(if you want people to listen to you)
We are going back to the basics today. We will cover the basic elements of good public speaking in the context of a Christian church. Why? It may seem surprising but unfortunately there are still many pastors out there whom have to be reminded of some classic rules for good homiletics. (I know this because I was just in a church recently in which the preacher made nearly all of these mistakes.)
Remember, the goal of teaching the Word of God is so that people are engaged and understand. (“But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” Matthew 23:23 ) If the preaching or teaching of God’s Word does not help people to understand or follow Jesus more closely, then it has failed.
So now let’s take a look at the Top Ten Mistakes to Avoid When Preaching (if you want people to listen to you.)
1. Don’t warn people that it won’t be that good.
The preacher started by saying “I really didn’t have a lot of time this week….”. What he was doing was lowering our expectations right from the start, by letting us know that what we were about to hear was not too good.
It does not matter to the person in the pew what your week was like. Because you don’t know what their week was like. When they take the time to come to church they are coming to hear from God, not excuses about why someone didn’t have time to put together a good sermon.
The best thing you can do if you have had a busy week is to keep your message short and to the point. Give whatever quality teaching you have, and then just let people go home early. They will thank you for it. There is no need to fill the time just because, if you don’t have any good content after the first ten minutes.
2. Don’t be pedantic.
That means don’t treat people like ignorant children. Your audience is probably very well educated. Don’t define words that your people probably know already. Don’t draw obvious conclusions when the results speak for themselves.
People are happy to learn new things, especially if it relates somehow to their life, so it is OK to teach. Just don’t assume that you are the only educated person in the room.
3. Don’t give us a historical lecture.
That means that people don’t come to church in order to get a history lesson. This doesn’t mean you can’t provide some good contextual clues and historical-grammatical analysis. But how much time are you going to spend on it? People come to church to hear a Word from God, not a history lecture.
So if you have the privilege of teaching God’s Word, then be sure to do it. So, apply the Word to life.
4. Don’t use King James.
I’m sorry folks, but it has to be faced that although the King James was good for its time in 1611, we are a bit beyond that point now! There have been great improvements in Biblical translation and the study of the Greek manuscripts since that time. It’s time to use a modern translation.
Like missionaries who adapt their practices in order to reach a lost people, you too must adapt your methods to speak to your audience. If your audience only spoke German, you wouldn’t try to communicate to them in Spanish. And if your audience is from the 21st century, then you also don’t want to use language from the 17th century.
5. Don’t use Thee and Thou in your prayers.
God is not impressed that you speak to Him using Elizabethan English, and neither are thy people.
6. Don’t be afraid of technology.
There are still people out there who feel it is somehow less spiritual to put God’s Word on screen. I know this is the case, because I’ve been in meetings where that is exactly what preachers have said. It’s OK to publish the Word on screen.
Good speakers who are interested in communicating will use every tool at their disposal to get the message across. And when that message is something as important as the Word of God, then it is all the more necessary to do all one can to communicate truth.
7. Don’t talk too much.
Don’t be verbose; that is using way more words than you need to to make your point. Stay within your time limit. It is surprising to me how many public speakers think they have a right to overrun the set amount of time they are given to speak. This is discourteous to everyone there and any schedules they may have to keep.
Professional speakers know how much time they have and they pace themselves so that they don’t have to skip over important points or rush it all at the end.
8. Don’t jump all over the place.
Why do I say this? Because the preacher I just listened to could not make a point. And so he tried to make many points by talking about many different things. He may have thought that they were all related to his topic, but I as a listener did not have a clue what all these things had in common.
So, if you want people to listen to you then, find a key passage and explain it. Stick to that passage of Scripture. Explain it clearly and succinctly without meandering all over the countryside.
9. Don’t forget the Proposition.
The proposition is the ‘sermon in a sentence’. If you cannot express in a single sentence what you are trying to say in your message, then you do not clearly understand what you are trying to say. You have to be able to express it simply and clearly and in one sentence. Once you have mastered the proposition, then you are ready to write the rest of your sermon.
If you want to learn more about this, then get my book, “How to Prepare a Great Sermon in Ten Easy Steps”.
10. Don’t forget the Application.
When I left the service that day, I did not know what I was supposed to do differently with my life as a result of listening to the preacher that day. I knew a lot of history about the subject of the passage, but I didn’t know how any of that history translated into my life.
If the Proposition is your entire sermon summed up in one point, then the Application is your entire sermon summed up in one action. You need to be able to answer the question of “What do I want my listeners to DO as a result of listening to me today?” Now this “Do” could be simply to Believe, or Trust, or it could be to Feel or Fear God, or feel Joy. Or it could be an actual action like, ‘love your neighbor’ or ‘do not lie’, etc.
In summary, yes, the man I listened to really did make almost all of these mistakes. This sort of thing still happens in many places. I know that if you are taking the time to read this that you want to do a good job of communicating God’s Word to people. If you make it a point to avoid these ten mistakes, you will automatically be improving the strength of your preaching. People will leave the service having understood God’s Word and having the tools they need to make the right choices for the week ahead of them.
God bless you as you seek to serve Him well.