor burnout is a real phenomenon that affects hundreds of speakers. The grind from week to week through sermon preparation and presentation can take a huge toll on the body and mind.
When necessary, go for a short vacation, commune with God through the serene beauty of nature or spend time winding down with the family. Once you are fully recharged, you will deliver your sermons with more enthusiasm and conviction. Your congregation will thank you for it and they will notice the efforts you take in keeping yourself in top shape for your mission.
Quality preaching will take time but by integrating some of the steps above, you can improve the connection between you and your congregation. The ideal sermon will encourage your audiences to lean in and listen to the heart of your message.
Go forth, keep preaching and always be comforted by the unlimited power of God.