Can you remember a church sermon that deeply impacted you? What was it about this particular message that it left such an impression on you? Great, memorable sermons are usually a combination of great biblical content and great delivery. For preachers, the importance of sermon preparation almost goes without saying, but, unfortunately, the delivery is often left out of the equation.
During the Sermonary Sermon Summit, Wade Bearden, Co-Creator of the web platform, Sermonary, discussed the importance of delivery with Dr. Jeff Magruder, Professor of Bible and Church Ministries at Southwestern Assemblies of God University. In this video, Dr. Magruder shares the three biggest mistakes that occur with sermon delivery.
– [MUSIC PLAYING] So we’re here with Seminary Sermon Summit, and I’m really excited to introduce to you doctor and pastor Jeff Magruder. I call you Dr. Magruder because you are my professor in Bible college and my pastor. But thank you so much for joining us today, it’s always great to have you on and to talk to our seminary viewers. Wade I’m so glad to be a part of this thanks for allowing me to do it. So our viewers might recognize you, viewers if you have not gone through our sermon workshop Dr. Magruder taught that, and it’s like in four or five different videos it’s really great. So if you haven’t checked that out yet then definitely sign up it’s free, it’s a free resource and we can even utilize some of the links in our emails so you can check that out. So Dr. Jeff Magruder is a professor of Bible and church ministries at Southwestern assemblies of God university, he’s in demand as a speaker, he’s served as a pastor a youth pastor, and an interim pastor, he’s presented papers at the Society of Pentecostal studies and the evangelical homily article society. So today we’re going to be talking about sermon presentation, sermon delivery which is so important we don’t usually give that much space to sermon delivery. We usually give it more to preparation but it’s just it’s very, very important when it comes to sermon presentation. So I wanted to talk to you today, about that topic. And my first question is this what are off the topic we had, what are the three biggest mistakes that pastors make when it comes to delivering their messages on the stage on a Sunday morning, Sunday night or Wednesday night? Sure I think the biggest mistake is assuming that presentation doesn’t matter, that content by itself will do all of the work of effective communication the gospel and as a result, they failed to pay attention to what it is they could be doing better to improve as communicators. The second thing I would say in light of the fact that we want to pay attention to what we do as communicators, is don’t simply assume that because you are sincere about it or that you are right if that means you are as effective as you could be. In fact there is a piece of advice floating out there that is well-intentioned but I think ultimately doesn’t serve people very well, and it goes something like this when it comes to communication just be yourself. But what happens if just being yourself means that you have a lot of verbal filler, what happens it means that you put your hands in your pocket or you have poor eye contact. Think of it this way, imagine someone who’s being told now when it comes to conflict resolution just be yourself. Well, what happens if being yourself is you’re someone who loses their temper threatens people. Maybe you’re someone who shuts down and would rather avoid confrontation. So it’s a bad idea to just be yourself, what you want to do is be your best self. Now the third element involves a few things I would say internalize the message. And if you’ll internalize the message what that means is you’re not going to be so reliant on the notes you won’t feel like you’re reading to people, your eye contact will be better. And it also means that you will be more natural in your communication. So that when things are serious you’ll sound more serious, when things are joyful and optimistic that will come through in your delivery as well. But you have to first commit to this understanding of human communication it is not enough to be right and it’s not enough to be sincere. It’s not even enough to be yourself. You need to be your best self, and what that means is you’re going to pay attention to those things that you do well and do more of that and pay attention also to those things you don’t do so well and work on improving. Now that’s a good point and it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot, especially with social media and how you can be right but not necessarily persuasive. And it’s the same thing with preaching that you can have good content, you feel like you’ve pulled out what scripture has presented us, and still not be very persuasive. So you mentioned practicing beforehand and how that’s important, how can pastors build that into their schedule? So maybe volunteer by vocational pastors or even full time pastors who are just really schedule to the max. How do they make that a part of their routine and to really allow that to help their delivery be more effective? I think there are ways that a person can do this on a weekly basis that won’t overwhelm them or seem to unnecessarily burden their schedule. Here are a few things I would suggest, when they have finished manuscripting their sermon and if they prefer not to manuscript maybe they’ve got their outline, go a head and read it aloud, how does it sound? Did the sentences make sense? Is there a good word choice there? Have someone else help you read it too. Perhaps even in a staff meeting devote 30 minutes, with either your fellow staff or a creative team to listening to what it is you have to say and making sure that that’s very effective that it communicates clearly. Something I’ve found it’s really helpful when it comes to internalizing the message, is recording myself preaching the sermon I’ll just put it on my smartphone and then I’ll listen to it over and over again. And let’s imagine that you have finished your sermon manuscript by Thursday or a sermon you’re going to preach on Sunday, so go ahead and read it aloud, and after you’ve read it aloud make some editorial changes polish it up a little bit. And then with that editorial or with that edited version, go ahead and record yourself, and then listen to that recording just three times every day even including the morning before you’re about to preach. And what will happen is muscle memory will kick in. So you’ll be so used to hearing your voice say and the next thing Jesus wants us to do is, that when it comes time for you to say the next thing Jesus wants us to do is, you’ll know exactly what that is. This will free up your eye contact, it will free up your gestures, again it’ll help you to be more natural in an effective way. Because you’re so used to hearing your voice communicate