After years of teaching public address, Homiletics, preaching-teaching, and posting on the preaching, I believe I could make the case that there are less than a handful of significant and consequential failings which account for “weak-to-poor-to-terrible” public speaking and preaching.
#3 — ???? — I would put “practicality” or “relevance. If what is being said has no, or even little relevance or practical value to the audience, there is little-to-no reason/value to listen. The proof of that is found in most all sermonic introductions, which attempt to connect a passage of Scripture with life and living. That is one of the common reasons that people flip to the next article, turn the channel, or put the book back into the rack.
#2 – ???? — I would put the perception of the speaker. There is no effective communication when the speaker’s persona, sincerity, ideology, morality, or character is in question. A speaker is in an uphill battle when the listeners believe that the speaker’s integrity is questionable! It does not matter if it is real or imagined in the listeners’ minds. The proof of that reality is abundant — What newspapers, talking heads, channels, magazines, etc . . . . do you not even give the time of day because of WHO is speaking?
#1 — ???? My choice might be different than yours, but I believe that #2 and #3 pale when this hindrance is in operation! The number one failure that accounts for “weak-poor-terrible” speaking and preaching is a lack of clarity. That is why speakers and preachers will interject such comments as . . . . .
- Now follow me. . . .
- Stay with me . . . .
- Are you tracking me when I say . . . .
- Let me unpack that statement . . . .
- I don’t want to get into the weeds with this . . . . .
- Does that make sense to you when I say . . . .
- Do I lose you there . . . .
And that is why listeners say . . . . .
- You lost me / He lost me . . . .
- Where is he going with this . . . .
- What is he talking about . . . .
- I tuned out when he got into the weeds about . . . .
- It got confusing when he said . . . and then he said . . . .
- He was way over my head . . . .
. . . . . . .
√ Be clear on where you want to go before “loaded them into your car.”
What is the “BigIdea” which you want them to take home with them? If you cannot state the main focal truth you seek to drive home and/or if you are unsure about driving home that truth, the audience will be far less clear than you! They will end up sight-seeing all of the biblical neighborhood and never arrive at a destination that they had hoped they would when they again began this weekly journey.
√ Don’t make the simple complicated.
It is often said, “Put the cookies on the lower shelf.” The use of analogical illustrations is one of the most effective ways to make concepts simple. The truths and principles taught in most biblical passages are far more simple than some would have you believe. Some can make the simple complicated! “For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle?
√ Don’t muddy the waters for your lay listeners.
God’s people did not plan on attending “seminary” on Sunday morning. They are not into “theology” as you may be. “Well, they ought to be!” No, that is why you are there. You are there because you are “apt to teach” in such a way that those biblical truths and principles are effectively grasped, so that they resonate and/or apply to life and living.
√ Understand the importance of transitional statements!
“Grammatical transitions” are directional signs for the audience. They ought to be intentionally included and are more than — “My next point is.”
√ Don’t take biblical knowledge for granted (and its reverse ).
An audience may have no idea who Mephibosheth was or why David fled the city. Select what needs to be known in relation to the passage and the aim of the sermon. If not knowing “this” will make the passage more difficult to understand, provide the needed background. What is vital and what is unnecessary.
√ Be clear on what it will take for them to accomplish the applications.”
Speaking in board generalities is a great way to lose clarity! Be specific in application and accomplishment. “If you are going to accomplish this in your life, it means that today/this week/in coming months you must begin/change/reverse gears/develop the habit of . . . . .”
Again, if you are unclear as to how this truth/principle can be and should be accomplished, it is likely that the audience will be unclear as well. It is nonsensical to say, “I wish we had time to develop the many applications of this truth/principle, but we are out of time.” You are the one who controls the time and breadth of sermonic development.
. . . . . . .
“Sermonic Fog” impacts
1. Now, the reverse is also true, and sometimes the audience knows all the details you are pedantically detailing to the audience’s fatigue. That is why it is important to know your audience, which is different on Sunday morning versus “Sunday Evening” / “Sunday School” / or “Wednesday Evening.” While Paul wrote the book of Galatians, the audience does not need to know the history of the Apostle Paul’s conversion to understand the fruits of the Spirit. Such a historical review does not simplify; it complicates.
What can you cut out of the message — which is really for another day. This is likely not the last time you will preach; “we are here till Jesus comes.”