What I learned From Listening To Someone Else Preach

Due to sickness earlier in the week, my Elders strongly suggested I only preach once yesterday. That meant I had the privilege of listening to one of my colleagues preach. Like many of you, I don’t get the opportunity to listen to someone else preach live too often. I learned that:

  1. Our relationship with our listeners is an important part of preaching. My friend has great rapport with our faith-family and it showed in his preaching and our worshiping in the Word.
  2. Powerful illustrations can overpower the sermon point. He told a “killer” (literally!) story about Zwingli’s brutal treatment of Anabaptists. The next thing you say after the story is over is critical for regaining attention back to the message. That’s the time for a succinct, well-worded sentence or two of how the Text affects the listener’s relationship with God. If you don’t do that, the sheer force of the illustration can hijack the sermon.
  3. Don’t break eye-contact when you arrive at your key statements. You probably have them written down in your notes. You want to say them just right, but you also need to impress it on your listeners and that happens best while you’re looking at them.
  4. Work extra hard to maintain good energy while covering a long list of commands. In the preaching covered yesterday there were at least seven commands in a row. It is difficult, next to impossible to keep a congregation engaged as you explain each item. Carefully consider how you’ll pace yourself through the list. Think about an approach–cover each equally (say a minute and a half each?), focus on a few, or group some of them. Whatever you decide, remember how difficult it is to keep a sermon’s energy high as you move through the list.
  5. My mind wandered during the sermon. I know, right?! But it did. It’s difficult to keep our listeners with us as the minutes go by. It’s critical, then, to keep bringing them back, especially by reminding them of the big idea.

May these takeaways add to God’s glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21),

Randal

P.S. For what it’s worth, that sermon was very good!

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).

Randal