This past week, I talked with some of our Southeastern Seminary students about lessons I’ve learned about sermon delivery after 38 years of preaching. Today, here are some general thoughts. Tomorrow, I’ll offer some practical suggestions for strengthening delivery.
- Sermon delivery should help communicate the Word, not hinder it. When it helps, it’s almost not noticeable—the Word itself gets the spotlight. When it hinders, something about our delivery—perhaps wild gestures, loud hollers, distracting motions, or verbal pauses like “umm”—gets in the way of others hearing the Word. We need to work hard to remove the hindrances.
- Many of us don’t know what our delivery looks like or sounds like. We may have recorded and watched ourselves in preaching class in college or seminary, but we did that only because we had to. For some of us, that was also a long time ago. Since then, we’ve not taken the time to honestly evaluate our delivery. You may be surprised what you learn if you watch your sermons today.
- Sermon delivery is easier when you know your content well. In general, there’s a big difference between stepping into the pulpit fully prepared or going there without adequate preparation. When you don’t know your material well, it will show up somehow in your delivery—perhaps with nervousness, fidgeting, unhelpful pauses, or useless “fillers” that distract from the message.
- We can learn from others, but we can’t be them. I watch the mannerisms and styles of some of my favorite preachers, and I want to pick up some of their good habits. I’m not who they are, however, so it’s useless to try to be them in a different body. All of us have our own style, and that’s okay. It can be God-honoring, in fact, when God shows how He uses different people. On the other hand, it can be idolatrous when we want to be somebody else.
- We have to keep working on delivery. We develop new habits (both good and bad) over time. Our rate of speech sometimes changes as we get older. We unintentionally become too dependent on notes if other ministry responsibilities consume our study time. If we never evaluate ourselves, though, we never improve—and the task of preaching is far too important to let that happen.
My suggestion? Make sure you watch your own sermons, enlist church members and staff to give you regular, honest, painful feedback, and annually read at least one good book on preaching. If you want some book suggestions, check out this post from our SEBTS preaching faculty. Deliver the Word well!