Clever Wording is Not Always Clever

Listeners do not want to feel like the preacher is unprepared and making it up as they go along. This undermines credibility. At the other extreme, today’s listeners are often unimpressed by excessively crafted wording. Gone are the days when crowds would “Ooo!” and “Aah!” at unending alliteration (did those days really ever exist?) Our challenge is to find the balance.

I recently heard someone preaching a literary masterpiece of a sermon. It was too much. The craft was overwhelming and it became totally distracting. Once people become impressed, or even distracted by your ability to memorize, you’ve probably gone too far. When preparing a sermon I usually aim for a “prepared natural” style.

Writing a manuscript allows the preacher to give attention to every word in the message, but this does not mean that the sermon should end up as a literary masterpiece. Write the sermon for the ear, but with a “prepared natural” style, then the wordcraft should not feel excessive.

Let “clever” be the seasoning. A little alliteration, assonance, wordplays and pithy sayings tend to go a long way. Be subtle lest you overwhelm the listener, because clever wording is not always clever.

2 thoughts on “Clever Wording is Not Always Clever

  1. What you are saying is true. But also keep in mind that what is too rhetorically polished in one context might be a more plain style in another one. Well that might be a slight exaggeration, but you get my point…

  2. Sherman – you are absolutely right. Most aspects of delivery are culture and sub-culture specific. What might feel appropriately prepared and natural in one church might be very formal in another, and vice versa. You are exactly right and it just reminds us again how important it is to be experts not only in the world of the Bible, but the specific context of our listeners. This is especially a challenge for those of us who have an itinerant element in our ministry!

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