There are lots of different kinds of deliveries. There’s regular mail, there’s Fed Ex, there’s UPS… we could go on and on. But when it comes to the delivery of the sermon it’s not just about fast or slow, regular or irregular. There are more effective and less effective ways of communicating with a particular audience. Here, knowing one’s audience is crucial. There is a difference between a word on target, and using the buckshot approach and hoping to hit something. Of course this means you need to get to know your audience. It’s about connecting the Message to the people. And we must always remember its not about the Messenger, though at times you will have parishioners who think it is, and want to shoot the Messenger.
Let’s start with voice. Do you know what you sound like? Are you loud or are you soft. Do you have a high voice or a low voice, or somewhere in between? You need to know this. Why? Because some voices are harder to hear than others due to pitch. And you need to know this. Proper miking helps of course, but if you have a soft voice, you must not allow your voice to drop regularly into a lower register, or people will simply miss the end of sentences. And this is not good. Then there is the issue of volume. Some people are just loud, some are just soft. If you are loud you can easily come across as overbearing, boorish, browbeating etc. You need to learn to modulate your voice. It should not be like the preacher who wrote in his sermon notes “not sure about this point, increase volume and pound the pulpit hard”. Volume never ever makes up for a lack of substance.
This leads to a discussion of enthusiasm. Being dull is deadly when you have the most exciting message ever written down. Indeed, it is a contradiction in terms. It is o.k., indeed advisable to show your enthusiasm for the Word, and for what you have learned from it. Indeed, when people see their pastor get excited about something, even if they don’t fully get it, they too can become excited. Somethings are more caught than taught anyway.
And then there is the issue of gestures. If you gesticulate wildly, you will indeed appear out of control, even unhinged to some. Of course this varies from congregation to congregation. In some Pentecostal contexts no gesticulation means no preaching, so of course you have to be sensitive to your context. The first church of the Frigidaire however is not much fond of wild gestures. It ought to be gestures that come naturally to you, not something forced, but something that helps make your points. The opposite of this— standing like a statue and simply reading your sermon text is not so good either, though God can use most anything. But consider this— would you rather be used in the way Paul was used, or would you rather be used in the way Balaam or his donkey was used ? You get the point.
The preacher’s demeanor will convey the seriousness of the message, his enthusiasm the exciting nature of the experience, his learning the need for studying the Word, and his application the relevance of the message. All of this, and much more is ‘leaning into the sermon’. But in the end don’t be like the following example.
The young preacher was worried about getting through his first sermon at his first church, a little country church. All throughout the week he practiced and practiced his sermon. He practiced on his children until they complained, he practiced on the dog until it howled, he practiced on his wife until she said ‘no mas’. He practiced in the shower, and finally decided to memorize the text just in case he got too nervous. He knew his congregation frowned on preachers who used notes much less a sermon text.
The day of reckoning, Sunday, came along. He manage to remember all the elements of worship leading up to the sermon, even remembered to take up the collection like the bishop urged.
After reading the text for the sermon he closed the Bible he gripped the pulpit and in a loud voice said ‘Behold I Come’ and then his mind went absolutely blank. Panic overcame the young man. What would he do?
Now this little country church had a pulpit that hovered over the front row of pews so the appearance was that of Moses giving the ten commandments from Mt. Sinai. Backing up in the pulpit which had a little runway, the young minister launched himself at the pulpit and said again, even louder ‘BEHOLD I COME!’ Still nothing came to mind after that.
Now the preacher was really sweating. His palms were moist. He decided to back up and try one final time. Charging the pulpit his sweaty palms slipped as he attempted to grip it and he went right over the front of the pulpit and into the lap of persons on the front row.
Picking himself up, and the lady he had landed on, red faced he apologized and said ‘I am ever so sorry mam..’ as he envisioned his ministry career ending before it really began.
To this she replied…. ‘well it wasn’t a total surprise, You done told me three times you was comin’”