Dale Note: So, I made a trip to Africa a while back with Jeff and Steve Bailey to preach, teach, speak on a lectureship and conduct BETTER conferences there. The most important person in my life, my Melanie, fell sick (for the first time in our 34 years of married life) and I rushed back home. Twenty-eight hours on a plane without any services to distract. The last leg of the trip was from Chicago to Nashville. I sat in seat 12D waiting for the flight to take off - exhausted. And I spotted a guy who looked an awfully lot like my freshman year Public Speaking 101 teacher. Through red eyes as he got closer I was more convinced but still had to ask: “Steve, err, Brother Johnson, Dale Jenkins I don't expect you'll remember me but I was in your freshman speech class back in 1980.” I got to say an extended, heartfelt “thank you” and he was gracious to pretend he knew me and followed our work. He had just retired and he and his lovely wife were returning from visiting a missionary who was having some health challenges. At 32,000 feet I had a “spark of consciousness.” Why not ask a guy who has taught speech to over 2,000 preachers and teachers what he would have to say to preachers from his experience. So, with thanks to Steve, here you go:
One of the most frustrating experiences in listening to a sermon was when a preacher would quote scripture, make a point with it and the repeat the point several times. In one sermon I counted the same statement repeated 7 times. I was so frustrated that I quit listening and read my Bible. Repetition is an effective way for people to learn, but is not effective when used almost exclusively.
You can improve your content by using an illustration; quoting poetry; using statistics; giving a brief example or putting the scripture on PowerPoint and underlining the significant parts. Variety in the content creates more interest and holds the audience’s attention. It also improves comprehension and retention. As you go through your daily activities always be alert for material than be used to enliven and improve the content of your lessons.
Another problem encountered occasionally in listening to a sermon is one that is poorly organized. The importance of organization is that it helps comprehension and retention. A poorly organized sermon can leave an audience wondering what was the point of the sermon and how the content fit within that subject.
One area of organization than can be problematic is the clarity and structure of main points. The 3 to 5 main points in a sermon stand out. The audience should not be forced guess about them. Phrase them carefully and, if possible, in a consistent manner. You should also number them consistently for the audience, and put them on PowerPoint. More could be said on this subject, but that deserves separate consideration.
A third observation about preaching concerns introduction and conclusion of sermons. Sometimes it seems to me that preachers just prepare the body of the sermon and leave the intro and conclusion for impromptu development when the sermon begins and ends. While this can be effective sometimes, the intro and conclusion are much too important to not plan some of what will be said.
The introduction must gain the attention of the audience, direct that attention to the specific topic of the sermon and convince the audience that they should listen to the remainder of the sermon. All this should take no more than 15% of the total time of the sermon. A simple way to do all three of these functions is to us an illustration to begin the sermon. A good story will gain and hold attention while developing interest in the subject.
The conclusion should be shorter than the intro (no more than 10% of total time). With sermons in particular the conclusion should summarize the subject without wandering. A sermon that takes too long to end is like an airplane circling the airport but waiting to land. The passengers become impatient and listeners also become impatient. Make the point and end the sermon.
My experience over the years indicates that most preachers in the Churches of Christ are good speakers and generally present their lessons effectively. Sometimes, however, some additional work is needed. These are just three areas that sometimes could use some more work.