Does It Make Sense?

It seems obvious, but it needs to be said.  When we speak we need to make sure we make sense.  There are various reasons why we may not make sense to our listeners.  Here are a few to be aware of:

1. Obscure Language – If you obfuscate using technical, rare or archaic vocabulary, then you will lose folks.  They will probably still compliment you on your “deep” message, but be alert enough to spot the implication of that encouraging feedback!

2. Unknown Illustrations – Your illustration from the world of online war games, submarine technology, chinese martial arts, Finnish cuisine, Egyptian burial rituals or first world war poetry may make perfect sense to you.  But are you including enough explanation to allow them to get it?  (And if it needs that much explanation, is it really the best illustration to use?)

3. Omitted Connections – The logical connection between what you are currently saying and the larger point you are offering may not be so logical if you forget to mention it.  Actually, you need to state, restate and underline the logical connection, just in case they were drifting in that moment.  So easy to miss bits of messages we know, but are so needed.

4. Rapid Transitions – Maybe you include something of a transition from direct explanation to explanatory illustration, but the transition is so fast your passengers fail to make the turn with you.  Disoriented they look around trying to figure out where they are now, almost oblivious to what you are actually saying.

5. Unclear Speech – If they can’t make it out, they can’t comprehend it.  And there’s no need to get snooty about your accent either, every accent has elements that are unclear, so try to be aware of that and speak clearly.  Watch for facial signals of misfiring speech.  Restate if you suspect some may have missed what you said.  Oh, and be careful of rapid fire sentence finishing, or fading away when the period is in sight.

6. Assumed Knowledge – It is dangerous to assume people know things.  Do they have the biblical awareness necessary for the message?  Do they know the cultural, historical, political, geographical knowledge that you are assuming for your explanation of the text to be vividly received?

7. Written Notes – I’m not having a go at notes.  I’m just pointing out that almost anything can make sense in written outline form, but your listeners are listening.  Sometimes what is written doesn’t make sense when it is heard.  Write your messages for listeners, not for your own eyes.

What’s missing?  Why else do we sometimes fail to make sense?  (Number 8 – Don’t speak out of your depth – If we don’t get it ourselves, they have no chance!)

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3 thoughts on “Does It Make Sense?

  1. You make good points but I am left wondering.

    There is so much dumbing down in America, are your encouraging the dumbing down of the sermon too?

    How do you lift the bar for the congregation?
    How do you keep the focus of the bright ones without leaving the newcomers behind?
    How do you link Christian culture to modern culture without using more global references?

    In a rhetorical sense, should pastors check their brains (and learning) at the door to appeal to the least common denominator? In so doing, do the more educated listeners leave the service longing for more meat and less milk?

    In sum, how do you balance these competing elements in the congregation?

  2. Thanks Martin – I’ve responded to your comment in the form of a post. I think it is very important to distinguish between dumbing down and being understandable.

    Because the post was getting too long, I pulled out the following line and made no attempt to address it – How do you link Christian culture to modern culture without using more global references?

    I’m not clear what you mean by this. Can you elaborate?

  3. Hey Peter . . . My point is that asking people “what songs do you have on your playlist?” makes a connection to younger audience members who are more modern. It jolts older members who have never held a Nano, much less learned how to work with iTunes.

    The sermon should explain the reference but the pastor should NOT feel constrained to omit such a reference to dumb down his talk. To the contrary, he should elevate the knowledge and awareness of the audience to make his point relevant and timely.

    I heard one pastor say “there is this thing called the Westminster Confession” as a passing phrase. His manner offended me because he sought to toss the reference and minimize the appeal to scholastic knowledge in his talk. Ooops.

    I believe a pastor SHOULD be more erudite while never sacrificing excellent communication for an exercise in pride. At the same time, I resist the implication that conveying an occasional arcane reference is forbidden. Properly delivered, arcane referenecs can enrich a sermon. Foreign accents on words can become funny moments. Unusual historical citations (Josephus?) can add important perspectives.

    The issue is pride and pretense, not scholarly content per se.

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