Every preacher I know wants to get better; we are all clawing forward amid the windstorm of our own inability. In this I don’t pretend to be an expert but I do have the sand in my face. I’m with you trying to get there.
Previously I cited 4 ways to improve your preaching from a more administrative, preparatory way. I have also highlighted ways to help in prayerful preparation. However, in this post I want to talk about a few items that you can do in the delivery of the sermon that I have found to help. Let’s call them 5 friends that you want to invite to every one of your sermons.
1. Word Pictures: Do you want to liven up your sermon? Hang up some pictures. Paint some rooms. Open a window. Sermons should not smell like an old musty closet; you need some air, some life, and some color in it. This whole world is stamped with God’s creative seal, therefore find how it illustrates, elucidates or further communicates your point and go and get it. If you want more help on this read Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. You could also read Thomas Watson, my man was a homiletical artist. I also found this book helpful. Fill your sermon with word pictures.
2. Interrogatives: We too often forget that the sermon is a conversation. No we are not audibly dialoging back and forth but we are at our best when we are homiletically talking backing forth. If the sermon is simply the giving of information then interaction will be limited. It will be like getting a tour through an old museum. Instead we want to engage our listeners. One of the best ways to do this is to ask questions. You might ask,”What does a lack of prayer say about your view of yourself?” This crucial step makes the person actually answer in their minds. You could just say, “A lack of prayer indicates that you believe that you are self-sufficient.” However, that crucial step, repeated dozens of times during the sermon helps to keep people tracking and finding the answers in the Bible. Fill your sermon with questions.
3. The “2nd Person Plural”: This goes along with the previous point, you have got to engage people. If your sermon is propositional (and it must be) then it must call them to believe something, address something or do something. Mixing in some 2nd person “You!” is very helpful. Of course that could go overboard so you want to mix it up. I have found Mark Dever to be a very helpful example of this. He has a ton of phrases that he uses, such as: friend, brother, sister, you, we, church, single person, married person, Christian, men, women, children, etc. Thoughtfulness here will only help you hit the mark.
4. Personal Transparency: The preacher is most effective when the sermon’s truth has gripped him. He not only needs to know the subject but he needs to believe it. As a result the sermon will seep down into his life and get ahold of him. This brings about conviction, repentance and change. It is healthy and helpful to model this as a pastor. I should also say that taken to its extreme this could lend itself to a public personal show every week. This would become a distraction and problem. Be gripped by the truth and then show how it grips you, in so doing don’t make it about you.
5. Acknowledged Tension: Since you are preaching propositionally there is going to be some type of opposition to the truth. “Husbands must love and lead their wives.” There is the truth right out of Ephesians 5. Now don’t just tell people why to do it and that they need to do it, actually tell them what type of opposition there is to doing it. Expose the idols that get in the way. Show that a love for self and stuff will always suffocate a love for God and others. Tease it out and put it on display. I like how Matt Chandler repeatedly does this in his preaching. He says things like: “What are the obstacles to obeying this truth.”
Another aspect of acknowledging tension is to tease out the difficulty of the passage. For example, we are called to forgive one another. What about those who will not confess or repent? How do we handle that? How does 70 times 7 play out? Tease it out. Your people are already thinking it, you should have thought of it, so go ahead and work it out. Remember, you are a shepherd.
These are things you can do right away and they will bring immediate impact. As I look back on sermons that have seemed to have the most traction they have most often been the ones when I have faithfully unfolded the passage, gotten out of the way and let these 5 friends loose. Give it a try, I guarantee it will work. If not, then I’ll give you a full refund.