Charley Reeb, author of two books on preaching, says that preachers better connect with people in the pews when they realize they are in the pulpit, not the classroom, and strive for messages that are less academic and more relevant to everyday life.
One reason so much preaching misses the mark is that preachers tend to approach the task as an academic exercise or a purely intellectual endeavor. While academic training is foundational, preachers better connect with the people in the pews when they realize they are in the pulpit, not the classroom. These five things can make preaching more relevant and appropriate to parish life.
1. Your listeners did not go to seminary.
New preachers often make two false assumptions: 1) the congregation will share the preacher’s frame of reference and 2) the congregation will want to know everything the preacher learned in seminary. This is why many sermons sound like a research dump. A sermon is not a lecture. It must be designed to connect and relate to average listeners.
2. Reading a manuscript will kill your sermon.
Preparing a manuscript is an effective practice, but reading it is fatal. If you are not making regular eye contact with your listeners, they will check out. Find a way to memorize and internalize your script. Yes, it is a lot of work, but your listeners will thank you.
3. A sermon is an oral event, not a verbose essay.
Many of us read the sermons of Fred Craddock, Barbara Brown Taylor, and other inductive preaching artists. They are wonderful sermons, but they can lull us into writing a verbose essay instead of a sermon. A sermon is meant to be heard not read. Many preachers struggle with preaching because they prepare sermons like a written essay or term paper. It may read well, but it falls flat when preached. Sermons must be written for the ear. Sentences need to be shorter and active.
4. Pure lectionary preaching will not grow your church.
Lectionary preaching is king in many mainline sermons. Makes sense. We are trained to faithfully interpret scripture. The easiest way to do that is to begin with a text. The problem is I don’t know of a growing and thriving church led by a pure lectionary preacher. I am sure there are exceptions, but I don’t know of any. Most listeners are drawn to sermons that address relevant topics. Many of your listeners are not dying to hear what the Bible has to say. You have to work harder than that. Create a desire in listeners to hear what the Bible has to say and then they will want to know more about the Bible.
5. You can’t appeal to logic alone.
Preparing sermons should not just be a cerebral exercise. Effective sermons appeal to the heart as well as the mind. The latest psychological research shows that logic leads to conclusions and emotion leads to action. If you don’t want your listeners leaving your sermons in the sanctuary you must appeal to their hearts.
This article is adapted from a blog post in ministrypass. Used by permission. Charley Reeb also blogs at charleyreeb.com, a website with articles and videos about preaching. He is the author of two books: That’ll Preach! 5 Simple Steps to Your Best Sermon Ever (Abingdon Press, 2017), available at Cokesbury and Amazon; and Say Something: Simple Ways to Make Your Sermons Matter forthcoming from Abingdon Press, available for preorder at Cokesbury and Amazon.
- “That’ll Preach,” a Leading Ideas Talks podcast episode featuring Charley Reeb and Doug Powe
- The One-Point Sermon by Charley Reeb
- 5 Things I Need from a Sermon by Larry Buxton