Article copyright by Bob Rogers
Just because a person is in the pew doesn’t mean he or she will listen. How do you keep them from tuning out? Here are five ways:
1. Be creative. “It’s a sin to make the word of God boring.” So said one of my seminary professors. I agree. If the congregation knows that every sermon will have the traditional “three points and a poem,” they may tune you out simply because you are predictable. Why not try a different approach from time to time? If the passage is primarily a story, consider telling the story dramatically. If the text seems to have two main points or five main points, why not preach a sermon with that many points? If the passage is poetry, consider using music or other art to illustrate the text. Jim Burnett gives more advice on how to be creative in your preaching here.
2. Speak their language. Sometimes people tune us out because we aren’t speaking to their mindset. Failing to do so is like speaking in English to a French audience. Many women tire of constant illustrations from sports, and the well-educated and young people especially tune out statements that come across as judgmental or condescending. The best way to speak the mindset of your congregation is to know your people. Spending time with them, listening to their stories and opinions, and learning about their hobbies and interests, can make all the difference in the pastor’s preaching. The preacher does not have to agree with them; in fact, sometimes he will need to challenge their thinking, but if he knows them and has earned their trust, he can speak in a way that they will listen. Along these lines, the staff of Facts and Trends have compiled a useful article on how to engage nine different kinds of people with the Bible in this article.
3. Make messages on stewardship positive. One of the most challenging topics for ministers to discuss is stewardship. I have found it useful to do a stewardship emphasis by giving short talks on principles of giving early in the service, and then preach the main sermon on a different subject. This touches on stewardship, yet takes away the excuse that “all the church does is talk about money.” It is also important to keep the subject positive, praising and thanking those who give, and talking about the great ministry of the church that people want to support with their offerings. Todd McMichen has some helpful hints on stewardship messages here.
4. Learn how to defend the faith. Many preachers and teachers recognize the need for apologetics (defending the faith), but often feel inadequate doing it. When you prepare a sermon, stop and think what objections people may have. How might a non-believer or person from a different faith background disagree? Write down the questions of your imaginary skeptic. Then seek to give a reasonable answer to the objections of that imaginary person. A great resource is The Apologetics Study Bible, which has notes right in the text to answer objections of skeptics and explain responses to non-Christian interpretations of scripture. This article by Andy McLean should help, as well.
5. Preach with passion. Passionate preaching is not about using a loud voice; in fact, it may be a low voice. Passionate preaching is from heart-felt conviction. When the congregation can feel that you are deeply convinced of what you are saying, they will be impacted by the Spirit of God. This comes from being personally moved by God by the scripture, and bathing the matter in prayer. That is why there is no substitute for much study and soul-searching prayer in preparation for the sermon.
I once heard a dignified preacher talk about visiting Hoover Dam. He said, “I looked over the whole dam project.” There was a pause, and then he blurted out, “I mean the project of the dam!” That’s when the congregation erupted in laughter.
It’s an occupational hazard of preachers. As pastor Chuck Pourciau says, “If you say a lot of words, the odds are that eventually something will come out wrong.” I asked some pastors to share their stories, and they generously told the following. Don’t judge them for things that sound risqué by accident. It was not their intention.
Preachers know it is dangerous to talk about politics, but Jonathan Kittrell remembers trying to say something about Osama Bin Laden and accidentally saying Barack Obama. However, his biggest blooper was not when he misspoke but when he miss-stepped. He did a character sermon on Job in costume. It going beautifully until he sat down on the stage. He forgot to put shorts on under his biblical attire. (I think that story is brief enough.)
Dick Allison was pastor of FBC Jellico, TN. He was preaching about Joshua and the walls of Jericho, except that he continually said throughout the sermon, “The walls of Jellico came tumbling down!” (Now that’s what I call bringing the sermon home to the congregation.)
Larry Robertson says that once he was preaching a topical series on Sunday nights about “Hot Potatoes,” hot topics/ethical issues facing the church. That evening he was going to be addressing the issue of pornography, and he was encouraging everyone to be there, only that’s not how it came out. He said, “We’ve been looking at ‘Hot Potato’ issues facing the church on Sunday nights lately, and tonight we’re going to be looking at pornography. You don’t want to miss tonight’s sermon as we look at pornography together…”
Robbie Passmore says he was preaching a funeral and instead of saying Lighthouse, he said Outhouse. (He may have been in the dog house after that funeral!)
Chuck Pourciau was once doing a graveside service, and said, “Thank you that Mrs….” He meant to say the name of the deceased, but instead he said the name of a friend of the deceased who was sitting under the funeral home tent, very much alive. He thought, “I can’t say, Thank you that Mrs. So-and-so isn’t dead, too,” so he just started the sentence over again and said the correct name.
James Canada says that once he meant to say “a live organism” but he left out a syllable, which undoubtedly caused the congregation to gasp.
Joe McKeever was in the middle of a sermon, when suddenly, it occurred to him that the purple tie he was wearing illustrated the point he was making. “Now, take this necktie,” he said. “Someone gave me this tie. I hate this tie. This is one ugly necktie.” Long pause. Getting uncomfortable. Small laughter. “Uh oh. I just remembered who gave me this tie.” The congregation erupted with laughter. (Brother Joe was relieved that the couple who had presented him with that necktie the previous Christmas were laughing harder than anyone.)
Donnie Brannen has several stories about the bloopers of other preachers. He heard a syllable stumble like the one above, and another blooper by a preacher friend who was asked by the deacon body at his church to address the issue of women wearing pants to church. As he preached, he said, “When the Bible was written, pants weren’t even invented. What the Bible says, is that men shouldn’t dress as women and women as men. But women’s pants are not men’s clothing. They don’t look the same; they aren’t cut the same. Men, have you tried to get in your wife’s pants lately?”
Now before you get offended at these stories, let’s acknowledge that many Christians need to lighten up and not take ourselves too seriously. The Bible says in Ecclesiastes 3:4 that there is a time to laugh, and Jesus pronounced a blessing on laughter in Luke 6:21. So when the preacher’s tongue gets tangled, smile a mile, forgive, and remember that we are all sinners saved by grace.
Copyright 2012 by Bob Rogers
An older pastor retired and moved back to his home in rural Mississippi. A few days later, his phone rang. Below is a verbatim transcript of the phone conversation:
“You got a King James Bible?” the person asked.
“Can you sweat?”
“Got a handkerchief to wipe the sweat?”
“Then I know a church looking for a preacher.”
Apparently, those were the qualifications for a preacher– a King James Bible and the ability to sweat when preaching.
The apostle Paul added some other qualifications. According to the King James Version, he said, “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:17-18, 23-24, KJV)
So if you’re looking for a preacher, find one that preaches about the cross of Jesus Christ, for the message we all need to hear is about Jesus’ sacrifice for our sin. And if the preacher can work up a sweat about it, that’s an added bonus.