Podcast Episode 22 | 14 min
The Basics of Sermon Delivery (Part 2)
In this episode we talk about movement, gestures, and filler words.
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Matt Woodley: This is Matt Woodley, editor of Preachingtoday.com, and thanks for joining us for another episode of Monday Morning Preacher. Each episode we look at one aspect of the craft of preaching for the glory of God. I’m here with my guest host and fellow preacher, Kevin Miller.
Kevin Miller: I can confirm that I am a guest host and fellow preacher.
MW: You are, and a very good one, by the way. So Kevin, this episode is titled, “The Basics of Sermon Delivery, Part 2.”
KM: Which must mean there was a part one.
MW: And you did it.
KM: Yes, I do remember that.
MW: Brilliant deduction, Watson. Indeed, there is a part one, so if you haven’t listened to it yet we encourage you to listen to that episode soon, but finish this podcast first. So um, you know, um, we are talking about sermon delivery in your sermon, you know, um, uh, and it’s important, you know, really important just to say, you know, um …
KM: Okay, you’re either trying to annoy me or I think you might be showing one way delivery can go wrong.
MW: A brilliant deduction again, Watson. You can have amazing content, but if your delivery is less than effective, let’s say, it can be a distraction from getting that content across. Our preaching professor friend, Hershael York, told me about this unusual exercise he does in his preaching class. He’ll tell a story about a little boy watching a dog get run over by a car, and the whole time he’s laughing as he tells the story.
KM: Okay, so let me get this. So then Rusty got hit by a car! [laughter]. He got completely creamed! Ha!
MW: Something like that. Very good.
KM: That’s upsetting.
MW: It’s very upsetting. And then he’ll tell another story about the gospel. He’s really getting into the good news of the gospel and what Christ has done for us, and has no passion, no smile, no warmth, his hands are at his side.
KM: God loved you so much that he gave his Son.
MW: It is the best news in the world. And here is his lesson: Your behavior will trump the meaning of your words. In other words, the silent language in your delivery speaks louder or as loud as your words.
KM: That’s such a great point. What’s our sermon clip today, to demonstrate this?
MW: So we have a very moving clip from a sermon given by a pastor named Steve Walker, who is out in Oregon, or as the people who live there like to say it incorrectly, Oregon.
KM: Note to listeners, that is a jab at our engineer and PT’s associate editor, Andrew Finch, sitting here …
MW: Who is from Oregon.
KM: Yes, he is from Oregon.
MW: Back to the sermon. Steve gave this sermon in October, 2015, and it was just after a young man had entered the classroom of a local community college near Steve’s church and started shooting people. Nine people were murdered, so this is the sermon Steve gave and we’re going to listen to a short clip from that sermon and then unpack a little bit his sermon delivery.
Steve Walker: Probably like you, shock immediately set in and I struggled with what I was hearing, that evil could reach out its finger and touch our quiet community. I mean, this is Roseburg. And I have to admit that I found a quiet place in a dark room and I leaned up against the corner of the wall and I began to pray, “Lord, I’m not sure what to do, I don’t know how to respond, you’ve got to give me wisdom and guide my steps.” It’s probably the same prayer you’ve prayed time and again in the last few days and will pray again in the coming days. If this were a memorial service for the victims, and I’m sure that there’s going to be those services ahead, we’d probably just grieve together, but we’re gathered together as the church and I’m your pastor and so I’m going to speak differently. This morning I really need to address these two very troubling and frustrating questions that a lot of us are asking. The first is, Why did this happen? The second is, What do we do, how do we respond?
MW: Now, obviously we can’t see Steve’s gestures, we can’t see his facial expression, which are all a very important part of sermon delivery, but Kevin, what do you notice about his vocal delivery? How did his delivery either enhance or detract from his actual words?
KM: Well, one thing I really like that Steve did here was he kept his delivery low intensity, somewhat somber, which is obviously fitting with the mood of the room where people are grieving and they’re somber, and you don’t want somebody coming at you with a high intensity delivery in that moment.
MW: Absolutely. We picked this clip because it shows that delivery is really a crucial part of the sermon.
In the previous podcast we covered a couple aspects of delivery—vocal delivery and eye contact. In this podcast we want to talk about movement and gestures and filler words. So let’s talk first about gestures and movements in your delivery. I would say I’ve watched you or listened to you preach 40, 50 times and I would say this is one of your strong areas as a preacher. Have you always felt really comfortable with the use of gestures in particular?
KM: That’s a great question. I don’t think I felt uncomfortable, but I was more limited or constrained in my gestures. Then I went to a storytelling workshop and the presenter there was coaching us, and she said, “When you’re telling a story, walk into the sea.” What she meant is mentally place yourself inside the scene of the story that you’re telling, and what happened, as I began to do that, was that my gestures just opened up and became much more natural and came more freely.
MW: That’s a great point. It’s really practical as well, and it follows with a little maxim I’ve heard about gestures. I think this might have been from Bryan Chapell. He said, “Content should motivate movement.”
Let me give you a concrete example. Let’s say you’re preaching on Jesus’ invitation, “Come to me all who are thirsty,” and you’re pounding your fist as you’re saying this, or you’re shaking your finger, or you have your hands casually in your pockets. So your words are saying one thing, but your movements are saying something else. You should be holding your hands wide open like you’re getting ready to embrace somebody, because that’s the message, that’s the emotional impact of that text. So you have to always ask yourself, “What is the best way to communicate that with my hands and with my movements.”
