Haddon Robinson opens chapter 10 “How To Preach So People Will Listen” with an important reminder: Most books on preaching say a great deal about the development of the sermon but little about its delivery. That is reflected in the way we preach. While ministers spend hours every week on sermon construction, they seldom give even a few hours a year to thinking about their delivery. Yet sermons do not come into the world as outlines or manuscripts. They live only when they are preached. A sermon ineptly delivered arrives stillborn” ((Robinson, The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages, second edition, p. 201).
Robinson says there are three types of communication going on when we preach: 1) Our words 2) Our intonation 3) Our gestures. The nonverbal gestures are the focus of this lesson.
Robinson contends that both research and experience confirm “that if nonverbal messages contradict the verbal, listeners will more likely believe the silent language….If you shake your fist at your hearers while you say in scolding tone, ‘What this church needs is more love and deep concern for one another!’ the people in the pew will wonder whether you know about the love you are talking about” (page 204).
“God designed the body to move. If your congregation wants to look at a stature, they can go to a museum” (Robinson, The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages, second edition, p. 207)
Principles of Gestures
1. Gesture in the pulpit as you do in normal conversation except in a more exaggerated manner. Therefore our gestures should be larger, more forceful, and deliberate manners. Gestures should be motivated by content not nerves i.e. pacing back and forth. Billy Sunday is said to have walked a mile in every sermon. This was more showmanship to draw crowds than to communicate the content of his sermon.
2. Gesture with your audience in mind. Your audience reads from left to right. Your movement should be from your right. To make point 1 move to your right. To make point 2 move to your left or the center. To make point 3 move to your left.
3. Gesture to help explain.
Give the following description with your hands by your side: “Babylon stood as a monument to pagan power. The city was surrounded by an intricate system of double walls; the outer range covered seventeen miles and was strong and wide enough for chariots to pass on top. These massive walls were buttressed by giant defense towers and pierced by eight large gates” (Robinson, 209).
4. Gesture to emphasize your speech. Say, with no gestures, “This is extremely important.” Say this statement again with a clinched fist shaken at the word extremely.
5. Gestures help hold attention. “Stand on the sidewalk and notice how quickly you watch a car moving by and hardly notice one parked in the street.”
6. Gestures should be definite; not half hearted. With hands glued to the pulpit say “Come to Christ today.” Or say, “Go into all the world and preach.”
7. Gesture with variety. “We can produce 700,000 distinct elementary signs with our arms, wrists, hands, and fingers” (Richard Page, Human Speech: Some Observations, Experiments, and Conclusions as to the Nature, Origin, Purpose, and Possible Improvement of Human Speech”
8. Gesture with proper timing. Practice saying and gesturing, “Jesus is taken up from you into heaven.”
Examples of Gestures
1. Examples of descriptive gesture: Practice each of these examples as you read them.
Point # one in my sermon.
There are three persons in the Trinity but only one essence in the Trinity.
Zacchaeus was a wee little man.
Goliath was 9’9” tall.
The father of the prodigal son ran to meet him.
The stones the Jews used to stone criminals were huge stones not small rocks.
2. Examples of symbolic gestures
Say “Earnestly contend for the faith” with a clenched fist.
Practice showing impatience with your hands on hips.
Show anger in your sermon by shaking of the head.
How would you symbolize worry? Wringing of hands as you read Psalm 2:4.
3. Examples of locative gestures
How would you gesture this statement? Eph. 1:4 states that in eternality past, God chose us.
How would you gesture this statement? In Psa. 103:19 we read, “The Lord has prepared His throne in the heavens and His kingdom rules over all”.
4. Examples of emphatic gestures. Practice this statements with appropriate gestures:
John 3:7 “You must be born again”.
Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man comes unto the Father but by me”.
5. Examples of imitative or dramatic gestures
You are preaching James 1:14, 15 and you tell this little story. Use the dramatic V (Turn your head each time you speak as another character).
Illustration: A little boy was in the pantry with the forbidden cookie jar. His mother called to him, (Turn your head sightly to the left) “Son, what are you doing in the pantry?” (Looking now straight ahead say) He replied, (Turn your head sightly to the right) “I fighting temptation.”
Impersonate David killing Goliath with the sling and then cutting off his head.
6. Examples of movements of the head itself gestures
An evangelists once said: Whenever a woman says, “Nothing is wrong” Something is wrong and according to how fast she says it determines how wrong it is. “Nothing is Wrong” said very fast, shaking the head, means something is bad wrong. Practice this gesturing with your head.
7. Examples of movements of the entire body gesture
Surveying the book of Romans 1-3 Sin 3-5 Salvation 6-8 Sanctification 9-11 Sovereignty 12-16 Service. Move from your right to your left and take a step as you state each division in Romans.
Do the same with the survey of future events: Rapture, Trib., Mill., GWT, Eternity.
Steven Mathewson gives some more practical points of gesturing when telling stories that apply to all preaching: “When you deliver your story, use large gestures. Large gestures help preachers get rid of nervousness. They also add realism to your story. Storytelling lends itself to gesturing more than any other form of communication. Using your hands, you can toss wheat into the air with a pitchfork. You can draw a bowstring and shoot an arrow. You can shield the sun from your eyes. There are a couple of other things you can do to help you audience visualize the scene you’re constructing. Remember to keep Jerusalem or Shechem at the same spot throughout the whole sermon. If you point to your left at the imaginary city of Jerusalem, you must always point to your left when indicating Jerusalem. If you point to your left the first two times and to your right the third time, you will create visual confusion. Furthermore, remember that your congregation sees everything backwards. When you draw a line from left to right, your audience sees a line being drawn from right to left. So if you are trying to construct a timeline and talk about the past, you will want to start the line on the congregation’s left, which happens to be your right” (The Art of Preaching Old Testament Narrative, 156).
These two posts assume we have prayed and that we are totally dependent on God to use His Word to change lives as Piper discusses in chapter three in The Supremacy of God in Preaching.