Rhetoric & Homiletics: The #1 Way Not To Lose Sincerity In The Pulpit


I had an option — “Listen or Watch.”– I chose to watch.

What would be your choice if you had that option of listening to a sermon or watching it?

The choice was to listen to or watch Alistair Begg. Why did they provide those two options? Because there are times, I can and should only listen and not watch — such as when I am driving or even when I could watch but want to multi-task.

Recently I received an email to attend and sign up for a course on homiletics. I had not heard of the person who was highlighted in the seminar. I rightfully imagine that it is because all of us travel in different religious circles.

I discovered that his credentials were outstanding! He is a seminary president, an author of books on preaching, a previous administrator at a major Southern Baptist seminary, and impressive in appearance, stature, and pulpit presence.

 I WAS SURPRISED when I went to Vimeo to watch him preach that message! If you only listened, you would evaluate it differently were you watching him preach.

My thoughts . . . .

#1) Writing Is Not Speaking:

As I watched him preach (and even as I went to other video examples), I was taken back! It was not that what he had to say was uninteresting, in error, or not insightful.  But his presentation was distracting. It took away from his effectiveness.  

Both writing and speaking have distinct advantages and limitations. Writing is a different art form from speaking. An author does not an effective speaker make! Writing out a manuscript and/or reading from it is not effective public speaking or preaching! The art of public address is as different from writing, as photography is from oil painting. [4]

“Eye Contact” is far from a secondary or insignificant rhetorical concept. The secular world on public address understands how vital eye contact is when it comes to connecting with an audience! Recently, I finished teaching public address at a local secular university in Clearwater, Florida. The prescribed textbook given me to use for the course was “The Art of Public Speaking,” by Stephen Lucas.

“The quickest way to establish a communicative bond with your listeners is to look them in the eye, personally and pleasantly. Avoiding their gaze is one of the surest ways to lose them. At best, speakers who refuse to establish eye contact are perceived as tentative and ill-at-ease. At worst, they are perceived as insincere or dishonest. No wonder teachers urge students to look at the audience 80 to 90 percent of the time they are talking.

It isn’t enough just to look at your listeners; how you look at them also counts. A blank stare is almost as bad as no eye contact at all. . . .  Also beware of the tendency to gaze intently at one part of the audience while ignoring the rest. . . .  You should try to establish eye contact with your whole audience. When addressing a small group . . .  you can usually look briefly from one person to another. For a larger group, you will probably scan the audience rather than trying to engage the eyes of each person individually. No matter what the size of your audience, you want your eyes to convey confidence, sincerity, and conviction. They should say, “I am pleased to be able to talk with you. I believe deeply in what I am saying, and I want you to believe in it too.” – pg. 270


#2) Do Not Correlate Effective Preaching With Valuable Homiletical Insight:

The advertised homiletical seminar may be beneficial and valuable. Nevertheless, understanding the dynamics that operate in a public speaking situation does not mean that one can manage them.

Visa versa, great speakers may not understand and/or be able to explain the dynamics that are operative and effective.

Merely because a speaker is poor-to-weak in this-or-that writing or speaking skill does not mean that they do not understand the art of speaking or writing, even regarding their area of personal weakness.

I am not saying that preachers cannot and do not provide help in understanding the dynamics that operate in preaching, while at the same time failing at one or more of the elements that compose a good-to-great pulpit sermon.

In fact, one can be an effective teacher or “coach,” even if they themselves are terribly ineffective in the “art” or skill they teach. The proof of that is found in a wide variety of fields of endeavor where their insights are not commensurate with their personal skills or performance. There are NLF head coaches (no less college and professional team coaches) that understand the dynamics operating in the game, but have never even played football. [2]


#3) We Are Not As Good As We Think We Are:

Writing on preaching does not necessitate being an “excellent-to-great-to-good” preacher myself. But it does mean that . . . .

  • I realize that I am not as good as I think.
  • I should be trying hard to be and do such.
  • I understand that there are personal limitations that will limit me
  • Some of us may never be what would be considered very good preachers, and that may be true of me.
  • Years of experience, along with an honest drive to become better, can help one be a better preacher and coach!
  • One can coach others about the faults that have been plaguing his own preaching, with a hope of helping others to see and/or correct them.
  • There will be things that have helped and hindered most all of us in preaching and are worth identifying and highlighting for the benefit of others.
  • Watching others preach, speak, and teach is a way to gather and learn communication principles that are helpful to oneself and others.

All of us are not as good as we think we are, and if the above be true, it is not at all unimaginable to be dissatisfied with his own preaching, while venturing out to teach about speaking and preaching!


  1. The Art of Public Speaking, Stephen Lucas, 4th edition — The book’s price in the university book store was $150.00 — ouch!

“Nonverbal communication is another vital factor in delivery. Posture, personal appearance, facial expression, bodily movement, gestures, and eye contact all affect the way listeners respond to speakers. You can do little to change your face or body, but you can dress and groom appropriately for the situation at hand. You can also learn to control gestures and bodily movements so they enhance your message, rather than distract from it. Making eye contact with listeners is the quickest way to establish a communicative bond with them.” – pg 272


2.  Great Coaches, But Never Played Professional or Maybe Even College Football

  • Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer
  • The Kansas City Chiefs’ Todd Haley
  • Jimmy Johnson had never been in the NFL before he was hired as head coach of the Cowboys in 1989.
  • Vince Lombardi, Bill Walsh, and Paul Brown never played a down in the NFL or professional football.

Even some college coaches never played college football — i.e., Mike Leach — “He is a two-time national coach of the year, three-time conference coach of the year, and the mastermind behind the NCAA record-setting “Air Raid” offense.”

There have been legendary college football players who went to the NFL and never played one down in the NFL.


3. The preacher I have referenced may well have much to offer. Still, his lack of eye contact is a serious distraction that significantly limits his effectiveness, and as Lucas states, his sincerity!  

There is much in his book on preaching that is insightful and profitable.

Nevertheless, if you want to see if I have been too critical or harsh in my comments, you can watch for yourself to see if reading enhances preaching. . . .



4. “. . . its disadvantages. Insixcasesout of ten the written sermon stands as a screen between the souls of the preacher and people. So many men read their written sermons literally read them as if they were the work of some one else ; as if their own personality were not in them at all. It is pitiful to see a clergyman with his head down and his eyes on the paper laboriously reading his sermon as if he had never taken in the thoughts and made them his own. That is not preaching. . . . . I do not think there is any excuse for such preaching as that.” — Paterson Smyth, The Preacher & His Sermon

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