The High EQ Preacher (part 3): The Dangers of Preaching When You’re in a Good Mood

I’ve discovered something about myself and my preaching: I don’t preach well when I am too down-hearted or too upbeat. Either extremes cause me some problems in the pulpit.

One of the benefits of reading Bradberry and Greaves’s, Emotional Intelligence 2.0 (TalentSmart, San Diego, 2009), is they helped me remember how important it is to be aware of my emotions. I want to get you thinking about how your emotional condition affects your preaching, especially when you’re in a good mood.

If you’ve been a pastor for a while, you probably remember times when you are downhearted due to criticism. As I read the book, I expected to come across a section like, “Know Who and What Pushes Your Buttons” (p. 72). High EQ pastors know what kinds of people and circumstances in church make them want to scream.

What I didn’t expect was the section titled, “Don’t Be Fooled by a Good Mood, Either” (p. 82). But then I spent some time reflecting on when my carnality is most apt to rear its ugly head during the sermon. You guessed it: when I am in a good mood.

The authors write, “Stay aware of your good moods and the foolish decisions these moods can lead to, and you’ll be able to enjoy feeling good without any regrets” (p. 83).

So, the high EQ preacher monitors his emotions and especially marks the times when things are going very well in the church, when everyone is singing our praises, when we’re feeling pretty good about ourselves. This helps us maintain the Spirit’s control and keeps us from saying things we regret after the fact.

At least, that’s the way it goes with me. When I’m in a good mood, I am more apt to say things in jest that I might not say when my emotions are evened out. Nothing puts me in a good mood more than ending a sermon knowing I didn’t say anything stupid due to being in a good mood!

Before Sunday, assess your mood. Avoid extremes and preach well for the sake of God’s reputation in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).




Four Categories That Help Us Evaluate Our Preaching

If you are a dentist you might be interested in the product advertised above. If you are a preacher, the four quadrants I list below are a great way for you to evaluate and potentially elevate your preaching.

Quadrant #1 Am I Biblical?

Most preachers answer, yes, but it’s important to note the difference between preaching from the Bible without preaching the Bible. Biblical preaching occurs when the intention of our sermon matches the intention of the Scripture being preached. Notice I said, intention, not meaning. The two are connected. However, matching intention assures that we are using the Bible in the way God designed it to be used. For instance, if you preach the Parable of the Prodigal and focus on the prodigal son, your intention does not match God’s for Luke 15.

Quadrant #2 Am I Relevant?

Exposition sometimes deserves the bad rap it receives. During student sermons I will sometimes start my stopwatch and mark the time when the preacher strikes relevance (when I hear them speak to me about me from the Bible). In a 15 minute sermon, there have been times when I have stopped the clock at 8 or 9 minutes! Up to that point, I was listening to fairly good exegesis. Just no relevance.

Quadrant #3 Am I Clear?

Have you ever been in a conversation, said something, saw the reaction and said, “I didn’t say that right”? Sermon clarity involves, among other things, choosing the right words to say. While I’m writing my sermon throughout the week, I’m working hard to create clear sentences, sentence fragments (due to conversational style), and clear paragraphs. Besides my Bible, my Reader’s Digest Oxford Complete Wordfinder is the book I consult the most each week. It’s a combination dictionary/thesaurus.

Quadrant #4 Am I Organized?

My wife, Michele, listened to a sermon preached by one of my pastoral colleagues. One thing that stood out to her was how well the sermon flowed. That’s the sign of a well-organized sermon. That kind of organization allows congregants to follow along without getting lost in all the details and without losing sight of the intention.

So, before Sunday, evaluate your sermon:

  • Is it biblical?
  • Is it relevant?
  • Is it clear?
  • Is it well-organized?

And, as always, preach so God receives glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


P.S. I was introduced to a similar critique back in the good ole days at DTS in the mid-80’s.

The High EQ Preacher (Part 2)

A couple of weeks ago I completed reading, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, written by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves (TalentSmart, San Diego, 2009). My good friend, Andy Bunn, highly recommended it. Andy is near completion of a Ph.D. in leadership studies and the subject of EQ is important.

Sidenote: Andy is the head of Leadership Vistas, a missions agency that trains pastors and church leaders in Africa. If your church is looking for a way to provide excellent training for national pastors who have no training, contact Andy.

I’m glad I read the book. Especially when I read this:

“We’ve tested EQ alongside 33 other important skills and found that it subsumes the majority of them, including time management, decision-making, and communication” (p. 20, emphasis added).

