Attention! Strategy…

If you haven’t got the attention of your listeners, then they aren’t really listeners, and you’re not really preaching to them.  I know there are all sorts of factors influencing the preaching event, and we’ll probe some of those later in the week.  But to be super simple, here’s a principle we should all take on board:

People listen if they want to, so make them want to . . . 

How can we do this?

1. Relevance.  I think the preacher needs to prove as early as possible that the preacher, the message and the passage is relevant to the listeners.  Introduction is critical here.  But then there needs to be a continual re-proving of relevance throughout.  Don’t leave “application” until the last few minutes, they probably won’t be with you by then.  Demonstrate relevance all the way through.  This includes lots of factors, but the content is critical.  Historical lecture, theological diatribe, rant against them out there, etc., are all felt to be irrelevant to listeners in the church setting.  Speak to us.

2. Interest.  When the content is interesting, people are more likely to pay attention.  Never bore people with the Bible.  Be interesting.  Does that mean we rush to our illustration sources?  Hang on.  The Bible is interesting.  Too many preachers preach dull Bible enlivened by interesting anecdotes and stories.  This may be less dull preaching, but it is not interesting biblical preaching.  Communicate the content well, and use explanations, proofs, applications, when they are genuinely helpful.  Make sure the core of the content is interesting.

3. Accessibility.  If it is completely over their heads, they won’t listen.  If it is patronizing and trite, they will get annoyed and also stop listening.  Make it appropriately accessible for the level of those present.

4. Energy.  Getting attention has a lot to do with delivery as well as content.  Your energy matters.  When we stand in front of a crowd, our natural instinct is to become limited.  Seek to break out of that monotonous box and be yourself with appropriate energy for the occasion and your personality.  This means eye contact, facial expression, vocal variety, movement and gestures.  If you are enthused and have an appetite for it, they have a chance of catching it.  If you don’t have the disease, you’ll struggle to be contagious.

5. Warmth. Energy in delivery is not about a show or a performance.  It is about the real you communicating with them.  One key ingredient is your personal warmth.  If you come across as cold, they won’t lean in to what you are saying.  Simple.  Represent the gospel in your manner and tone, as well as in the precision of your content.

6. Spirituality.  People can sense when you have the spiritual gravitas that comes from being with Jesus.

More to add, but I’ll leave it there.  Tomorrow we’ll consider some of the illegitimate approaches people take to get attention.


Preaching & Application 4

Part four of this series on application . . .

13. Be servant-hearted, not the model of perfection. It is so easy to come across as if you have already been mastered by and have already mastered the text. It isn’t about understanding. Be better at that every time you preach. But it is about whether you stand with the listeners as one who is also receiving from God’s Word, or are you just a dispenser of instruction, always? The servant-hearted part comes in when we realize our task is to serve others, not to impress them. Look to equip and enthuse, don’t look to show off so they feel obligated to you.

14. Be accountable to the text, not a red phone to heaven. Sometimes preachers come across as having a unique and Moses-like access to God. They seem to have spent the week face to face with the angel of the presence of the Lord, but it doesn’t stir the heart like Moses might have. Somehow it can instead be a bit intimidating. A bit of a spiritual superiority vibe that leaves others feeling spiritually inadequate. Don’t couch everything in terms of direct revelation if you actually prayerfully considered what to say and this felt right. That is very different than the red phone flashing on your desk and Gabriel passing on a direct message. Let your authority come from the Bible well-handled, rather than from an implied super-spirituality that may over-imply in places.

15. Be willing to describe the application. Don’t just preach truths and then leave them hanging in the air for people to grab and apply personally. They won’t. They will affirm you, but they won’t be touched themselves. Instead seek to spell out the difference this biblical truth might make in a life. They will translate that application to their own situation, but only after they see that you are offering more than just a nice spiritual thought.

16. Be specifically descriptive in applications. As you describe what it might look like to live in light of the passage, be specific. What does the truth of the Incarnation mean when I am struggling with my boss’s attitude tomorrow at work? What does it look like to trust God’s providence when everything seems to be conspiring against my marriage? What would be different if the peace of God gripped the ethos of our church with its grapevines and back-biting festivals?