Sunday, 16 September 2007

10 Commandments for Preachers

This week I’m going to be shouting my mouth off about preaching again. We have a bunch of newly accredited ministers at Luther King House and I’m doing some stuff with them. This set me thinking: what would be my ten commandments for preachers? Here’s what I came up with.

1. Eyeball people - really, really eyeball them. If preaching is anything it’s personal.
2. Never leave them asking, “Say’s who?” A preacher is called to minister God’s word, not to act as a guru.
3. Always raise the question, “So what?” Sermons should have implications. This doesn’t mean that you always have to spell out the answer.
4. Be yourself. There’s no need to hide who you are. When God called you to preach he called YOU to preach.
5. Put your heart into it. If it doesn’t clearly matter to you, why should it matter to them?
6. Free yourself from notes as much as possible. A sermon is meant to be an event; a manuscript is a report on an event that happened last week in the study.
7. Love words. Words are a preacher’s tool. If you can’t use words – with flair, with creativity - find something else to do.
8. Forget the adage, “Tell ‘em what you are going to tell ‘em. Tell ‘em. Then tell ‘em what you’ve told ‘em.” Sure you’ll be clear … and boring as hell.
9. Make sure you preach to the people in front of you. You may not have many advantages over the apostle Paul but you are here and now and he’s not.
10. Remember you are not shutting down a conversation. If you are lucky you though you might start one. You are only a preacher after all.

Let’s be clear these make no pretension to be THE ten commandments for preachers. They are not even all mine – Clyde Fant deserves a credit for at least two of them. They may not still be the ten I’d chose in a few years time. But they’ll do for now.

I’d be interested to know what you make of them, Any other suggestions? I’d be particularly keen to hear from any who listen to sermons more often than preaching them; what would be your ten commandments for preachers?


Mike Roberts said...

I'll be arriving after your session on Wednesday unfortunately for the YBA bit of the NAM group but...

Without wishing to jump on the bandwagon - Zechariah said 'not by power' but i'm sure he'd also say 'not by [overuse of] powerpoint' aswell. It is the biggest killer of a sermon I've found. Use the force wisely!

Glen Marshall said...


Amen. It nearly made into my top ten.

The one thing PP does well (when used appropriately) is images.

A few years ago I visited Brian American Emreging Church MacLaren's church near Washington DC. I was looking forward to something creative and imaginitive. There were some good bits but we also had a 40 minute sermon supported by PP heading and sub-headings and bullet points text text text text text ... aaaargh!

Given that the medium is the message what wld it look like to put something together to communicate the intent, feel and meaning of this text using PP alone. Now that might be interesting. But wld it be a sermon.

Anonymous said...

Some of my top 10 might include:

- Don't pace back and forth whilst speaking. 'Caged Lion' impersonations are very distracting and you are likely to trip over the microphone flex.
- Beware hand gestures which may knock over your glass of water.
- Don't start with a joke, visual aid or amusing personal anecdote followed by a Blue Peter link to Jesus. Your congregation has already heard many versions of all those illustrative quips and stories that you prepared earlier.........
- Don't present an anecdote or visual illustration as new and intriguing if you have cribbed it from an old teacher training manual or management seminar - the congregation probably includes teachers and managers who heard those examples before you were born.
- Do tell us what you are really thinking about whatever aspect of faith you are speaking on , not a watered down version that you think the congregation can handle. In attempting to communicate, truth is worth more than diplomacy.
- Do think how you could provide opportunities for conversations or questions about the sermon at some point; otherwise, where does it go afterwards?
- Do include some long words, provided that they are apposite - give us something to bite on.
- If you are speaking to a congregation of adults, use the language of adults. Avoid folksiness and cosiness.
- Do think carefully before using Powerpoint - it's an ugly reminder of work to many of us,and an anagram of 'we print poo'. If you can't engage people without Powerpoint text then your sermon's probably not that interesting.......
- Do be ready for your congregation to challenge you on the sermon; if you want to present your take on aspects of faith to people, remember that a conversation about faith is not a one way street.
- Say what you have to say. Then shut up. Needless embellishment is the devil's work and your congregation is bright enough to get it the first time.
- Look as if you're enjoying it and interested in what you're saying. (If you're not, you probably shouldn't be standing there).
- Remember that if you muck it up today, you have another chance to get it right next week.

(Belinda Copson, Herts)