5 Aspects of Natural Delivery

What makes for effective delivery in preaching? Gone are the days of appreciating the diction and power of a voice fit for the radio, or the grand gesturing and stage presence of yesteryear. Today effective delivery has to be natural.

People want to listen to preachers that are genuine, honest and real. People resist the polished sales patter of a car salesperson, the reading of a script in a phone conversation, or the phony demeanor of an average stage performer. People definitely do not appreciate the ranting and pontificating of old school preaching.

So how can a preacher be natural in delivery? A deep breath and determination to relax doesn’t cut it. Here are five aspects of natural delivery that might take some work:

1. Natural eye contact feels unnatural. It is almost impossible to overstate the value of eye contact in spoken communications. You would not buy from someone who wouldn’t look you in the eye. Our natural tendency will be to find security in our notes and when we dare to lift our heads out of our notes we will naturally look anywhere but the eyes of those who are judging us. It feels unnatural to learn to linger long enough to make meaningful eye contact with someone in the congregation, and then move on to make meaningful eye contact with someone else. It may only take a second or two, or sometimes it takes a few more, but it is worth it. (And the opportunity will only increase when our note-reliance decreases!)

2. Natural sized gestures feel unnatural: size of gesture. If you plan your gestures you will probably look like a puppet. I am not advocating for planned gestures at all. But it does take some work to make gestures appear natural to our congregation. Generally speaking, the bigger the congregation, the bigger the gesture. A little gesture in a conversation (or preaching to a camera) will look ridiculous from seven rows back in a large crowd.

3. Natural gestures feel unnatural: direction of progression. Logically we think from left to right (in our culture). So the past is logically to our left, and time moves towards the right. Gesture with that logic to a congregation and it just won’t feel natural to them. They will interpret, maybe subconsciously, but there is a slight jarring effect. Learn to present from right to left as your reference moves from past to future, or from your first point to your later points, and your listeners won’t skip a beat.

4. Natural explanation can feel unnatural. In a conversation you can often say something once and assume it has been heard, registered and even imagined. Not so with a group. It is not about their individual capacity to comprehend, it is about the distracting effect of being in a group setting. For concepts to formulate in their consciousness, a group of people typically will need more repetition and restatement. Don’t fire off a concept and march on. Make sure you give it the words, and the time, needed for the concept to be heard, registered and grasped. Don’t hurl an illustration past your listeners. Do what it takes for the image to project on their internal screens with clarity.

5. Natural delivery takes unnatural attention. If you just do what you naturally do, how do you know how you come across? It takes effort to pray about your life and your delivery co-existing in a natural and spiritually healthy congruence. It takes effort to ask for specific feedback from a variety of listeners, prompting them to be really honest, so that you can actually know how effective your delivery is. It takes effort to get yourself preaching on video and take stock of your presentation.

I am not saying we should perform. I am saying that it takes some effort to communicate naturally and effectively. There is probably something for every one of us to improve. Just taking a deep breath and trying to relax will not make you communicate well (although it may help a bit).

Some comedians are hilarious on stage and then angry drunks in the dressing room. Are you the same you in conversation after church? Are you the same you when you close the front door at home? Performance is unsustainable. At the same time, effective communication is worth some conscious and prayerful attention.


Here is a resource you might enjoy:

7 Tone Balances

The tone of our preaching is so important.  Yet this is a balancing act.  Seven “tones” to balance in biblical preaching:

1. Serious yet joyful – We handle the most serious of content in the most serious of circumstances.  Yet we have more reason than any to have joy.  It isn’t right for a biblical preacher to come across as flippant and silly, but neither is it right to come across as sombre and melancholic.

2. Textual yet relevant – We preach as inhabitants of two worlds: the world of the inspired text and the world of our listeners.  It is possible for our tone to be too much in one or the other and for our preaching to be undermined as a result.

3. Contemporary yet genuine – We preach as fellow humans in the present situation.  It is incarnational to not come across as a prophet who has been locked in a victorian time capsule.  Yet we need to be genuine in this, no good pretending to be contemporary  in ways we are not, people see through that.

4. Authentic yet appropriate – In a culture that increasingly craves authentic communicators, we must show the real us when we speak.  Listeners don’t connect with plastic preachers.  Yet we must be appropriate in what we share.  Sometimes too much information undoes everything around it.

