Homiletics: The Number One Reason Speakers Don’t Improve

Image result for for dummies   Jesus Was “Deity For Dummies**.”

After YEARS of teaching public address in state & private universities, Christian colleges and seminaries — added to years of speaking and preaching — I think I have the #1 reason that speakers and preachers are “uninspiring” – and/or actually boring!

It is not . . . .

• that the speaker does not know the content or context of the passage well enough. 1

• that the preacher does not understand what the passage teaches. 2

• that the preacher lacks a good general understanding of biblical truths and/or related passages which help flesh out or illustrate what the passage is teaching. 3

• that most speakers or preachers have not done enough speaking and preaching.4

• that most speakers or preachers do not work at and on their messages. 5


It is NOT theological, biblical or experiential!

It is what Tim Keller so clearly states when he says . . . .(Audio Link: Tim Keller — Video Link below)

As Keller states, illustrates, and emphasizes . . . .

The #1 reason is that speakers and preachers do not
Work At The Art Of Public Speaking / Persuasion.

Many preachers consider it illegitimate to work at their rhetorical / persuasive skills!

YET we spend our lives engaged in public address!
Our world
 — as speakers and preachers — is the world of . . . .

attempting to make clear and real biblical truths
applicating of truth to living real lives in a fallen world
helping people to live out biblical truths this week — and for years ahead
arguing God’s truth as the way to think and see life
presenting truth to those who come to and want to hear, all in one hour.

It is much like an executive chef — the focus of a quality chef is on the dinner, not all the details and work that goes on in his mind and in the kitchen.  God’s people are there for the dinner, not all the details which occupied the mind and energy of the chef prior to the presentation of the dinner.

As I listened to Keller, I was again reminded on how important it is to understand, improve, and develop in the art of public speaking – the art of persuasion!

Three classes in seminary — called homiletics, more like fundamental of Speech 101 for Seminary — is not enough to provide someone with the tools to effectively spend their whole life speaking publicly.

If you as a speaker or preacher are not seeking to understand and improve your skills as a public speaker, you will likely not improve – expect by the slim hope of “unconscious experiential accidents” — by unknowingly and accidentally adapting and changing how you teach and speak over time that you come to learn — by tripping over the changes.

Many will adopt a general approach to the preparation of their notes and to the presentation of biblical truths in their earliest of ministry years, —  and which — unfortunately  — will mark their speaking, teaching, and preaching for the span of their preaching ministry.

Even though there are 64 colored crayons in the box, many will pull out the same gray crayon week after week — and many will do that even while they think they understand what Keller is saying.

Actually, many will agree with and be moved by Tim Keller and yet are still insignificantly unchanged in their crayon selections — still unchanged in their approach to effective communication.  Because????

May I suggest . . . .

Many are too kind on themselves.

Many see small attempts at change as more significant than they are.

Many are far more sender than receptor-oriented.

Many believe what people tell them because they want to believe it.

Many believe they are better than they are.

Many think it is wrong to try to be persuasive.

As Keller states . . . .

we don’t use wise and persuasive words
that means we don’t focus on needs
we don’t analyze culture
we don’t analyze the audience
we just speak the truth
we just preach the truth
I just tell people what’s in the text

Too many believe that is preaching — a running commentary on the obvious!




Other Information & Links

** Audio clip of Tim Keller on “Diety for Dummies” – at around 13 minute mark of full audio / video.


1. Though there are times when a speaker or preacher is rushed by circumstances and preparation or a lack of it takes a toll on the effectiveness of the message.

2. Even pastors who miss what the particular Bible passage actually teaches can hold the attention and interest of the audience.

I understand that a preacher wants to approach a passage in a fresh way, and not be swayed by a particular commentator.  Nevertheless, there is a wealth of commentaries and books, old and new, which can firm that up.  Actually, what the passage is teaching is typically very well understood by even the most uninspiring preachers.

3. The preacher’s knowledge of the Bible has been informed for years experientially in listening to years of Bible teaching in many non-academic settings, as well as in a three year or more academic environment.

4. Inexperience may account for some weakness in the first year — but 50 to 150 messages later ought to resolve most of those weaknesses.  Speakers do get better through experience.  Nevertheless, if one is the senior pastor on staff, surely they are the senior or lead pastor for a reason — and experience is one of those reasons.

5. Improving in speaking is not directly correlated to the time and energy which is exerted.  Unfortunately, most time is spent theologically even though the main or driving theme-idea of the passage is well understood.


Tim Keller partial transcript [ Full Video Link:]:

Partial Transcript of and audio (which beings around the 1:35-minute mark of the full audio)

