Any person who loves and believes the scripture knows that the message is more important than the method. Why, then, has all of this time and energy been spent on the method? The answer is simple – it doesn’t make much difference what the message is if nobody listens. The preacher who refuses to attend to method cannot truthfully claim that he is interested in proclaiming the message or in the hearers who sit at his feet. Thus, the true preacher strives to avoid hindrances to communication. To the four discussed in the last article, we add the following:
Distracting Mannerisms: There are almost as many distracting mannerisms as there are speakers, but some are greater plagues than others. For example, 1) Meaningless filler: Sentences begin with “ah,” break in the middle with “uh,” and end with “ahem,” all appropriately interspersed with throat clearings. It may be the result of a habit that needs to be broken. It may be “filler” while the preacher is thinking or trying to find his place in his notes. Whatever the cause, it does not communicate anything positive to the hearers. 2) Poor eye contact: Witnesses at trial are told to look jurors in the eye while testifying. People tend to believe those who look them in the eye and to disbelieve those who don’t. Preachers who look above the hearers’ heads or at the walls cannot communicate effectively. They cannot observe their hearers, which enables the preacher to know when hearers are puzzled and need more explanation, when they are touched and thus are open to persuasion for right action, and when they are not listening and action must be taken to bring their attention back to the sermon. 3) Inappropriate gestures: Poor coordination between words and gestures confuses the hearers. Some preachers want to smile all of the time. While everybody likes a smile, smiles are not appropriate while speaking of judgment to come or eternal punishment.
Short-cutting preparation: Sermons must not be technical, fuzzy, or academic. The homiletical ship cannot float in such waters. The preacher must take the time to simplify his language and to select words that appeal to the hearers. Not only should unnecessary points and sentences be eliminated, unnecessary words must go as well. Extra words in a sermon are like extra parts in a machine – they get in the way of its operation.
Use of clichés: Is there anyone who cannot fill in the last word of “Keep up with the _” or “at the end of his _”? The use of worn out, hackneyed phrases, which generally results from short-cutting preparation, wears out the hearers. Old, old clichés hinder the proclamation of the old, old story.
Insensitivity to hearers: As a preacher, do you ever ask how your hearers think and feel? Preachers often assume that their hearers are just like them. That is probably not a valid assumption for several reasons, chief among them being that the preacher does not fight the ordinary workplace. How can the preacher who does not consider his hearers’ circumstances expect to communicate with them. He is apt to begin a sermon at a prison by saying, “I am glad you all are here.” When he speaks to a group of youth he is more apt to speak of Bach or Beethoven than Garth Brooks. Also, a preacher with an adversarial spirit is insensitive to his hearers. It is well established that an adversarial spirit generates an adversarial response. The preacher’s hearers are not his adversaries, they are his opportunities.
Too much repetition: While emphasis can be accomplished by repetition, not everything in the sermon needs to be emphasized. There is no need to emphasize the obvious, clarify the simple, or illustrate the apparent. “Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them” is not only a gross over-simplification of sermon organization, if literally applied it is a sermon killer.
While these hindrances to communication are only illustrative and not exhaustive, they should enable the preacher to examine himself both as to these and as to others. Eliminating hindrances to communication will enable the preacher to be a more effective proclaimer of the gospel and a greater servant of the Master.
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)