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Preach the Word


"I reads myself full; I thinks myself clear; I prays myself hot; then I lets go!" (quoting an Alabama black preacher).

The preacher who is uncertain about their message will not be a confident speaker. So, confident communication begins with the conviction that one has a message to deliver.


This is the responsibility of the preacher. He or she should come from the study with God's word for the occasion. (Don't be tempted to change the message in a meeting or service unless you are absolutely sure you must do so.)

An occasion may dictate the kind of sermon required. The Lord Jesus knew how to deliver a message that fitted the occasion (study Jn.6:35; 8:12). Special services require special sermons, e.g., dedication, wedding, funeral, baptismal, men's, women's, youth, children's, New Year, anniversary, harvest, school, farewell, ordination and civil services. Be an opportunist.


"Peter stood up... and addressed the crowd" (Acts 2:14).

Sermon openings are important as the congregation is just settling down. A congregation may be turning from worship to the Word, in which case the mind needs to adjust. Then, during the sermon introduction, people are becoming acquainted with the preacher - and the preacher with the congregation. The preacher is also familiarising himself with the venue and the public address system. Consider the following advice.

Stand up
Stand behind your pulpit or lectern square on. Take time to arrange your Bible and notes properly. Make and maintain eye contact with the whole congregation. Don't lean or slouch on the pulpit or lectern.

Stimulate interest
Be clear in your mind how you're going to start. Opening words and sentences are important. Campbell Morgan used to write his sermon introductions out in full. Remember this advice: "If your don't strike oil in the first few minutes, stop boring!" (How to Speak in Public). Napoleon Bonaparte, the French emperor, maintained: "The first few minutes of a battle are the decisive ones". Make your introductions short. Don't be so long laying the tablecloth that everyone despairs of the meal!

Speak out
Maintain a good posture and speak out. Do this even with a public address system (test the system before the service if you can). Use your voice before you preach. Join in the public worship. (There is no such thing as 'saving the voice'). Don't use a boring ecclesiastical voice. Be yourself. Then, when you preach use your voice with:

  • Projection: speak out. Reach the back seats.

  • Modulation: vary your speed. Avoid monotony.

  • Inflection: vary the range of your voice.

  • Punctuation: pauses may be used with effect.

  • Articulation: watch your aitches and word endings (e.g., horse not 'orse and preaching not preachin').

  • Pronunciation: use your tongue, lips and teeth.

Watch your gestures
Be aware of body language. Gestures and facial expressions speak! You can contradict your words by your actions. Avoid offensive gestures. Preaching with hands in the pockets is bad and boring. Jingling keys or loose change in the pocket is distracting. Don't wave your arms like a windmill. Good advice on this point is: "Begin low, speak slow; rise higher, catch fire; wax warm, sit down in a storm".

Choose your language
Avoid swear words. Don't set out to be offensive. Again, remember you are an ambassador for Christ (2 Cor.5:20). Use words colourfully. Paint pictures. Aim to be simple. Address the whole congregation. Remember that children are part of today's Church. Use illustrations that relate to everyone.

Be spontaneous
Spontaneity may involve the use of ejaculations like 'Amen', 'Hallelujah' and 'Praise God!'. But don't use these like punctuation marks. Don't be mechanical. And don't rely on the praise-response of the congregation for your inspiration.

Watch your spirit
Don't make the sermon an ego trip. (Make greater use 'us', 'we' and 'our' - rather than 'I', 'me', and 'my'.) Be humble. Don't set out to be a comedian. Be bright without being light. Begin low, then let your feelings show. Get on fire and people will come and see you burn. Ralph Waldo Emerson, the American essayist and poet, observed: "Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm" (Essays). Preach to and not at the congregation. C.H.Spurgeon advised his preachers to throw hats - and not stones - in their sermons!

PREACHING AND PROJECTORS Introduction Effective use can be made of overhead projectors (OHPs) and PC projectors in preaching. But their bad use can distract rather than attract a congregation from listening to the Word. Here's some advice: 1. GENERAL ADVICE a. Prepare your presentation well. Be professional about this. b. If you're using an OHP - laser print your acetates if you can. Handwritten presentations can be untidy and difficult to read. Underline important points with a colour OHP pen. Do this on the reverse side of the acetate to avoid smudging. c. Choose your typefaces, backgrounds and colours wisely - acetates or slides should relate to each other. Don't go overboard with colours, clipart and typefaces. Keep things simple. The presentation should serve the preaching. d. As a general rule don't use silly or cartoon clipart. Any kind of picture can distract a congregation's attention from preaching. Cartoon clipart can contradict serious points. Resist the temptation to be slick or clever with type or pictures. Check your spelling and Scripture references carefully. f. Test your presentations before using them. This will help you to criticise their relevance and legibility. Seek a second opinion. g. Prepare a handout for the projectionist so that pages are shown at the right time. Microsoft's Powerpoint enables you to print out nine screens on a sheet of A4 paper. h. Don't use too many acetates or slides. Six may be enough for a three-point sermon (including the title, introduction, main points and conclusion). You may need more for a Bible study. 2. SPECIFIC ADVICE a. Observe how preachers and teachers make use of visual aids. Copy their good points. b. Don't change the acetates or operate the computer yourself (e.g., a laptop with remote control). Doing this will divert your attention and stereotype your mannerisms. Give the task to someone as a supporting ministry. c. Dale Carnegie advises public speakers: "Don't keep turning to the screen to point things out" (Art of Public Speaking). When you do this you lose eye contact with the congregation. The habit also creates the atmosphere of a lecture. d. Don't turn the lights down or off in order to highlight your presentation. God's instrument in preaching is the preacher - and people want to see the speaker. Again, the preacher must maintain eye contact with the congregation. Avoid the temptation of imitating the popular media in your church services. Churches should not be in the entertainment business. This is fast becoming the church age of floodlit pulpits and music-backed prayers and sermons! Avoid gimmicks. Footnote Christian web sites can be a rich source of ideas and clipart. Final advice
Be yourself, forget yourself; express yourself; be a man or woman of God.

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Copyright 2007 Vernon Ralphs

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