The preacher’s work is not finished when the final period terminates the final sentence of the sermon’s conclusion. The sermon still must be preached. The sermon’s purpose is communication, not exhibition. The preacher’s speaking style and language are important only to the extent that they aid in communication. Annoying habits that hinder communication limit the preacher’s effectiveness. Communication is a two-way street. The preacher’s contribution is speaking; the congregation’s contribution is hearing. Since faith comes by hearing (Rom. 10:17), hindrances to communication are serious and must be corrected. While the preacher’s wife may be a good source from which the preacher can be informed about annoying habits, it is the preacher’s duty to examine himself. The hindrances to communication discussed here are to help him get started in that examination. Thinking about them should suggest others. If all else fails, think about annoying habits that you have observed in other preachers that have hindered your ability to listen and to appreciate fully what the preacher had to say.
Pompous attitude: Pomposity rarely affects people affirmatively. One preacher was humorously described as being so pompous that he was able to “strut sitting down.” Humility is more becoming to a proclaimer of the spirit of Christ.
Length of sermon: While there is no set rule for the length of a sermon, it has been correctly observed that the head cannot absorb more than the seat can endure. When the sermon lasts too long the hearers will not politely leave, but instead will quietly turn off the preacher. As a general rule, there is seldom any reason for a sermon to exceed approximately thirty minutes. Sermons often last too long because the preacher does not adequately prepare. Winston Churchill once said of one of his speeches that it would have been shorter if he had had more time to prepare. Truthfully, brevity takes time! The preacher who habitually preaches too long may just need to spend more time in preparation. The smart preacher not only knows what to say and how to say it, he knows when to stop.
Poor Grammar: Few things are more distracting than incorrect grammar. To those who know proper usage, poor grammar is like scraping a fingernail across a blackboard. It draws attention away from the message to the messenger. It makes one wonder why he should believe what the preacher says about the Greek when that same preacher doesn’t even know the rudiments of English. How seriously should hearers take one who has dedicated his life to preaching, but doesn’t take his task seriously enough to learn his own language? While there are reasons for not knowing proper grammar, such as lack of opportunity, it is inexcusable for a preacher to remain that way without making an effort to improve.
Poor voice and poor use of voice: It is not true that the preacher cannot improve his voice. If you live in a city with a university or a community college, sign up for voice training. More often, it is not the voice itself but the use of the voice that hinders communication. Some are monotone – they use the same monotonous tone whether they are speaking of the betrayal or the crucifixion. The voice never rises; it never falls. Why should hearers listen if the speaker appears to be so bored with the message that there is no emotion in his voice. Some are mumblers – they run their words together or enunciate so poorly that they can hardly be understood. The first thing said about Jesus when he preached the sermon on the mount was that “he opened his mouth.” Some are yellers – they are convinced that the louder you say it the more it is believed. They scare babies and frighten old men. Somehow they need to learn the difference between lightning and thunder. Some are sing-song – they rise and fall for no apparent reason. It is not natural. It does not characterize their speech outside of the pulpit. Someone convinced them that sermons require vocal variety but failed to teach them that inflection and volume should match the message because anything less detracts from it.
For the sake of the hearers and the effectiveness of the preacher it can truly be said, “Think on these things.” While you’re thinking about them, work on eliminating them. We’ll discuss more hindrances in the next article.
You Must Hear the Gospel
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) "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17)
You Must Believe
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
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
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)
You Must Be Baptized
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!
You Must Be Faithful Unto Death
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)