Here’s something you’ll never find on the internet: sermons I preached in the early days of my ministry career.
Why? Because I destroyed the evidence.
They weren’t good. That’s all you need to know. Maybe you know the feeling.
The good news is that I’ve had the privilege of serving under two fantastic preachers and along the journey I’ve learned some of their best practices. I’d like to share two of them with you. These two tactics made a huge difference in my development as a Bible teacher. I hope you find them helpful.
From what I’ve learned, the most important aspect of a great sermon is clarity. If people don’t understand what you’re talking about then, I mean really, what’s the point.
The point of preaching is life transformation. We preach so that people hear the Scriptures in a way that motivates and empowers them to move forward in their relationship with God. This doesn’t mean that we dumb down or water down the scriptures. It doesn’t even mean that we have to preach topically.
It does mean that an effective preacher must work incredibly hard to study the text and then present it in a way that can be clearly understood and applied.
So, how do you do this? Well, here are a few ideas:
1. Provide a Map
At our church, we are it the habit of telling people where we are headed in the introduction of our sermons. We say things like:
“Today, we’re going to have 3 conversations about forgiveness.”
“My hope for our time today is that you would feel challenged and empowered to have a hard conversation with someone who has hurt you.”
Providing a map prevents people from thinking “where in the world is this going?” or "how long is this going to be?”
These kinds of thoughts (and don’t judge because we all have them) keep a person from truly engaging with the content of the sermon. Give them a map and free their mind to engage the important content in the sermon.
2. Less is More
Here is one of the greatest challenges of communicating with clarity: trimming what is unnecessary and helpful.
When I prepare for a sermon, I tend to get really excited about my research. I’m fascinated by the scriptures — the characters, the language, the historical and cultural setting, and I’m guessing you are too.
Here’s the thing: Most sermons contain a boatload of peripheral information that’s actually distracting. I mean, interesting facts are cool and all but the goal is transformation. Because of this, it’s important that we clarify our material by trimming what is unnecessary and unhelpful. Teach less for more results.
When it comes to preaching, clarity is king. Who cares what we said if our people didn’t understand it and can’t implement it. Step one to becoming a great preacher is fighting for clarity.
My senior pastor often says that people can only pay attention for 5 minutes before you start to lose them. The thing about attention is that you have to earn it. And then you have it earn it again. And, then you have to earn it again.
If you preach a 30-minute sermon, just understand that you have to reengage the minds of your people 6 times.
How in the world do you do that? It’s actually not as hard as you might think. Here are three techniques.
The easiest way to reengage the mind is to force your people to use a different part of their brain. Simply utilizing a prop or a helpful image goes a long way in reengaging the mind. If you’re talking about money, grab a bag of coins. If you’re talking about Paul traveling to Ephesus, put a map on the screen.
One caution here, it’s possible to overuse visuals. Too many visuals can create a sense of monotony or even mental fatigue. Think clarity. If it helps emphasize a point or clarify an idea, use a visual. If it doesn’t, you’re probably just adding noise.
There is a way to reintroduce tension through transitions between sections of your sermon. Asking a question or raising an objection subtly forces a person to reengage their mind. We simply can’t help it. Here are a few examples from the sermon at my church last weekend:
Transitioning with a question:
“Why is this phrase in the text?”
Transitioning with an objection:
“Yeah but the Christians in Laodicea had it easy because they didn’t live in a materialistic culture like ours, right?”
I know, you’re thinking, that’s dumb. That won’t work. Just try it. Trust me. It’s the easiest tactic to employ and it really works.
Although this technique doesn’t reintroduce tension, it does reengage the mind. If your church is like mine, you probably have a big ole stage and you either never move from the center of the stage or you pace back in forth like a hungry Tiger. There’s a more effective way to use the stage.
We use a strategy that we call blocking. In other words, we use positions on the stage to communicate. Often in preaching, we speak in terms of time. Use the stage. When you’re talking about the past speak from the left side of the stage and when you transition to the present or future, walk to the right side of the stage. The physical movement help people remember the concept and, if nothing else, the movement itself reengages the mind.
A second way we use blocking is to denote locations. If you are preaching on Paul and he’s sometimes in Rome and sometimes in Ephesus, say something like:
“Let’s travel to Ephesus”
And then physically walk to a designated point on the stage. Again, it might sound trivial, but I’m telling you, it helps reengage the attention of your audience.
Whether you want to try these ideas or not, just remember that you have your audience’s attention for 5 minutes before they are thinking about lunch or the afternoon football game. Reintroducing tension is a great way to reengage their minds.
I have a challenge for you. Whether you’re new to preaching or a veteran. I invite you to try one of these two tactics.
Next week, give your audience a road map or maybe cut out everything that doesn’t help you get to your preaching destination.
Or, maybe you’ve noticed some closed eyes in the seventh row and let’s be real... they aren’t praying. Test out our methods of reintroducing tension.
Also, if you have any brilliant preaching basics to share, I'd love it if you left a comment below.