that content that even if for some reason whether there was a technical glitch, or you misplace your notes, or as sometimes happens someone accidentally took him off the podium or the pulpit before you were ready for them to do so, because you’ve internalized the message you’ll be OK. In fact, my challenge to all preachers would be this, know the message well enough, that if for some reason the notes were to disappear moments before you were about to get up to preach, it will be OK. Yeah and I was working with a pastor not you, but a pastor who had an iPad and the iPad failed on Easter Sunday, and those things can happen. And so you do have to be prepared. I was reading a book about writing and they to kind of prescribe hey, if you want to be a better writer, you need to read your work out loud. And one thing that forces you to do one thing to keep in mind is to read it from the perspective of other people. We know what we’re saying we know what we’re trying to communicate, if you read it from the perspective of someone else, then you can figure out oh maybe I’m not being clear here. Or maybe the singles in my church, or the elders in my church, or the young people in my church might, I don’t say be offended but it might not work well for them based on my word choice, that’s really good. So if we’re talking about delivery we also have to talk about pitch. And you’ve mentioned this before and you talked about this in the seminary sermon workshop that pitch is so important when it comes to preaching, and yet we don’t talk about it. What are some tips that you have for the way that you use your voice to communicate your message on Sunday morning? First let me say that I think before a communicator is going to commit themselves to really improving their pitch, they have to understand the power of it when it comes to a listener interpreting what is significant what is important. Depending upon where you place your pitch you can actually change the meaning of a sentence, the same word order, the same syntax, the same punctuation. But all depending upon where you raise your pitch it will actually impact in fact, change the meaning of that sentence. So for instance, if we were to take the sentence, do you believe him? Well if you raised your pitch in one part of that sentence it might sound like do you believe this guy, you know he’s crazy is the life of the party. On the other hand, if you were to place the pitch somewhere else and go up, it might sound like it’s someone you’re angry with, did you believe him, he stole my idea and he’s passing it off as his own. It could even be that if you change the pitch it might sound something like, you know do you believe him? Like is this someone worthy of our trust? So the point is pitch has great power when it comes to helping the listener understand what you’re trying to communicate. One of the things I would try to do in addition to recording myself so that I can hear where I’m supposed to go up and go down on pitch, is prior to the recording, I would indicate in my notes where I might go up and where I might go down. Speechwriters will do this, and it’ll help the person who’s going to present the speech internalize where it is they need to go up where it is they need to go down. Another piece of advice I’d give about pitch way, is don’t make the mistake of being mono pitch, in which everything is good with the same amount of emphasis, the same intensity, the same frequency. Now I recognize that, ministry pastor reaches a large number of denominations and people from different traditions. As it happens I come from a Pentecostal tradition. And so our problem is that we do everything up here OK, there are some denominations perhaps their problem is they do everything down there. There’s a there’s a motorized vehicle that can take you from the parking lot in Disney world, from the parking lot into the Magic Kingdom is called the monorail. And it’s appropriately named because it stays at one speed and the entire time. And a lot of our preaching we’re guilty of being monorail in our approach to pitch, instead what we want to do is we want to be like a roller coaster. There should be highs there should be lows and there should be highs and lows in appropriate places. So for instance would want to start strong and you would want to end strong as well. Yeah now that’s really great and that’s very helpful as you’re thinking through that I like the idea of putting it in your notes, and so mentally reminding yourself how the flow of the sermon is going to work. So I want to ask you this question because I’ve heard so many different conversations on it lately and it relates to delivery, what’s the difference between a pastor who’s more of a preacher and a pastor who’s more of a teacher, and where should one lane when they’re behind the pulpit on specifically on Sunday morning? That’s a great question and I really do believe that the answer is the audience and the context I think that or a pastor your preaching should involve some teaching, and your teaching should involve some inspiration. If I were forced by gunpoint to say what’s the big difference between preaching and teaching, which admittedly I get that question every semester I always feel ill equipped to answer it. But if I were forced to gunpoint and what is the difference. I would say well, preaching is primarily about inspiration and teaching is primarily about passing on information. However I’m uncomfortable with dividing those two in a significant way. I think that ideally no good gospel preaching I am by training, and by conviction, and expository preacher won’t want to be a combination of instruction and inspiration. But to your specific point or to your specific question, I think on a Sunday morning you’re going to lean in one direction or the other largely based on the needs of your audience and the interests of your audience. So I could envision the same preacher let’s say they’re in two different congregations over the course of two weeks, feeling like they need to be a little bit more on the information distributing side now they’re going to do that because their audience already cares about it. So their audience is there to hear what it is they have to say about this felt need that they have. Or they might need to lean a little bit more on the inspirational side because maybe that other congregation that they’re in the church the next week, know that they know some of these things. But they haven’t always understood the significance of them or how they relate to their life. I recognize that there are certain personalities that will always do better among certain demographics. So there are people for instance who are from a region they’ve been in that region all their life they understand that region, they know that region, they can speak that region and that might be the place of ministry for them all their life. But I think