C. John Miller taught homiletics at Westminster and was listening to a taped sermon that one of his students had preached at a nearby church as an assignment. “He was not exactly reading the manuscript, but he was heavily dependent on it. I could feel that his interest was not in his listeners, but in the ideas in the manuscript. He droned on in a wooden tone when suddenly loud, booming voices began to break into his message. A true-life adventure was taking place! The recording equipment in the church was picking up police radio calls. The radio messages revealed that a robber was trapped by the police in a fast-food drive-in restaurant.
Every word the police said had a clear purpose. They meant to capture this man or know the reason why not. I can remember many of the words of the policemen. One of them was yelling to his partners, “Come on! Come on! Over there!” These men, out there on the street with drawn weapons, knew what they had to do. Their whole enterprise was focused on a single purpose: to capture the man. I think that is our purpose in preaching too: to capture the man for Christ when we preach! Permit nothing in the message that does not serve this master purpose” (C. John Miller, Preaching by Faith, 124).
To capture a man for Christ we must use every weapon at our disposal including the voice God has given us, facial expressions, and gesturing ability empowered by God’s Spirit.
“A worthless person, a wicked man, is one who walks with a perverse mouth, who winks with his eyes, who signals with his feet, who points with his fingers” (Proverbs 6:12-13 NASB). Why can’t we preachers be just as expression in the pursuit of righteousness?
Psychologist Albert Mehrabian broke communication down to a formula.
We communicate through body language.
The principle in 1st Cor. 9:22 is that we become all things to all men in order to win them without compromising the message.
Preaching expert Haddon Robinson has an excellent chapter in Biblical Preaching entitled “How to Preach So People Will Listen.” I will refer to it often in this post. He stated, “A fundamental rule of grooming and dress is that they should fit the audience, the situation, and the speaker. As a general rule, a public speaker will dress one notch higher that the audience. In the final analysis, dress should not call attention to us, but should help us call attention to the Word of God” (pages 206, 207).
When you preach aim for the white of their eyes. Robinson gives this advice: Even though you address a congregation as a group, you talk with them as individuals. Talk with one listener at a time for a second or two. Choose listeners in every section of the sanctuary, and keep eye contact long enough so that they know that you have singled them out for an instant and are speaking to them (Robinson, page 212).
Writers have many different ways to emphasize what they write. They can use exclamation points, commas, questions marks, underlining, italics, indentations, and boldface type. Speakers, on the other hand, emphasize what they say in only four ways—-by a variety in pitch, punch, progress, and pause. The use of these or a combination on them becomes the punctuation of speech (Robinson, page 215).
Steven Mathewson gives a caution, “As a general rule, you’re not being as dramatic as you think you are. For example, if you are moving from loud to soft, it may seem to you like the volume drops from level 9 to level 2. When your audience hears it, however, or when you listen to yourself on tape, the volume level only drops from level 9 to level 6. The pause that seems like four seconds to you only takes one second. So don’t be afraid to overexaggerate your contrasts” (Steven D. Mathewson. The Art of Preaching Old Testament Narrative. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 156, 2002.)
Here is the practice of Donald R. Sunukjian to loosen up his homiletic students: “I place a three-by-five card upside down in front of about fifteen different people. Each card has a number on it, the name of a biblical character, and a passage of Scripture that describes that character in some action or situation. Examples of such cards are:
1. Zacchaeus meeting Jesus (Luke 19:1-6)
2. Peter walking on water (Matt. 14: 28-31)
3. David slaying Goliath (1 Sam. 17:38-51)
4. One of the disciples participating in the feeding of the multitude (Mark 6:35-43)
5. Woman with a hemorrhage approaching Jesus (Mark 5:25-34)
I tell those who have received the cards that when we return after a brief break, they are to pantomime or charade the person on the card, doing the action described. Simply by their movements and expressions, without using any words, they are to act out the scene in such a way that we can guess who their character is. The following fifteen to twenty minutes are a riot, as each person creatively and humorously mimes the character and event.” After this exercise, Sunukjian teaches three truths:
1. “First, they see how much information can be communicated without any words.
2. Second, they see how interesting it is when the speaker is alive, moving, animated.
3. Third, they see that they can do it. They can move, bend, raise their arms, hug their stomachs, or simulate climbing, rowing, slinging, or marching” (Invitation to Biblical Preaching, 300).
The working rule is that your best average pitch is the lowest you can use without strain. To reach this think baritone, not tenor. Read a chapter in a book, raising and lowering your pitch to get a new feel of how your voice works. Then practice volume, keeping pitch down; try it louder and softer (Delnay, Fire in Your Pulpit, page 80).
Because Matthew 16:13 is a question, the pitch goes up at the end. Practice reading “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?” and make your pitch go up on “am?”
Because Matthew 16:16 is a not a question the pitch goes down at the end of the sentence. Read “And Simon Peter answered and said, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” and let the pitch go down at end of a sentence.
Punch or loudness or volume:
“Few people like to be yelled at; only the hard-of-hearing will be grateful” (Delnay, Fire in Your Pulpit” page 81).
Using Psalm 23:1, emphasize the first word in the first sentence and then the second word in the first sentence, etc. and when each word is punched the meaning of the sentence is changed.
Rate or progress:
Andy Stanley quotes Jeff Miller in a Leadership magazine article: “Studies have shown that speaking slightly above 150 words per minute adds an element of dignity to one’s message. Faster speakers—up to 190 words per minute—were rated as more objective, knowledgeable, and persuasive than slower speakers.” Your Words Per Minute communicate your interest in and passion for your topic. When your child runs at you shouting “Daddy, Daddy” talking a mile a minute, his passion has your attention (Communicate for Change, chapter five.)
Using 2nd Samuel 18:33, read at the same rate. Then speak the first six words rapidly and the rest slowly with feeling as David must have sobbed over the news of the death of his rebellious son Absalom. Sentences spoken more slowly stand out because they are in strong contrast to the content surrounding them (Robinson, 217).
The well worn proverb comes to my mind: “Pray as if it is up to God to accomplish His will and work as if it is up to you.” We must painstakingly study the passage to be preached, and fervently pray that God will enable us to preach in the power and demonstration of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:4), but then practice and rehearse with His God given tools we just taught so that the listeners’ “faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:5).