There are a multitude of mistakes that can be made in the delivery of a sermon. We can proof-text an idea or completely miss the point of a passage altogether. For the purpose of this post, I will not address the content of your expository work. Instead, I want to address the stuff that surrounds it and can help people hear the core of your message better. Here are five mistakes that we make and some encouragement about how to fix them.
1. Not preparing the introduction. A common mistake is to craft a great message and a great conclusion but stumble to get it all started. Oftentimes, we want to leave room to transition the congregation from the worship music we’ve been singing into the sermon. It is a good idea, so work with your worship leader to plan it out. Many of us have a standard opening that the church is accustomed to hearing and that works as well. Whatever is your comfort level, plan out something so that you are not fumbling with notes and searching for a transition in the moment.
2. Poorly planned illustrations. An illustration is only as great as its delivery. We’ve all found a great story or illustration, thought about it for a few moments, and written it into our notes. The problem is that we never thought about it again until the moment it needed to be said out loud in the sermon. With every illustration, you need to practice the delivery. Illustrations normally have a pivot point where you take people from the illustration to how it helps them apply the scriptural truth to their lives. Make sure you verbally work your way through it in your preparation.
3. Allowing your voice to fry. Recently, I had my voice go out on me about two-thirds of the way through my sermon. It is awful. I felt it coming on, and there was nothing I could do about it. But there is a way around it. Warm up your voice before the service. Don’t strain your voice while singing. And, for me, a significant key is to begin my message with a conversational tone. Whenever I start out with an uptight, overly-excitable, on-the-verge-of-shouting tone, then my voice is not going to make it. So… calm down.
4. Uh. Well. You see. If filler words and phrases are not the lowest form of communication, then they are in a close second to grunting. As you review your messages (and you should review the audio of them each week), discover why you tend to use filler sounds like uh, umm, and well. Make sure you mentally prepare for the transitions between points so you are not forced to make a grunt while searching for a transitional statement. It will also help if you will limit the number of last-minute edits you make to your notes. If you will finalize your notes in time to do a verbal run-through during the week, it will limit your filler words. Finally, don’t be afraid of a moment of silence. You don’t want it to be awkward, but there is also no need to create a continuous onslaught of sound with no audio break for the entire message.
5. Asking insulting rhetorical questions. Any time a speaker says “Do you hear what I’m saying?” or “Do you understand what I mean?” then the fault is most likely with the speaker. Of course they hear you. You’re standing right there talking. Of course they understand what you are saying. They are reasonably intelligent people. As speakers, we normally use such phrases when we are not getting the feedback we’re hoping to receive. It is more of a sign of insecurity than anything. To counteract it, plan out your statements and rhetorical questions that will draw the church into discovery rather than push them toward a defensive posture.
I am sure that there are many of verbal miscues that we make while delivering our messages. As I stated earlier, take time to listen to your messages each week. If your church does not record them, then use an app on your smart phone or a digital recorder. Preaching is a sacred and spiritual endeavor but that does not limit us from being disciplined in honing our craft.