KM: One thing that I’ve tried to do some and I know you’ve done this too, Matt, in your preaching, is that you use the place where you stand to reinforce the points that you’re making. This assumes that you’re in a location where that’s possible. One time you talked about putting yourself at the head of the sin line and you went to one side of the preaching area and said, “Imagine you’re getting in line here,” and then you kind of moved through the line and said, “But what we need to do as believers is put ourselves at the front of the sin line,” and you put yourself right out physically in front of this imaginary line across the room. I found that very effective.
MW: Sometimes that can make a huge difference. Bryan Chapell expressed the goal for delivery including gestures this way: “Truth expressed in a manner consistent with the personality of the preacher and reflective of the import of the message.” So there’s two things. Basically, be yourself. Don’t try to be like somebody else. You don’t have to do delivery like something you’re not. But then second, it’s not just about your personality, it’s also about the importance of the message. For instance, for me sometimes, as I said in the last episode on sermon delivery, I have a very homey, I’m a friend on a spiritual journey kind of delivery.
KM: Yeah, it’s a great strength for you. It works great for evangelism too.
MW: It’s totally a strength, but sometimes I have to get a little uncomfortable in order to ramp it up a bit with a little more intensity, and I have to ask myself, Why is this passage so important and what’s urgent about this passage, and how is that reflected in my gestures?
KM: One question that I actually use each week as I prepare a sermon is, What is the emotion of this text? How am I supposed to feel? So for example, I’ve been working this week on a message about the ascension and I’ve been wondering, How am I supposed to feel? Well, one, I think I should feel some awe because Christ is being exalted to heaven, his mission is being accomplished. Also, maybe a sense of longing or waiting for him to send the Holy Spirit. So I hope that those emotions will come through in my delivery.
MW: That gets back to what you said about entering into the story of the text and then how would you tell that naturally. Let’s talk about another thing, facial expressions. Our preaching prof friend, Hershael York, said he routinely gets calls from pastors who say that their congregations tell them that the preacher looks mean when they preach. So the preacher is talking about joy, but the preacher looks mad while he’s talking about joy. Let me just say, it doesn’t hurt to smile every once in a while. You know what they say: If you’re happy and you know it, your face will surely show it. I made up that line …
KM: That’s good, I hope you’re getting royalty for it.
MW: I think so. I think I might even make a song out of it. So preacher, what does your face show when you’re preaching?
KM: Actually, I don’t have video of my sermons, thankfully, so I’ve never gone to work on this. And I honestly haven’t gotten much comment one way or the other, so I am of no help as your guest host right here.
MW: Wow. Well, thank you for finally admitting what we’ve all been suspecting all along. Actually, you are very helpful. We’re glad that you’re here. Let’s talk about something else. You know, um, uh, what we were going to, uh … Filler words.
KM: Yeah, okay. Stop using them. Boom. Mike drop.
MW: You did not just drop the microphone.
KM: I wanted to.
MW: But you didn’t. So anyway, filler words. Listen to your sermon or ask people to listen for you. I had a friend tell me once, “You use ‘Ya’ know’ a lot.” It’s not you know, it’s ya’ know.
KM: Is that a Minnesotan thing?
MW: It’s a Minnesota thing, ya, you betcha, ya, ya’ know.
KM: You’ve done good for yourself then.
MW: Ya. That’s great. And I especially do that when I’m ad libbing. How about you?
KM: Well, I’ve discovered two things, and honestly it’s a little overwhelming because I don’t know how I’m going to change them. One is, I use the word “Now” a lot. Like when I finish one point and instead of just pausing for a second and then doing the transition into the next point, I just go “Now …” If I just do that once maybe in a sermon, that’s not bad. It’s not the worst way to transition, but I heard a sermon recently of mine where I did it four times, and I was annoyed by the end. Another thing I noticed is I do this nervous little laugh after I drop a one-liner or a funny joke. I laugh at my own material. Now, is that annoying or what?
MW: I like you laughing at your own jokes.
MW: Oh, because you think they’re funny?
MW: No, because we’re laughing at the fact that you’re laughing at your own joke. That’s what’s funny.
KM: Yeah, it’s funny. It’s funny for the wrong reasons.
MW: It’s good to take an honest look at ourselves and where we need to grow as preachers. I think that’s what we try to do every podcast, right? And we’re growing and learning as well. Now, let me just tell you what I think is the most important thing about delivery. Are you ready?
MW: Here it is. If you really want great delivery, first let the Word of God pierce your own soul. Let it sink into you; let it grip you; let it convict you, wound you, liberate you; and then it’s going to come out in the way you use your gestures and will show through your face. When George MacDonald was preaching in London, someone made the following comment about him, “His heart was in his work, and his delivery was effective because it rested back upon the genuine beauty of his own inner life.” I love that, “It rested upon the genuine beauty of his own inner life.” Once God’s Word gets into you and starts to shape your soul, people will see it in you. And take a few risks. Try to loosen up a bit. Take a look at your delivery, how can you grow, how can you learn, maybe do some things that are a little uncomfortable for you, but it could lead to more natural and normal conversations.
Steve Walker is the Lead Pastor for Redeemer’s Fellowship in Roseburg, OR, loves Macs, anything with two wheels, hot black coffee, and a good story told.