"It's not what was said, it was how it was said."
At one time or another every one of us has said this. We hear someone express an idea or criticize someone, and we don't necessarily disagree, but we wish it would have been said more tactfully or more clearly. It is also true that, at some point in our lives, all of us could have expressed something better.
There is no substitute for substantive content in preaching, and there is also no alternative to good articulation while preaching. The most profound ideas will be lost in the midst of bad grammar and poorly expressed words, phrases and awkward repetition. Moreover, the good preacher will have mastered the art of voice inflection, tempo and rhythm in pronunciation, and a sensitivity to know when to pause in silence.
Good articulation involves the following:
First, good grammar is essential. It is the case that some in listening to the sermon will not catch bad grammar when it is used, but there are plenty of persons who will. And it is the true that bad grammar leaves the impression that the person speaking is not too bright. That may be an unfair judgment, but it is a judgment that will be made nonetheless.
There is no excuse for a preacher to use bad grammar (unless it is used intentionally for emphasis). In addition, it is important to master the elements of grammar that are commonly missed even by most persons with good grammatical skills. (For example, when the subject of the sentence is "none," the verb is singular, such as in the sentence "None of us is perfect.") Also avoid words that are commonly used, but do not exist ("Irregardless" is not a word). And we must be sure that we use the correct word for the correct context. ("Further" is used to refer to degree, "farther" is used to indicate distance.)
The point is that a good preacher can do well with good grammar, but a great preacher will have mastered the greater and least known rules of grammar, which will take the sermon to a different level.
Second, preach plainly with elegant words. Substance should not be lost amid obtuse vocabulary, but plain spoken language should not be expressed in simplistic fashion. In addition, there is something elegant in listening to someone who uses synonyms instead of the same word repetitively. A good sermon has one major point that is expressed differently throughout. A good preacher will reinforce the main point in different ways, and will return to that point by way of different "roads" of speech and analogies.
Third, an effective preacher will know how to emphasize the significant with voice inflection, and pregnant pauses; and not just with the punchline of a funny story, but also in making a profound point. Every sermon contains the momentous. An articulate pastor will also know where to place words in a sentence to drive home the important in order to highlight the sermonic moment.
Fourth, and finally, effective preaching is rehearsed. When I step into the pulpit on Sunday morning, I have preached my sermon out loud between four and five times the night before and early on Sunday morning. Not only does this allow me to keep my glancing at my manuscript to a minimum, but I am familiar with my words to be able to (I hope) proclaim the Word of the Lord effectively in all of the ways I have mentioned. Moreover, in rehearsing the sermon, additional ideas and thoughts come to my mind that I did not include in the manuscript, so I find that I am much more effective at my ad libitum comments.
While there is a certain amount of gift that is required for effective preaching, one's communication skills can be honed over time with practice, intentionality, and, of course, prayer.
The most obvious counter-example would be the famous evangelist Dwight L. Moody. So, there is always hope. And, my impression (from reading some of his sermons long ago) is that he got better over time — or else he had a good editor.
There are counter-examples indeed, and examples of those who greatly improved with time and determination.
This would be great! The only problem is for those folks who state that they are "called" or "gifted" to preach. Their claim is that all they really need to do is follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. Many of these have some good thoughts, but simply don't know how to express them. Nor, do they feel that they should try to learn since God's Spirit is leading.
This is a great, concise explanation of some of the basics of good sermon delivery. I wish that something like this could be shared at local pastor's licensing schools.
In your sixth paragraph you have a parenthetical phrase that isn't closed. Which is a touch ironic in a conversation about grammatical accuracy. We all need good editors.
Form is important but theological skills are still much more important to me that perfect grammar.
Thanks for pointing out the irony! By the way, you have a typo in the last paragraph of your comment. It should be "than" not "that."
That is a claim I too have heard. Being called or gifted (whatever that means) to preach does not mean that preaching cannot nor should not be improved upon. To use a calling or a gift as a rationale not to work at something is a poor theological excuse for being lazy.
I appreciate your thoughts immensely as I am one of those people in church that notices spelling errors, awkward pausing and grammar mistakes. In part, we are leaving a church where this is rampant and extremely distracting. I think it is vital to the role of a preacher to speak in a clear fashion and to not frustrate his audience with confusing messages that don't make any sense! Thank you for affirming my sentiments!
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