the more training we get and the more opportunities we’re given, we should take the attitude of the Apostle Paul who learned how to communicate in more than one setting. So he’s with the Jews he’s like a jew, when he was with the Gentiles he’s like a Gentile. He could be conversational on Mars hill but presumably he could also deliver a homily when he was in the synagogue. We know there are a few times he had to raise his voice so maybe he could do well in Assembly of God Church as well. The point in all of this is that there was a certain flexibility that he had developed based upon being able to read his audience and their needs. So I think that even though I’ve taken a little bit longer to answer that question, rather than say well, it’s more like a preacher it’s more like a teacher, it’s going to be more like a preacher or more like a teacher depending on who your audience is, and what it is they need to help them get to the next level. That’s good. One of the things that we’ve talked about through some different interviews in this sermon summit is listening to other preachers and in feeling like this feeling sometimes you’ve got to be as good or you got to be like them, and it seems to me as you’re talking about the audience realizing that you might have a favorite preacher but it might not be good to adopt their style if it’s not the style that you’re congregants need at this point. And so that’s great. I have one question to you mentioned notes, and there’s all this talk of you know should I manuscript, should I take up just an outline, how should I write my message, and what should I read from on the stage? What do you what do you think about notes when it comes to bringing them on stage on Sunday morning? Sure and really I like to way you frame that question Wade because typically, it’s not a question of whether someone has notes it’s a question of what they do with them, do they bring them up there or not? Ideally, you want to have notes that are comprehensive enough that you can internalize a note that’s the term we’ve been using not memorize, but internalize the main movement of your sermon, the main movements within your sermon, and so you can really drive home that central idea really drove home that sermons purpose. You want them to be thorough enough that in your study and in your practice of them you’re internalizing that material. However, if you’re the kind of person that if you were to take narrow notes up there with you, the temptation is going to be to read, the temptation is going to be to glance down at them too frequently and my advice to you, to practice, I’ll sum it up this way this isn’t exactly the way it has to go but I think it captures what I’m trying to teach here. Practice the manuscript but preach the outline. So have thorough comprehensive notes that you prepare with but have just enough to remind yourself, that you take up there with you. When you might recall it in the preaching classes we had at Sago, we would teach students to do both a sermon manuscript which was a word for word account of everything we plan on saying in a certain brief which was a condensed outline of what it is we planned on saying. It’s a habit now in my preaching lab class of saying, practice the manuscript but preached the Greek. And the reason I give this advice is because over and over again. I’ve seen that if someone takes a lot of notes up there with them, the temptation is everything that’s on the page has got to make it on the stage. And so I’m going to read or I’m going to glance down too much and as a result lively communication is inhibited, but instead if they’ll take just enough to remind them of what it is that they planned on saying they should be fine. Now it is true that there are some people that are very comfortable with internalizing and memorizing, and taking next to no notes with them at all and I would say if that’s something you can do more power to you. There have been sermons that I’ve preached on more than one occasion that I’m comfortable enough now, to have maybe just a single stick them inside my Bible, inside my iPad, inside my phone I’ve got seven plus so it’s big enough to actually use for a Bible reading. And they’ll just be enough in there to kind of spark my memory about where it is I’m headed or what it is I plan on saying. Now, having said all that there are those rare people who have the ability to take a manuscript preach from it and still sound very lively. In fact, if we were to begin to list you know some of the better known preachers in North America we might find that several of them have the ability to do that, but just because they do doesn’t mean you should, that’s something that they’ve been able to refine over time. I like to suggest to students that our relationship to sermon notes during the sermon should be like our relationship to a GPS screen while we’re driving. We can glance to orient where we’re headed but we shouldn’t keep our eyes there. Yeah that’s good, I remember seeing some of your notes when you’re preaching and there’d be like, like little posted notes and with just like code words at some point illustration house, things like that, which I thought were wonderful. I will talk a moment about seminary I really love your answer to that question and one of the things we built in the seminary is the ability to map out your sermon block by block. And you can actually go in and mark certain blocks that are hidden in our podium mode, so you can even manuscript out or go really in-depth with your sermon. And then hit which blocks you want and go up to the stage in podium mode with a bare bones of your message. So you keep all the research without having to go through and cut it all up to get on stage which was exciting. Well Dr. Jeff Magruder is the professor of preaching at Southwestern Assemblies of God university, he has this demean from Gordon Cornwell and he studied under Hayden Robinson. I really appreciate all your work Dr. Magruder. I know you go and you travel and you do teaching workshops with churches and Sunday School leaders, if our listeners our viewers would like to learn more about that work and they connect with you. Well thanks for that, so I could be reached by email at [email protected] that’s jmagruder m a g r u d e r @ s a g u . e d u. And I do put on sermon coaching clinics for a variety of levels of speaker I can custom design it so that I’m working with seasoned preachers who are looking to maybe do something fresh different or even polish off some of the basics. And I’m also able to work with people who are volunteers, amateurs just getting started and want to know what it is that you need to do to be sure that you’re effective. So I appreciate the opportunity to promote that and would love to hear from anyone who might be interested in hearing more. Awesome. [MUSIC PLAYING]
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