Thursdays with Todd: 6 Reasons to Build Pauses into Your Sermons

“Speech is silver, silence is golden.” So goes the old proverb that teaches the power of things “not said.” Applied to preaching, what can occasional moments of silence do to improve the delivery of our messages? With this question in mind, here are six reasons to “hit the pause button” periodically while preaching:

  1. Pausing allows our listeners to process what we have just said. Especially when wishing to make a memorable point, we are wise to pause for a moment after making it. This allows listeners to think about what we have said and consider its import. For example: “Zacchaeus was more interested in who Jesus was than what Jesus could do for him.” A pause after this statement gives listeners time to think about their own relationship with Christ.
  2. Pausing prepares our listeners for what we are going to say next. Pausing also gives listeners time to prepare for, or anticipate, what we will say next. This is especially useful after asking a rhetorical question such as: “Why do so many Christians feel they have to earn God’s approval?” A brief pause here allows listeners time to think about an answer. 
  3. Pausing gives our listeners an opportunity to breathe. Especially when we’re working through an exegetically rich text, pausing periodically keeps listeners from becoming overwhelmed. We must remember that most of our listeners will not have spent as much time studying the passage as we have.
  4. Pausing allows the preacher to gather (or regather) his thoughts. Sometimes preachers lose their train of thought or forget the next emphasis of their message. Pausing for a moment to look again at the text (or notes) allows the preacher to get back on track. 
  5. Pausing may regain the attention of listeners. Whether we like it or not, our listeners may unintentionally “tune us out” as they begin thinking about a host of matters often unrelated to the sermon. And, some may even begin to nod off! Pausing upsets the sound equilibrium and alerts listeners to the fact that something has changed. I have often been surprised by how many people look up (or wake up!) after I have paused for just a second or two. 
  6. Pausing allows the preacher to vary his rate and pitch. Often when preaching, I fall into a predictable rhythm and pitch. Like listening to the soft rumble of an automobile on the highway, my listeners may be lulled into a comfortable “ride” where they are not really hearing what I am saying. I have found that pausing periodically helps me recalibrate my speaking rate (am I speaking too fast/slow?) and vary my vocal pitch (am I speaking too high/low?). 

Preachers: what other reasons would you give for pausing while preaching?

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