I grew up as the shyest kid at school. I almost failed Senior English because I couldn’t pass the public speaking assignment. While training to become a teacher, my supervisor told me that I should give up and find another career. When I first started preaching, I was told “Don’t try to be funny if you don’t have a sense of humour”. So I’m very aware of how difficult preaching can be and what it feels like to fail.
Today I speak about 200 times per year. Some of these messages go well, others not so well. And although I don’t consider myself to be especially good at speaking, I’ve at least had the opportunity to make lots of mistakes and hopefully learn from my failures.
Any way, here’s some random things I’ve learned…
#1 PRESENT EVERYTHING IN LIGHT OF THE GOSPEL
The gospel needs to be preached either explicitly or implicitly at some stage during the message. And everything needs to be preached in light of the gospel.
#2 NEVER USE GUILT TO MOTIVATE
Guilt will lead to short-term external change. But it will not lead to long-term change of heart that leads to a change of life.
There are at least 4 effective ways to motivate people…
A) Reminding people of what God has done for them
B) The hope of transformation
C) Getting to be part of something bigger than ourselves
D) Believing in people
More can be found here: How to Motivate People
#3 VARY THE INTENSITY
If the speaker is light-hearted the entire time, it’s unlikely that anything will be driven home. But if the speaker is intense and passionate the entire time, they are exhausting to listen to.
A good speaker will vary the intensity. They’ll oscillate between being light-hearted and passionate, between being funny and serious.
#4 KEEP POWERPOINT REALLY SIMPLE
Studies show that in most cases PowerPoint actually distracts from the message rather than enhances it.
Here’s some key principles…
> Make sure there is a consistent colour scheme and only use a couple of colours.
> Make sure the font is large enough to read.
> Limit the amount of text per slide
Most important principle…
> The audience needs to be glued to the speaker and not the slides. Do not allow anything to come up on the screen before the speaker is referencing it. Text needs to be read word-for-word. Pictures need to come up only as the speaker starts to tell the story.
#5 CLARITY IS KING
It is better to be clear and boring than vague and interesting. People might listen to a vague speaker once or twice because they like them, but they will not continue to listen to them over time.
#6 BE REALLY HUMBLE. BE REALLY NICE. BE REALLY LOVING.
Any hint of looking down upon others needs to be ruthlessly eliminated from the pulpit. The moment we think we’re better than the people we’re speaking to, is the moment we give up the right to speak.
#7 RUTHLESSLY ELIMINATE CHURCH JARGON
The following table gives some possible examples of how to use ‘normal’ language…
Obviously there are times throughout the message when the speaker will need to use theological language: ‘Justified’, ‘Sanctified’, ‘Son of Man’, ‘Trinity’, etc. It’s perfectly ok to use these terms. They just need to be defined along the way.
#8 ALWAYS ASSUME THAT THERE ARE NON-CHRISTIANS IN THE AUDIENCE & CATER FOR THEM
Tim Keller argues that we should always speak to both believers and unbelievers at the same time.
He explains that when we speak to the unbelievers, we are modelling to Christians how to do evangelism. And when we speak to the believers, we are allowing the unbelievers to see what they’re getting into should they become a Christian.
I’ve written about this here.
#9 DON’T BE BORING
Even though content and clarity are important, the message will only be heard if people are listening. We can’t assume that people are interested. It is better to assume that they are uninterested and that we need to work hard to hold their attention.
#10 ONLY USE CURRENT MULTI-MEDIA
Culture is like a river. If a person steps out of river and then steps back in, the water they stepped out of is not the same as the water they step back into.
If we’re going to try and connect with culture, we need to realize that culture keeps moving. This means we can only use the latest music, movies and tv shows.
There are exceptions of course. Some things are timeless: ‘Lord of the Rings’, ‘Star Wars’, ‘The Simpsons’, ‘The Sound of Music’, ‘Billy Jean’ by Michael Jackson, ‘All I want for Christmas’ by Mariah Carey, etc. But in general it is better to have no multi-media than outdated multi-media.
#11 SAY ‘WE’ NOT ‘YOU’
As much as possible, the speaker wants to reduce the distance between themselves and the audience. They want to communicate that ‘we’re all in this together’. One really simple way to do this is to use the terms ‘us’, ‘we’ and ‘ours’ instead of ‘you’ and ‘yours’.
STRUCTURE (35 Minutes)
INTRODUCTION (3 Minutes)
To lead the audience to a place where they really want to listen to the speaker.
Typical introductions might include…
> Funny Story
> Interactive Activity
> Funny Memes (that you talk through)
> Something interesting that happened in the news.
Note: Do not use a movie or youtube clip. Although clips grab people’s attention, they don’t connect the audience with the speaker. They only connect the audience with the clip or the topic. Multi-media can be used later but not in the introduction.
LEAD-UP (3 minutes)
To lead the audience to a place where they really want to listen to the content.
The key here is to raise a problem or question that relates to people in the audience.
Examples might include…
> Can I be sure I’m going to heaven?
> How to deal with stress.
> Why bother praying if God already knows what we need before we ask?
> What to do if you don’t know what to do.
It’s important that the problem or question is actually relevant to the people in the audience.
BIBLE (15 minutes)
To teach through a passage (or several passages) of the Bible in order to solve the problem or answer the question with one simple statement.
Two key things to remember…
> The context of the passage needs to be explained.
> Ideally the passage is taught in such a way that the audience will arrive at the solution or answer before they are told what it is.
MAIN POINT (1 minute)
To state the solution or answer in one simple statement.
Ideally the statement will be…
> Extremely clear and easy to comprehend
> God often waits to act until we pray.
> We can either have our rights or have the relationship. But if we want to keep the relationship in tact then, we need to be willing to give up our rights.
> The journey of faith is more like a pathway than a tightrope. When we fall, we simply get back up and keep walking.
> Either we pay for our sin or Jesus pays for our sin. But somebody’s got to pay.
> Jesus was condemned so that we can become uncondemnable.
> God doesn’t want to just free us from the consequences of sin. He wants to free us from the power of sin.
ILLUSTRATE MAIN POINT (3 minutes)
To illustrate the main point in order to make it more clear & memorable.
There are several ways to do this…
> Object Lesson
APPLICATION (8 minutes)
To convince the audience that this one thing changes everything.
There are at least four ways to do this…
OPTION A: CAST VISION
> Imagine how this would change our workplaces…
> Imagine how this would revolutionize our families…
> Imagine what might happen if everyone in the church got hold of this…
> Imagine what this might do for our personal lives…
OPTION B: TELL STORIES
> Story 1 shows how this one thing changes everything
> Story 2 shows how this one thing changes everything
> Story 3 shows how this one thing changes everything
OPTION C: DEAL WITH OBJECTIONS
> But what about…
> If this is really true, wouldn’t it mean this…?
> It’s one thing to say this, but does it really work…?
> Surely this isn’t how God actually works…?
OPTION D: LIST REASONS AS TO WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT
> Reason 1 – This really matters because…
> Reason 2 – This really matters because…
> Reason 3 – This really matters because…
CONCLUSION (2 minutes)
To transition to prayer & response.
If the goal is to transition to prayer & response, then it’s really important that the speaker doesn’t…
A) Introduce any new information
B) Spend time recapping what he or she just said for the last 35 minutes.
Here are some possible ways to transition to prayer…
> Tell a story
> Read a quote
> Show a clip