“Have trouble sleeping?” the sign said. “We have sermons – come hear one.” I know of no preacher who steps into the pulpit and says, “I think I’ll be boring.” The unfortunate truth, though, is that many are. So how do we keep our preaching from becoming boring?
Let’s look at five ideas. These won’t solve everything, but they will be a strong start in the right direction; plus, they are all interrelated.
1. Communicate, Don’t Just Speak
Speaking is when the words of my mouth enter the openings of your ears. Communication is when what is understood in my mind is understood in yours. Communicators are not boring. Only speakers are boring. I’ve never heard one person say, “He is such a boring communicator.” That means everything we say has to be so understandable, so relevant, so applicable to life where our listeners are living that they are watching us instead of their watches.
That is why preachers need to be expositors. Your exposition of Scripture needs to be clear. The passage you studied and tore apart needs to be put back together before you enter the pulpit. The pulpit is not the place to do your exegesis. Our audiences are not impressed with how much Greek or Hebrew we know. What they really want to know is how the passage we’ve studied relates to their lives.
I am personally committed to speaking in such a way that the audience could take my message and reduce it to one sentence. I want them to think about that single truth as they leave the church, enter the workplace the next day, drive home, and converse with their family. That will assure they come back to hear what I have to say again. Relevant truth powerfully and clearly delivered is never boring.
2. Study! Study! Study! Work! Work! Work!
It takes study and work, both of which can be tiring, to put together a good message. I became distressed years ago when I came across a survey that revealed the average preacher spends 15 minutes of preparation per message.
My mentor and good friend, Haddon Robinson, has said it well, “Thinking is hard work; thinking about thinking is even harder work.” As a preacher, you have to think: what is the passage of Scripture saying? What exactly does it mean? How can I explain it in a way my audience will understand? How can I get them to think about their lives, their behavior, their needs, etc? That’s hard work.
Speaking takes 15 minutes of preparation. Communication involves hours of preparation that can leave one spiritually energized and physically weary from the work. I personally figure on at least 20 hours per message. A good work ethic is a must in preventing you from becoming a boring speaker. Study and work will also help you in a third area.
3. Use Great Illustrations
We are not talking to a reading generation; we are talking to a watching one. It’s been said, “People think with pictures in their head.” That means to be an interesting speaker you have to use effective illustrations, a few of which are even spiced with humor. One way speaking has changed from 30 years ago is that the number of illustrations needed per message has increased.
Jesus Christ was a master communicator. How often is it said of him in the New Testament, “And he spoke to them a parable”? He used stories to communicate divine truth. Aggressively build an illustration file so that when it’s time to speak, you have a whole file to draw from. Trying to find the illustration you need without a file to choose from is difficult and often impossible. If I’m speaking from a passage about discipleship, I want 20 to choose from, not two. That way, from my vast reservoir that approaches discipleship from different angles, I can choose the ringer, the one that fits just right. Illustrations enliven the audience and keep you from being boring.
Understand though, it’s not just content that keeps you from becoming a boring speaker. It’s also how that content is delivered.
4. Use Variety in Voice Tone and Speed
Variety in tone and speed is what helps to keep a message interesting. Avoid developing a rhythm in your speaking. Use pauses for effectiveness. At times, raise your voice for emphasis, at other times lower it. Speak faster in one sentence and slower in another. This allows the audience to enjoy an effective communicator; the audience doesn’t feel like they’re listening to a lecture. They are apt to say to you, “I benefit from what you say, and I also enjoy your delivery.”
5. Be Enthusiastic
Enthusiasm is engaging and contagious. If you’re not excited about the content of your message, the audience is not likely to be either. Excitement communicates, This is something that could change your life.
Sustained enthusiasm demands physical fitness. Coach Vince Lombardi was once asked why he drove his players so hard toward physical fitness. He answered, “Because fatigue makes cowards out of us all.” It also produces a poor speaker: he may start out strong in his introduction, but his lack of physical fitness produces a lack of sustained enthusiasm. If you want to keep your speaking from becoming boring, the discipline of a regular vigorous exercise routine is essential.
These five ideas will go a long way in preventing you from becoming a boring speaker. I personally do not know of any preacher characterized by these five ideas that I would call boring. May God help us to so communicate that people ignore their watches–and even forget they have one.