Preaching is communication. Preaching is a form of communication that involves a mixture of ability and spiritual gift. From a human perspective, a preacher’s EQ greatly affects their ability to communicate with others. Everything we do during a sermon happens within the context of relationships we have with our congregants. Our EQ largely determines the success of those relationships.

I’m also glad I took the EQ test. If you purchase the book, you’ll receive a code that provides access to the test. It took about 15-20 minutes. I took the test on June 15, 2017 because I didn’t want to just guess and think I had a relatively high EQ. My scores out of 100 were:

Personal Competence: 93 (combined score of self-awareness and self-management)

Self-Awareness: 88 (the ability to accurately perceive my own emotions and staying aware of them as they happen)

Self-Management: 98 (utilizing that knowledge to affect my behavior)

Social Competence: 95 (combined score of social awareness and relationship management)

Social Awareness: 95 (the ability to perceive the emotions of others)

Relationship Management: 95 (utilizing that knowledge to build effective relationships)

Overall EQ score: 94

The perfectionist in me was disappointed. I resisted the urge to re-test.

If you’ve never read anything on EQ, I recommend this book; if it’s been a while since you’ve read about EQ, I recommend this book. It will help you remember how much pastoral preaching is relational. It will help remind you to work as much on your relationships as you do on your messages…

and all for God’s glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).




Are You A High-EQ Preacher?

EQ stands for Emotional Intelligence. Current research continues to report that EQ is a more accurate indicator of success then having a high IQ. B & G (authors I list below) state that EQ is “the single biggest predictor of performance in the workplace…” (p. 21).

Successful preaching pastors have a high EQ.

In these next few posts I will be summarizing some of the ways in which EQ studies affect our responsibility and privilege of preaching God’s Word.

I just finished reading Bradberry and Greaves, Emotional Intelligence 2.0 (TalentSmart, 2009).

It had been at least 15 years since I read Daniel Goleman’s book on the same topic. My good friend, Andy Bunn, is completing his Ph.D. in leadership studies and he highly recommended this little book. Evidently, EQ is still a hot topic in leadership studies. I have yet to read anything on how it relates to preaching, so here goes…

If you’re unfamiliar with the subject of EQ, the authors define it as

“…your ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others, and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships.” (p. 17)

Here’s a quick overview of four EQ skills to get us started:

Personal Competence consists of

  • self-awareness (your ability to accurately acknowledge and understand your own emotions, your typical reaction to certain events and people)
  • self-management (your ability to use your awareness of your own emotional condition so that you are able to consistently act positively in every situation)

Social Competence consists of

  • Social awareness (your ability to accurately interpret the emotions of others and understand what they’re really thinking)
  • Relationship Management (your ability to use that knowledge of others so that you interact effectively with a variety of people in a variety of situations)

And, if you’re wondering if any of this EQ stuff is worth thinking about and developing, B & G write,

“The weaker the connection you have with someone, the harder it is to get your point across.” (p. 44)

See why I’m interested in exploring the subject of high EQ preachers? And all so God can receive glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


Read More, Preach Better

From a human perspective (FHP), there are some things we can do to improve our preaching. For instance, if you haven’t read some of my recent posts, you might enjoy the summary takeaways from TED Talks. Providing the Holy Spirit is carrying you and your listeners during your sermon, you will be a better communicator of God’s Word by putting into practice the best practices of the best communicators.

And here’s another one: READ MORE. PERIOD.

Christmas week of 2016 I set a goal to read one book each week (no more than 250 pages, which means large books bleed into the next week).

The backstory: Back in the mid-eighties at Dallas Theological Seminary, Prof. Howard Hendricks encouraged us to follow his practice of reading one book per week. As a young masters level student, I remember being impressed by this seemingly out-of-reach goal (not realizing that all the pages of required reading in my formal studies easily equaled this!). As a young pastor, I remember thinking: “Ya, but Prof. doesn’t realize that pastors are not professors. We don’t have the luxury of devoting all that time to research.”

It only took me thirty years to finally see Prof’s wisdom (He’s probably doing his famous sniffle in heaven at the thought of this!).

And this practice has changed my life/ministry. Try it.