Now the very subject of persuasion makes people nervous especially in more orthodox traditional circles and one of the reasons is because – it’s – when you talk about persuasion you seem to be focusing on the – the listeners the audience
you’re trying to find out something about them — to know what makes them tick what their — what their desires are what their fears are so that you can sell them something and so the very notion of persuasion sounds like marketing or spin or salesmanship

and many people will quote 1st Corinthians 2 — in the very beginning where Paul speaks about how he preaches

and they will say — Look Paul doesn’t do persuasion
he doesn’t — he says he doesn’t do it
he doesn’t do marketing
he doesn’t do audience analysis
he doesn’t do cultural analysis

he just explains the text
he just preaches the Word

so for example let’s read it this is Page 29 — 1st Corinthians 2 when I came to you brothers I did not come with eloquence or Sapir your wisdom as I proclaim to you the testimony about God for I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified I came to you in weakness and fear and with much trembling

my message — my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words but with a demonstration of the Spi rit’s power so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom but on God’s power

now what does that look like
I mean I understand why people say — well what that what he’s saying is. — We don’t use wise and persuasive words
that means we don’t focus on needs
we don’t analyze culture
we don’t analyze the audience
we just speak the truth
we just preach the truth
I just tell people what’s in the text
and that’s what Paul saying
that’s all there is to it
he’s not trying to persuade anybody
he’s just proclaiming
he’s not finding out rhetorical strategies or apologetic strategies
he’s just proclaiming the word

and that’s what it looks like because it says we — we just proclaim Jesus Christ and Him crucified and we don’t use wise and persuasive words

the only problem with that theory is that in II Corinthians 5:11
Paul using the very very very same Greek word -by the way -he just says he does
the word persuasion in 2nd Corinthians 5:11 he says since then we know what it is to fear the Lord we persuade men
what is plain the God I hope is also plain to your conscience

and that’s the same word —same Greek word —what he says in 1st Corinthians 2 he never does he says and 2nd Corinthians 5 he tries very hard to do

so that’s the problem with the Bible filled with contradictions — it’s very clear — the doctrine of inerrancy is a crock right now just take that out of context put on your blog.

Isn’t that what Mark was talking about.
The a — it’s very clear then what Paul is talking about in 1st Corinthians 2 is a kind of persuasion

There’s a kind of persuasion he saying we shouldn’t do

not that we don’t try to persuade
and persuasion is a word that means rhetorical strategies apologetic strategies crafting arguments that that really hit a person where they are

So what is he talking about?

 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
(around 12:30-minute marker)

a listener or receiver — a receptor automatically interprets communication from the perspective of his or her own context

so it’s an extremely tiring and difficult process for a receptor to comprehend communication which is not provided within his or her frame of reference.

If you can imagine picking up a technical computer journal — you know what we have to do nowadays, by the way, is we have an enormous bestselling line of books called X. and X.

you know this or that for dummies – right or
for idiots — right
Idiot’s Guide
Dummy’s Guide
for everything
you know what those books are all about these are experts that come into our frame of reference.

These are experts that come in and use language only we can understand and very very carefully come in understand our ignorance
understand our problems
whereas in most cases if you just pick up a book on — on post-structuralism — you pick up a book on — written by some software engineer. They are immediately saying you come into our reference
they use all kinds of terms you don’t understand and it is very very difficult

what I put down here is

if you are a person reading a technical computer journal
and you have no background at all in the field
it’s horribly tiring and difficult
it takes you forever to read it
the technical journal makes no effort to begin with a beginner’s frame of reference
soon you — the receptor — tune out and become numb
by a frame of reference I’m talking about — your culture beliefs language vocabulary your life situation perceived needs and so on

now there are 2 basic approaches to communication
sender oriented and receptive oriented

when the communicator designates his frame of reference as the one in which communication takes place the receptor must make most or all the adjustments

the receptor has to look up every question
has to ask people what does that mean
you have to ask questions
listen deal with many stringent comfort concepts and so on you know

whereas if the communicator comes into the receptors framework the communicator has to is — is now the one you might say in the vulnerable position the communicator has to ask a lot of questions

did you understand that
did you understand that
how does this work

it’s far harder for a computer expert to write – uhm – a book for you know dummies than it is for other computer experts
far easier just to write — you know — just — everybody — you know everybody you’re writing to knows the abbreviations knows the shorthand — knows everything is going on

now from what I can tell looking at the Bible

God is a receptor-oriented communicator
you can start with a can you can start with the Incarnation. You know he – he became one of us.
The Incarnation is “Deity for Dummies”
ever thought about that — I want to know what holiness really looks like
I want to know what love really looks . . .
what is divine Love
what is divine holiness
what is it

well you know there’s this obstacle all these abstract concepts I’ll tell you what

I’ll come myself and see on the other hand — Jesus Christ is God incarnate but he was without sin

so in another way, He’s not at all like us
and that sense —You don’t He didn’t over-adapt to us did

He – He didn’t become a sinful human being he just became a human being

and that’s the sweet spot

the sweet spot is — you don’t — you adapt your communication and yet you do not change —  compromise the gospel

there it is

you say well how do you hit that well when you get that you have a revival

because when you over-adapt your communication to the — the audience you might say the listener you actually don’t change their lives do you because you’re not actually calling to repentance

you know — they might like the sermon — but there — you’re not really changing them

on the other hand, if you’re under-adapt they don’t get it if you under adapt that they either

they – they — they don’t come back
or they don’t they’re either offended or they’re confused.

So what you’re trying to do is be receptor-oriented and yet message center that means to say you’re trying as much as you possibly can to get inside the believer’s framework to a unbelievers framework to it to get inside and yet challenge it.
It’s receptor-oriented but Message Center

it challenges — it enters and yet challenges.

If you just challenge and you know enter nobody’s gonna listen to you
if you only enter and don’t challenge nobody’s going to be changed now how do you do both.


Keller’s presentation notes



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