When a congregation gathers for worship, one of the most anticipated parts of the celebration is the pastor’s message. Whether it is called a sermon, a homily, or a lesson, this period of time in the service is reserved for God’s current communication to His people, to be delivered through the lips of the priest or minister.
Some pastors are naturally gifted speakers. Others find it very difficult to confront a sea of faces and deliver a message which will be meaningful to everyone, from the youngest to the oldest, to people from different cultural backgrounds and a variety of home situations. Of necessity, if the task is to be successful, clergy members must depend on the Holy Spirit for inspiration and guidance.
However, there are several elements which a pastor can arrange in advance to ensure that the sermon, once prepared, will be as effective as possible when it is delivered.
* It’s a good idea to start with a joke. Humor at the onset attracts and focuses the congregation’s attention, and puts people in a receptive mood.
* The priest must speak clearly enough to be understood. If not, the message may have the opposite effect to that which was intended. Listeners will become frustrated and annoyed, and their minds, (if not their feet) will wander to more interesting and comfortable milieus.
* The volume of the minister’s voice must be suitable. If he is soft-spoken, a microphone would be in order. If he tends to shout, his listeners’ eardrums will hurt, and that will definitely detract from the effectiveness of his message.
* The pastor should speak passionately. and convincingly, using gestures and body language. The congregation needs to feel that he, himself, believes what he is saying.
* If possible, he shouldn’t read from a prepared script. People will wonder if the sermon came ready-made from a book, or was perhaps downloaded from the Internet. An outline, in point form, to keep the speaker on track, is perfectly fine.
* The sermon should be grounded in the readings for the day, but extended so that it encompasses issues prevalent in everyday life. Speaking figuratively, a pastor should teach with the Bible in one hand and today’s newspaper in the other.
* The homily should invite a response from the people. The ideal progression of a sermon would be:
(a) explaining and commenting on God’s word, as heard in the Bible readings,
(b) relating the readings to an issue or issues in today’s world,
(c) suggesting an appropriate response to be carried out by God’s people during the following week.
Thus, the congregation would feel that they were not just a captive audience, compelled to sit through the pastor’s monologue, but active participants, charged with the important mission of helping to spread the kingdom of God on earth.
Thus, the pastor conveys Jesus’ message to his present-day followers : “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” John 20:21
* Finally, the pastor should follow the rule of the 3 B’s: “Be brief, be inspiring, be gone”. We live in a fast-paced world. Few people have the time or the attention span to sit calmly in church for hours anymore. Besides, there is much to be done in our modern world and our time may be limited.
When preparing the sermon, or the homily or the lesson for next weekend, insightful pastors will keep in mind the words of Billy Graham:” The test of a preacher is that his congregation goes away saying not, “What a lovely sermon!” but “I will do something!”.