  • Convince yourself you can do it. No excuses.
  • Discipline yourself to do it. Schedule between 30-60 minutes.
  • Read authors that will stretch your thinking. Don’t waste your time on things you already know and practice. Aim for theological depth.
  • Skim whenever you can. I’ve learned that even the best of books can be read quickly if I do not allow myself to get bogged down by reading every word. Many sentences and paragraphs do not provide what you are reading the book to gain.
  • Don’t ever read without a highlighter in hand. You’re reading for research, not for pleasure (you have other times for that).
  • Use Evernote or some other system to record your notes for future use.

Watch what happens. You will gain momentum and your preaching will reach another level of sophistication (in the best sense of the word). God will receive His due in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


Making Congregants Smile

In his book, Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds, Carmine Gallo has a chapter called, Lighten Up (p. 159). Gallo states that,

“Humor lowers defenses, making your audience more receptive to your message” (p. 160).

Good to know. But I believe in the “ears to hear” theology, that God grants to some the ability to hear and receive His Word. I don’t want to rely on a human method to “create” a convert.

But then he writes,

“[Humor] also makes you seem more likable, and people are more willing to do business with or support someone they like” (p. 160).

Okay. That’s different.

I know this might surprise you, but I genuinely like the people I shepherd. We enjoy a wonderful relationship together. Smiling at them and making them smile is a regular part of our teaching times. It’s a natural part of being a faith-family. And this doesn’t detract from the seriousness of the event.

Gallo asserts that “[Humor] will work for you…but you must learn to incorporate humor creatively and naturally” (p. 162). That means not planning times to be funny. We’re not comedians; we’re pastor-theologians.

And we’re also spiritual leaders by God’s calling. And humor is evidently a strategic part of leadership. “The University of Western Ontario psychology professor Rod A. Martin says people use humor to ‘reinforce their own status in a group hierarchy. For example, you are more likely to crack jokes and amusing others in a group in which you are the leader or have a position of dominance than in a group in which you have lower status…than others'” (pp. 163-164).

So, while we shouldn’t plan on how to get a laugh, there should be plenty of times when we preach the Good News in such a way that you “put a smile on people’s faces” (p. 167) so God receives glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).



Why Gaining Attention and Interest Isn’t Enough in Our Introductions

I just completed a very satisfying week of teaching Doctor of Ministry students at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. That’s my excuse for not creating a blog post last week. The track is called, Preaching the Literary Forms of the Bible. Pastors and professors from all over the world made up the class and, as always, the final day or so is devoted to hearing them preach.

I was amazed at how many, regardless of where they were from or who trained them, chose to begin their sermon with some kind of attention-getting device. And in all cases, their opening stories or illustrations were effective in gaining attention and initial interest. But that’s not enough.

Over and over throughout the day I repeated and restated the same thing:

“Try telling us why we need to hear your sermon. How does this Scripture function for the Church?”

Homileticians sometimes refer to this as surfacing need in the introduction and I believe in the practice for the following reasons:

  • it shows our listeners in the opening minutes that the exposition of Scripture is relevant. This is critical because there are expositors who will begin their sermon and preach several minutes without ever telling their listeners that this affects their lives.
  • it’s an opportunity to clearly state how we will worship God as a result of hearing the exposition of Scripture. This keeps expository preaching from being a history lesson about the Text. This reminds us that preaching is an act of worship when we respond to the revelation of God.
  • it allows us to begin the process of application in the introduction instead of waiting till the end of the sermon or near the end of major points in our outline.

So, before Sunday, start with the “why?”, and not just the “what?” of your sermon so our Lord receives glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


P.S. Some of you might be thinking that starting with “why” is giving too much information in the introduction. Some practice a much more inductive approach. My answer is that I want my listeners to know why this information/exhortation is being given from the start so that they can remember the purpose for our being together throughout the sermon.

Give ‘Em Something They’ve Never Heard

In these posts I’m reviewing my best takeaways from Gallo’s book, Talk Like TED: The 9 Public Speaking-secrets of the World’s Top Minds. One of them helped confirm for me something that goes against some conventional wisdom on preaching.

I remember being warned not to try to come up with something new for Sunday sermons. The reason was that novelty can easily slip into unorthodoxy.

Gallo, however, includes a chapter entitled, Teach Me Something New (p. 111).

He writes, “Reveal information that’s completely new to your audience, packaged differently, or offers a fresh and novel way to solve an old problem” (p. 113).

The word, “completely,” might be a stretch since older, well-versed congregations are familiar with most, if not all, the Bible–cover to cover. But the quote is helpful in telling us how to look at developing sermons with the goal in mind of giving them something they’ve never heard.

