This list could be called pet peeves, but really what it is is a list of things that annoy, rather than interest the audience who is listening to a sermon or a lecture. If you want to irritate your audience and make them tune you out sooner rather than later, then you can ignore this post. If on the other hand you’d like them to pay attention, then this post is for you.
First of all, one of the fundamental rules of communication is to treat your audience with respect. Don’t treat them like they are dumb or hard of hearing. You don’t need to yell at them. Yelling immediately turns off a good deal of your audience.
Secondly, stop calling the congregation ‘you guys’ when in fact in most churches the majority of the audience is women! Women are not guys. If you want a generic term that works with everyone use ‘folks’.
Thirdly, be well enough prepared to avoid completely unnecessary and irritating terms like— uh, well, ummm, you know ( I mean if they already know, why are you telling them again), for sure, now (when else would it be if you were speaking directly to an audience).
Fourthly try to avoid gestures that suggest you didn’t shower or shave or dress properly or are not well— like scratching, pulling up your socks, running your fingers through your hair, clearing your throat incessantly, blowing your nose, tucking your shirt in etc. All of this makes you look like you shouldn’t be doing what you are doing at that point. Unless you are someone like Tim Hawkins doing a comedy routine mostly for teens, all of this should be avoided. I realize casual is increasingly a trend in praise worship services, but it raises a question— should you and your congregation be treating worship as a casual matter? Should you encourage your congregation to see themselves as consumers of worship, couch potatoes for Jesus, simply watching the performance on the platform? Actually the answer to those two questions is no— its supposed to be congregational worship by all of us, and we are supposed to take it seriously. After all, it’s God whom you are meeting in this worship service, not the host of Jeopardy.
Fifthly, Stop reading soundbytes or mcnuggets from the Bible which you then take out of context, instead of whole passages from the Bible. Careful contextual interpretation of a passage with careful application of the passage makes for good preaching.
Sixthly, you need to know enough about your own voice to know when it’s too soft (stop lowering your voice at the end of sentences, which the congregation then doesn’t hear) and when it’s too loud. You should know when your voice is grating and when it is more attractive and interesting. There is a place for being dramatic, but not melodramatic in the pulpit— the latter being phony emotion ramped up by you, not genuine excitement about what God’s Word is saying.
Seventhly, you should always have persons in your life who can evaluate how you come across to an audience. Someone who will give you an honest appraisal of the effect of your communication, gestures, body language tone of voice and so on.
I once saw an army vet who had lost both legs in Vietnam preach from a pulpit while holding himself up on the pulpit the whole time (he had huge upper arms), and then as a grand conclusion, he did a front flip over the pulpit and into his wheelchair and wheeled himself down the aisle to loud applause. The problem is, I don’t remember a thing he said— I only remember the stunt at the end of the sermon which erased in my mind everything that came before. I would just say– don’t say or do anything that overshadows the congregation hearing and heeding God’s Word, and especially don’t do anything that makes you the focus of attention rather than the Word. To paraphrase John the Baptizer— ‘you must decrease, and the Word must increase’.