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Believe You Me

Making Your Sermons More Credible

One way to build credibility with today's congregations is to let people see you understand their situation. Many people in the pew suspect that preachers inhabit another world. Folks in the pew may listen politely to a reporter of the distant, biblical past, but they won't be gripped unless they believe this speaker speaks to their condition.

This is why, in a sermon, I try to speak the people before I speak them. Have you ever listened to a speaker and found yourself saying, Yeah, that's right; that's my reaction, too? The speaker gave words to your feelings — perhaps better than you could have expressed them yourself. You sensed the preacher knew you. He explained you to you.

We capture the attention of people when we show that our experience overlaps theirs. For instance, a preacher might say, "There's no good place for a .150 hitter in a championship lineup. No matter where you put him, he's out of place." If listeners know sports, they know that's true. The preacher's speaking their language.

Or the minister may take a punchline from a comic strip, or use material from Business Week or Advertising Age or The Wall Street Journal. A business executive will resonate with that. Obviously this pastor knows a bit more about the bottom line than playing Monopoly. Through illustrations, the preacher has revealed something about his reading, his thinking, and his awareness of life. When some areas of a speaker's life overlap with the listeners', they are more likely to listen. He's gained some credibility. An ingredient in effective preaching is using specific material that connects with lives in the congregation.

Haddon Robinson was a preacher and teacher of preachers all over the world. His last teaching position was as the Harold John Ockenga Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

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