5. Welcoming yet exclusive – We preach as those who represent the welcoming spreading graciousness of Christ, yet as those who stand with Him in His claim to absolute exclusivity.  We can’t be welcoming in a way that offers hope to those on a hopeless path.

6. Warm yet warning – We preach as ambassadors for Christ.  He wasn’t stone cold like some preachers are, Christ was compelling and warm.  Yet the self-righteous found Christ to be one who warned, rather than warmed them.

7. Winsome yet real – Maybe this has been covered already, but let me reinforce it.  We speak as representatives of a God who seeks to woo the wounded.  Our preaching tone should be winsome and Christlike, but that won’t work if it is mere catchphrases that aren’t supported by a deeply stirred reality.

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Unhealthy Division: Style & Substance

Perhaps people like me add to the kind of division I am thinking about by the labels used in our teaching of preaching, but still, we’d do well to think about this.  Do we too easily divide elements of preaching?

For example, content and delivery, or substance and style.  It’s a simple distinction, and it works for planning a class schedule.  But when you consider the complexity of the act of communication, perhaps the distinction can be unhelpful?  Certainly once we start dismissing style out of a resolute commitment to substance, we are shooting ourselves in the foot.

Now don’t get me wrong.  The term “style” is not the best for what I am writing about.  Even “delivery” can sound like a performance.  The reality, though, is that the message is transmitted through a preacher.  This includes many elements.  Not just vocal production, verbal clarity, non-verbal presentation, etc. (the classic elements of “delivery”), but also that which you might label “ethos” and “pathos.”

I recently tweaked my gradually-improving definition of preaching in one part by adding the two words “and life.”  In reference to the oral communication aspect of preaching, my current best attempt at a definition says that preaching involves “…effective communication through the preacher’s words (and life)…”

Perhaps we would do well to not dismiss matters of “style” and “delivery” as “mere performance.”  It is too easy to take Paul’s self-distancing from the manipulative skill of classical rhetoric (1Cor.2:1-5) and therefore dismiss all rhetoric and homiletics.  The problem with such a blanket response is that Paul clearly utilized both rhetorical and homiletical skill in his writing and preaching.  Instead of a quick dismissal of all style/delivery issues, or at the other extreme, an obsession with delivery that results in a performance mentality, perhaps we would consider more seriously that which results in the pulpit from the weight of who we are personally in our walk with Christ.

Maturity shows.  Passion shows.  Love shows.  Life shows.  Perhaps a preachers style and delivery are a lot more about the preachers inner life and spirituality than our categories tend to recognize?

Revisiting Preaching Style

I’ve written about style before, but it’s worth revisiting.  Not surprisingly, I am resonating with much of what Jay Adams wrote about style back in ’82.  The reason I resonate is that I still come across pockets of preaching activity that fall into the three inadequate styles he lists in his book (I will quote and condense):

Preacher’s Style – This is a stilted style pockmarked with King James’s terminology and Elizabethan constructions (beloved, unto, beseech, the person of, babe, vale, etc.)  This sort of style, unknown to the apostles, who spoke an elevated (by their content) fish-market Greek, or even the translators of the KJV/AV who wrote exactly as they talked.  This style is a modern travesty totally without previous history or biblical warrant.  Cleanse your preaching of all such “preachy” language.

Scholastic Style – This technical, super-sophisticated and bookish style is equally unhelpful.  The great biblical, theological terms must be used, but not without exlanation, nor should be be used in profusion.  Don’t sound like a theological treatise (or an academic essay).

Chatty Style – This approach majors on the slang and jargon of the day and lacks all form and order.  Again, Adams sees this as unhelpful to effective communication.

Good preaching style is a plain (but not drab), unaffected (but not unstudied) style that gets in there and gets the job done without calling attention to itself.  It should always be clear and appropriate to both content and mood.  The best analogy Adams sees is the news reader on TV.  Our preaching style should not be lower than this, but should be elevated by its content slightly above this standard style with its standard use of language.

That’s Adams take a generation ago, what now?  I know some still choose preachy, scholastic or chatty styles.  Is there a better standard than the TV newsreader?