Preach the Word! — Chapter 32

Guidelines for Effective Communication II

This article is part of a series of articles on how to preach written by Jess Hall, Jr. and originally published in The Firm Foundation.

Public speaking, like most other activities, has tools – the voice and gesture. The use of those tools is determined by the nature of the occasion, the congregation, and the message. The use of each tool should be varied, appropriate, and purposeful. Purpose may dictate that certain standards of delivery will be employed, while others will be ignored, or even broken. While some may contend that such rules and considerations are foreign to preaching, this will not be the attitude of those who wish to do their best in communicating the life-giving soul-saving gospel of Jesus Christ.

  1. The voice. Not every preacher is blessed with a great speaking voice. Fortunately, a great voice is not a requirement for effective preaching. While a “nasal twang,” a raspy voice, or a very soft-spoken voice may be distractive, none is fatal. There have been successful preachers with each of those qualities because the sincerity of the speaker has enabled the hearers to “see past” the voice to the Christ. However, a preacher whose voice is poor should not neglect the development of his voice even though he may succeed without it. He owes it to himself, to his hearers, and, above all, to his Lord to become the best that he can be. While the many intricacies of professional voice development can be dizzying, there is one basic rule that can always be remembered and applied – be sure that it fills the auditorium, but speak to each individual. Proper volume enables those most distant from you to easily hear. When reduced volume is necessary for effect, speak closer to the microphone so that those in the back can still hear easily. While loudness can be effective; surprise loudness jolts the adults and scares the children. Proper variety in volume, tone, and pace should be used to convey different thought and feelings in the sermon. Words lose their color and meaning when delivered at the same volume and pace. Delivery may vary from low and slow to high and fast, but it should always be suited to what the words mean – joy, sorrow, seriousness, humor, or contemplation. Words of feeling spoken without feeling convey no emotion to the hearer.

  2. The gesture. Effective communication harmonizes spoken language and body language. If the spoken language and body language are different, the hearers are confused. Further, they are more apt to believe the body language. Since the eye is the primary instrument of gesture, good body language begins with good eye contact. A preacher who looks at the walls or above his hearers’ heads cannot adequately convey the significance of the cross of Christ or of the empty tomb. Some preachers look in the hearers’ eyes when they look up, but they are too note-bound to have consistent meaningful eye contact. It is better for the preacher to miss a phrase occasionally than to show mainly the top of his head while reading most of the sermon. Include everyone. Scan the assembly, but pause briefly on specific sets of eyes as points are made. Facial animation is also a form of gesture. Smile, scowl, grin, or grimace, but don’t be a dead-pan. A motionless face usually ties down the voice as well. It conveys the message, “I have no feeling about what I am saying.” A frozen face applies ice to the soul. The hands are most commonly associated with gestures. They are also often the most troublesome. Should they hang at the side? Should they rest on the edge of the lectern? Should they be clasped in front of the chest? Different sources give different advice, but each is trying to encourage the natural, animated use of the hands in the same manner as they are used in conversation. In conversation the hands are rarely at the side. Seldom is there anything to grip. Less often are they clasped piously in front of the chest. Because the hands are free, they are generally moving in harmony with the voice, emphasizing points and demonstrating sincerity and enthusiasm. When the hands do less in the pulpit than in one-on-one conversation, the preacher appears awkward and uncomfortable. Care should be taken not to gesture for each word or syllable. Too frequent gestures confuse because they indicate that each word or syllable is of equal importance.

  3. The posture. Finally, give attention to posture. Face the hearers squarely. Hold your head up with the chin level. Never tilt the head back lest it appear that you are “talking down your nose” to the hearers. Lean slightly toward the hearers. While leaning on the lectern may convey a desire for closeness, leaning too long conveys weakness – the lectern has become a crutch. If you have the luxury of a traveling microphone, occasionally move from behind the lectern to the right or left. This removes a wall from between the preacher and the hearers. Movement should occur during transitional points in the sermon. Avoid making strong points while moving backward because the direction of movement contradicts the point. Too much movement, swaying, or bobbing, however, appears more as eccentricities than as a desire to get close to the hearers.

Don’t let concerns about your voice, gestures, or posture turn you into a statue. Strive to be natural. A little practice will help until you feel comfortable in the pulpit. Proper preparation combined with a natural delivery will enable both the preacher and his hearers to look forward to the sermon.

God's Plan of Salvation

You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)

You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)

You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)

Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)