Whenever the word is preached, the manner with which the sermon is delivered is always important. To be sure, the substance of what we have to say is the greatest priority. Truth is king, and it must reign supremely in our preaching. But how we deliver this truth is also important. Just as no one likes to eat cold scrambled eggs, neither does anyone like to be fed a steady diet of cold preaching. The manner in which the truth is served plays a large factor in how it is received.
That being said, I want to survey ten keys to improve the delivery of your preaching. Each of these should help you to reflect upon your preaching and to incorporate these into your delivery, as they are needed.
Clarity and Passion
First, clarity. Clarity is never overrated. When you stand to preach, people should be able to easily understand what you are saying. They need to be able to follow you without laboring to grasp your point. You need to be a linear thinker, not a circular thinker. Structure, development of thought, and correct pronunciation of your words are all important parts of a lucid delivery.
Second, passion. When you are excited about something, it causes others to be enthusiastic about it. On the other hand, when you are bored with a matter, other people will tend to be bored. Passion is contagious. A fire in the pulpit will soon spread to the pew.
For your preaching, there needs to be a fire in your bones. There needs to be a holy enthusiasm for what you proclaim. There must be an excitement in your soul for what you say. Passion conveys to the listener the importance of what you are expositing.
Eye Contact and Tone
Third, eye contact. One of the greatest hindrances in sermon delivery is when the preacher is staring at his notes. If you are not looking up at the people to whom you are speaking, they will probably not listen to you.
We call that kind of preacher a “bubble preacher,” because it is as if he is standing in a glass bubble, separate from the congregation. It is like he is in a remote sound booth, and the people are in another room. Without eye contact, this preacher is disconnected from the people to whom he is speaking.
Think about your own preaching. Eye contact is critically important to you being heard, because it helps you establish rapport with the people to whom you speak.
Fourth, tone. The warmth and volume with which you speak is critically important to the effectiveness of your sermons. Depending on the size of the room and the number of people you are addressing, it needs to be appropriate for the setting.
There are many different settings in which we preach. There is Sunday morning in the worship center to the largest group. There is Sunday night to a smaller congregation. There is Wednesday night to a yet smaller group. There is Sunday School in a classroom. There is a men’s discipleship group in a more intimate setting. There is an elders’ or a deacons’ meeting in a boardroom setting.
Each of those venues influence the tone with which we speak. I have a louder, more demonstrative tone when I am speaking to 5,000 people at a national conference. I have a more pastoral tone when I am speaking to a smaller group of fifty people. A part of effective delivery is to be conscious of your setting and use the proper volume of your voice.
Volume and Gestures
Fifth, variance. You should learn to raise and lower the volume of your voice. You should not be blaring and loud for the entire forty-five minutes of the sermon. I will admit that I can be loud for too sustained of a period of time, but that is a personal weakness, not a strength. To use an airplane metaphor, you cannot step into the pulpit, soar immediately to 36,000 feet, stay at that altitude for almost an hour, and then abruptly end the message. That kind of prolonged intensity does not make for effective communication.
For example, when I highlight my sermon notes with a yellow marker, if every word in my sermon notes is highlighted in yellow, nothing stands out. In like manner, if you are loud the entire sermon, nothing that you say stands out. You need to have peaks and valleys in your delivery, with an alternating loud and soft volume, as is appropriate.
In fact, some of the most impactful things you will say may be when you lower your voice. Varied volume is an important part of effective delivery.
Sixth, gestures. You are speaking not only with your voice, but with your hands. How you use your hands in the pulpit to gesture is another critical factor in preaching.
You should not stand in the pulpit with your hands in your pocket for the entire sermon. You should not stand there with two hands tightly gripping the pulpit. There needs to be a natural freedom with the use of your hands as you preach.
At the same time, there should be a diversity with the kind of gestures that you use. You should not stand in the pulpit, and every gesture is a repetition of the same one. You should not repeat the “first down” gesture. Nor should every gesture be the triumphant “touchdown” gesture. You should use your hands in a variety of ways as you speak.
Natural Disposition and Vocabulary
Seventh, be natural. When you preach, you must be yourself. You should not be an imitation of another preacher, in which you try to mirror their delivery. It would be unnatural for you to preach like someone else. You should sound like the same person in the pulpit as when you step out of it.
You must be you. You are an original creation of God, that He has made uniquely. Use your own God-given temperament, personality, and vocabulary as you speak.
Eighth, synonyms. You should learn to vary your vocabulary. Do not repeat yourself, using the same word over and over. There is a point of diminishing return when you use the same word again and again. After you have used a word four or five times, it begins to lose its effect. It could even lose its luster after two or three uses, especially if it is within the same sentence or the same paragraph.
I try to vary my word choice and use multiple synonyms. I also try to layer out my synonyms so that some words are accessible to teenagers and still others are for businessmen. All the while, though, I am communicating the same idea, but with different synonyms that connect with different people.
Vary Verbs and Maintain Energy
Ninth, verb moods.
Verbs are used with various moods. There is the indicative mood, which is a statement of fact. Most of the sermon will be given in the indicative mood. Then there is the interrogative mood, which is the sentence that ends with a question mark. It is where you are asking a question, which causes the listener to think and search for the answer.
Moreover, the imperative mood issues a command. It charges the listener to follow a particular course of action. In addition, there is the exclamatory mood, which is the sentence that ends with an exclamation point. It is intended to excite the hearts of those to whom you are speaking.
As I write my sermon manuscript, I am consciously aware of shifting the moods in my notes from the indicative, to the interrogative, to the imperative, to the exclamatory. Read your Bible and you will notice the same verb moods.
When I am in the pulpit, I may not be looking down at my notes, but I am still mindful to not be stuck in one mood with my verbs.
So many preachers stay in the rut of the indicative mood and never use the other moods of verbs. Their sermon sounds like this: statement of fact, statement of fact, statement of fact, statement of fact, statement of fact. This is why their preaching becomes very monotone and becomes little more than a data dump.
Tenth, energy. In the pulpit, there needs to be an energy level that comes through with your voice, eyes, gestures, and countenance. It conveys you are alive and awake, not tired or listless. When you are full of the Holy Spirit, there is a dynamic force in your preaching that will penetrate the soul of the listener.
For your part, make sure you have enough sleep the night before you preach. Make sure that you have had a proper breakfast. Make sure if you are a coffee drinker, that you have had enough caffeine. Whatever helps you to be energetic in the pulpit, you need to follow that path.
All this to say, your sermon delivery is very important to your message being heard and received. It is what distinguishes you from another preacher who teaches the same truth. The difference is not in the doctrine, but in the delivery. The substance of your sermon is important, but so also is the style with which it is delivered. Think about how you are coming across and how you can improve, for the glory of God alone.