Most preachers are terrible communicators. There, I said it. You know it’s true. I wish it weren’t the case! I wish that God-fearing, Gospel-preaching Pastors were the standard for excellence in communication, but sadly, they usually are not. This is also among the primary reasons why an unbelieving world finds the message of Jesus so unbelievable…they’ve never heard it communicated with clarity, excellence and passion.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers here, but I would like to try and bring some perspective. As a student of preaching and a teacher of the mechanics of public speaking, I’ve put together a checklist that has helped me and I believe these simple steps can be effective tools for other preachers as well:
1. Watch Yourself. You can’t possibly know how you sound or look while you’re preaching unless you go through the awkward process of self-evaluation. Record every sermon you preach and then meticulously watch and listen for ways you can improve. I guarantee that you don’t look and sound the way you think you look and sound! Early on, my wife told me I was never smiling during sermons, and I told her she was wrong until I went back and watched the video. Sure enough, she was right (as usual). We don’t know until we see what the audience sees.
2. Study Communicators other than preachers. Most preachers learn to communicate by watching other preachers who are also awful communicators which leads to a form of “Intellectual Inbreeding“. Watch stellar preaching, but also intentionally seek out communicators outside the ministry who have mastered the art of timing and delivery. The best in the world tend to be stand-up comics, politicians, and actors who play lawyers on TV and in movies.
3. REHEARSE! Most preachers don’t rehearse their sermons and it shows. People are entrusting you with their most valuable resource, their time. If you aren’t fully prepared to preach, then don’t expect them to be fully prepared to stay awake. I don’t always get this much time, but my best sermons are the result of 15-20 hours of preparation including 3-5 full run-throughs before I ever preach it to an actual audience.
4. Pray. If the first prayer you say about the message happens when you’re in the pulpit before the congregation, you might as well just sit back down and let everybody go home early. Never underestimate the power of prayer and never overestimate your own ability. God will sometimes use ability, but God will always use prayer.
5. Give it your all. There is no higher calling than the calling to preach and teach so do it with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and God will do mighty things through you!
6. Give Information and Application. Prepare your sermon so that people have clear examples of how God’s Truth can be applied to their lives, their relationships, their careers, their finances, etc. If we can’t show people how to apply God’s Word, they’ll never grasp the importance of knowing God’s Word. Always clearly state what the “next steps” should be.
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” Colossians 3:23-24