Here’s why giving ’em something they’ve never heard before should be your goal for this Sunday:

  • Your spiritual gift yields new insights into God’s Word.
  • Your spiritual gift, which includes your unique thinking patterns and study habits, yields new insights into God’s Word. The first two bullets produce the new theological information.
  • Your spiritual gift, unique thinking/studying, plus your style and personality yields new insights into God’s Word. This last bullet produces the different packaging; different everything from introduction to conclusion, the entire sermon sequence.

One of the things that makes good preachers good is their ability to say some new things and say some familiar things in new ways. Think about the preachers you admire. Am I right?

Before Sunday see if you have something remarkable to say. Gallo writes, “And ‘remarkable’ is a really cool word because we think it just means neat, but it also means–worth making a remark about” (p. 127).

Finally, keeping asking God for insight so that novelty doesn’t lead to unorthodoxy and so He receives glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).



Preaching As Intense Conversation (not delivering a sermon!)

Carmine Gallo’s book, Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds, is one of those books that will instantly help your preaching. The reason is because preaching is communication and this book inspires its readers to be good communicators. The book also is a fresh look at effective communication theory and practice.

Like, for instance, the importance of having a conversation with our congregants.

Not every congregation will appreciate this. You may be in a church setting that expects a more traditional preaching style. If not, your faith-family may benefit if you practice what I call an intense conversation with their listeners.

In the section, Have a Conversation, Gallo writes, “Practice relentlessly and internalize your content so that you can deliver the presentation as comfortably as having a conversation with a close friend.” (p. 75)

One of my favorite compliments I’ve received over the years is from a relative of one of our attendees who attended one of our worship services. The visitor happened to be sitting near the front of the sanctuary and described her experience as having “sat with me in my living room.”

What’s important is to notice the unusual combination in the quote above. I experience this same oxymoron each week: practicing and sounding conversational.

If you listened with sanctified ears to pop music in the seventies, you may recall Rod Stewart singing, “You’re in my heart; you’re in my soul…” There’s a line in that song that goes, “your ad lib lines were well-rehearsed.”

Well-rehearsed, ad lib lines. That’s how conversational preaching occurs.

Gallo writes, “Authenticity doesn’t happen naturally….An authentic presentation requires hours of work…” (p. 76). Citing Richard Branson, Gallo states, “Prepare, then take your time and relax. Speak from the heart” (p. 244).

Not from your notes, but from your heart. It’s intense conversation.

You can do this naturally because you began writing out your sermon on Monday morning when you started studying your selected Text. You’ve been writing and rewriting the sermon all week-long and reviewed it late Saturday evening and early Sunday morning. The ad lib lines you’ll deliver are well-rehearsed.

Instead of delivering a sermon, have an intense conversation with your faith-family about what God has been saying to you so He receives glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


A Rhetorical Reason for Using Personal Illustrations

You’ve seen this happen. You’re preaching hard so that your listeners understand the theology of a Text. As soon as you start into your illustration (“When I was growing up in rural Maine…”) you see the heads of several listeners lift. They are now with you in the illustration in a way they were not with you during your explanation.

Illustrations have tremendous power, especially when you tell a story about yourself.

In Gallo’s book, Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-speaking Secrets of the Word’s Top Minds, he devotes a section to mastering the art of storytelling. Gallo writes,
“Hasson and his colleagues have discovered that personal stories actually cause the brains of both storyteller and listener to sync up. Sync up is my term; Hasson calls it ‘brain-to-brain coupling’” (p. 50; another term is “mind-meld”).
So, there is a rhetorical reason for using personal illustrations: they create a special bond between us and our congregants.
It’s true that illustrations illumine an idea. Illustrations are powerful tools for communicating truth. They are also effective in creating a deeper relationship with our congregants. And that deeper relationship is a huge factor in effective preaching.
One more thing Gallo writes about is the connection between our ability to tell personal stories and our ability to lead a church. He writes,
“The ability to tell a personal story is an essential trait of authentic leadership…” (p. 53)

Good leaders tell stories about themselves because they know that these stories reveal our humanness, our genuineness. And that is a huge part of building trust that ultimately builds up the Body of Christ.

So, before Sunday, when you’re thinking about adding illustrations to your sermon manuscript (You do write out your sermons during the week just like you were preaching on Sunday, even though you do not carry your manuscript to the pulpit, right?), consider their rhetorical effect.

And God will receive His glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).