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.

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).


Making An Emotional Connection With Your Passage

Look at the image. If you’re like me, many times we make a rational connection with our Sunday preaching portion (e.g., 1 Cor. 15 and all the proofs/arguments for the resurrection). Goodness, I’m in a Bible Church so I don’t feel an emotional connection to anything! But that’s not important right now.

What is important is understanding why making an emotional connection with our Text is so important to preaching. It has to do with one of the top characteristics of all good preaching:

the presence of passion.

I just finished reading, Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-speaking Secrets of the Word’s Top Minds, by Carmine Gallo.

I selected that book to continue my practice of reading one new book the week before I begin teaching a new class. I am currently teaching Advanced Homiletics to a fine group of students in the MAM or MDiv program at Lancaster Bible College/Capital Seminary in Lancaster, PA. This year I selected Gallo’s book because I wanted to spend some time reading about effective communication (I’m usually reading heavy hermeneutics stuff throughout the year).
I wasn’t surprised to read: “passion is the key to mastering a skill like public speaking.” (p. 8)
It’s one of the keys to “mastering a skill like” preaching too. Chances are good that if you heard a “good” sermon, passion was one key ingredient. Which is why Gallo writes,
“Dig deep to identify your unique and meaningful connection to your presentation topic….passion is contagious, literally. You cannot inspire others unless you are inspired yourself. You stand a much greater chance of persuading and inspiring your listeners if you express an enthusiastic, passionate, and meaningful connection to your topic.” (p. 17)
We might think that would be automatic for preachers: “Of course we preachers are deeply passionate about every preaching portion we ever preach.” Right? Wrong. Especially if you are preaching through books of the Bible. The topical preacher has a better chance of connecting emotionally with their topic/texts because they selected it for a reason. Expository, through-the-Book preachers don’t have that luxury. The next Text is, well, the next Text. It might be up your alley or it might not.
So, what can we do to make an emotional connection with this weekend’s preaching portion?
  • Love God this week. Feel something for Him. You know it’s possible for us to study hard all week and not do this, right?
  • Love His people in your church this week. Feel something for them. You know it’s possible for us to study hard all week and not do this, right? (these first two form the foundation for the next one)
  • Identify the one place where you are inspired by your preaching portion. How did it cause you to worship God as you studied it?
Before Sunday, make an emotional connection with your passage so you can say with 2004 TED presenter, Matthieu Ricard, “‘I am just full of joy to be able to say a few words about…’” (p. 23)

Preach well so God receives glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


Listening to Yourself While You’re Preaching

Every once in a while I realize I’m listening to myself while I preach. And it’s a good thing because sometimes I need to back up and correct or clarify myself. If only we had an autocorrect feature built into our sound system! It would be helpful because, if you’re like me, you don’t naturally pay attention to what you’re saying while you’re saying it.

In his theology of preaching, God’s Human Speech, Bartow writes: “Preachers are self-critical, that is to say, throughout the homiletical process, in the preparation and delivery of sermons, and, afterwards, when the preaching moment is revisited. This does not mean that preachers are ‘uptight,’ forever second-guessing themselves. But it does mean that they are self-aware, conscious of what they are doing, not just before and after, but also while they are doing it.” (p. 129, emphasis added)
It was the “while they are doing it” part that jumped out at me. Being self-critical during sermon delivery is not automatic, but the congregation is better for it when it happens.
Here’s what I’ve experienced that helps me listen carefully to myself while I’m preaching:
  1. The better I know the material, the easier it is for me to listen to myself while I’m preaching. I’m not thinking about what I’m going to say next. When I’m prepared in heart and head I’m in the moment.
  2. There are times in the sermon when I know I didn’t use the right word. When I catch myself, I can back up and use a better word. There’s no shortcuts to expanding one’s vocabulary. Next to my Bible, my thesaurus gets a tough workout every week.
  3. There are times when I know I wasn’t clear. Writing out the sermon manuscript word for word helps decrease the chances of being unclear on Sunday. But there’s usually times when a puzzled look in the congregation tells me it’s time to pause for clarification.
Bartow writes, “Somehow we know that something just said needs modification, amplification, correction. Somehow we sense our involvement or lack of it, our believability or unbelievability. We sense the involvement or lack of it of our congregants too. And we take action as needed on the basis of our tutored (by our criteria) instincts.” (p. 130)

So, before Sunday be ready to listen to yourself preach so that God’s glory is enhanced in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


Avoiding “Ping Pong” Preaching

Not that long ago I finally finished reading Bartow’s, God’s Human Speech. I say, “finally,” because for years I’ve read authors who quoted Bartow. In the book he says,

“there is no need for what has been called ‘ping pong’ speech, exposition followed by application: ‘This is what the text meant then, here is what the text means now.’ Whatever the exegetical method behind the sermon, in it, with texts of Scripture, God speaks to us in the present….It may deal with the past. it may look to the future. But its stance from beginning to end is in the here and now.” (p. 131)

There is no need for ping pong preaching because of the nature of Scripture. In Scripture God is addressing us. But expositors, in an effort to be biblical, often spend precious sermon seconds in background material and historical exegesis. As I’ve written before, preachers are often more historian than theologian (real bloggers would now write, “tweet that”).

Remember, our task isn’t to talk to our listeners about the Bible, but instead, we talk to them about them from the Bible. God is addressing us every Sunday.

To avoid bouncing back and forth and giving your congregants chronological whiplash, try the following:

  • begin the sermon with a clear, concise statement about how we will worship in response to this revelation (somewhere in the introduction, say, “This morning we worship by…”)
  • think in terms of “you” and “us” and “we” instead of “the Corinthians…”
  • translate as much exegesis as possible into theology that functions for and addresses the church (as opposed to historical, exegetical fragments about the text)
  • repeat and restate the intended worship response at strategic moments/minutes in the sermon (as opposed to only thinking about a big idea that summarizes the content)
  • rhetorically speaking, speak in such a way that your listeners never forget that God is addressing us.

Before Sunday, especially this coming Easter Sunday 2017, write your sermon manuscript–yes, you should write it out and leave it in your study (another topic for another time!)–with as little ping pong approach as possible.

Preach well so God receives glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).