Most people don’t blatantly walk out of church services. But a good number of them tune out. To be fair, sometimes such detachment is the fault of the listener himself. But all too often, we preachers have a lot to do with why increasing numbers in our congregations preoccupy themselves with their smart phones, catch up on their power naps, or painstakingly mark the minutes until the sermon terminates.
The remedy for an increasing “tune out” is not as simple as merely turning up the volume of the microphone or turning down the temperature of the thermostat. (Although I do prefer a meat locker climate for our services!) Let me offer four indispensable components of impactful messages:
1. Clarity (Bland Speech Causes “Tune Out”)
Solomon had a few things to say at the end of his life. Actually, a lot of things. Like two whole books full. One of his main goals in sharing his “end of life” wisdom was to seek out acceptable words. His desire was to find the right way to say the right things. He understood the power that words have. He taught us that carefully selected words can be like goads and fasteners to the listeners, both urging them forward in obedience and providing them foundational principles by which to live securely.
Think especially through the main points of your message. Learn how to craft your words in a pithy way. You’re not preaching to show off what you know or how well you can say it. You are preaching in order for the listeners to understand. So know something about them. Think your way into their lives.
The end result of a message is not that the listener is impressed that you know something; it is that the listener be improved because now he knows something.
2. Humility (Proud Speech Causes “Tune Out”)
Nothing repels like pride. Ever the heroes of their own stories, some preachers view the pulpit as their throne and the people as their fawning subjects. And the funny thing is, in ministries like these, most people are already on to it. But the repercussions of kingdom banishment keep them quiet. The naked emperor continues to babble about his impressive wardrobe and nobody has the guts to tell him that he’s not wearing any clothes.
Humility expresses herself well by transparency. Tell them how you’ve struggled with the very subject on which you are preaching. Be honest about your own failures and fears. In most cases, people are already aware of them anyway.
Pride obscures truth in two ways: (1) the proud preacher often bends the truth in order to elevate himself in some way, and (2) the listener disregards the message because he is repulsed by the preacher’s arrogance. By contrast, when preachers speak humbly and transparently, people are free to see the message for what it is. And what is it? The transcendent truth of God to needy man. The preacher needs it. I need it. We all need it.
3. Fervency (Lifeless Speech Causes “Tune Out”)
Fervency is a bit nebulous to describe when it comes to preaching and teaching. What I mean is that fervency doesn’t necessarily mean volume or theatrics. It doesn’t always show up in tears or gestures. But it is obvious. When someone speaks with conviction, it’s undeniably noticeable.
Actors speak from scripts. They master the lines and deliver them masterfully. At least the good ones do. They speak with skill. Memorized lines spill from their lips like the cascade of a beautiful waterfall. They learn their roles and manufacture the appropriate emotions by which to convey them. But the Word of God is so much more than a script or lines to be memorized. It is truth! And when that truth enflames the heart of the preacher, it is powerful truth indeed.
Do you believe what you’re preaching? Really? Then speak with a conviction that reflects it. Truth that has not first captured your heart will not easily connect with your listeners.
4. Credibility (Unsubstantiated Speech Causes “Tune Out”)
Why should I believe what you are telling me? Funny stories are entertaining, and tear-jerking stories can pull the emotional chain, but I’m going to need a little bit more than anecdotal evidence if you want me to believe what you are saying. And just because somebody famous said something quotable about it doesn’t mean that I’m going buy it either.
Is your message rooted in the truth of God’s Word? If so, where? Show me. Give me a text of Scripture to which I can affix my faith. “Take my word for it,” really doesn’t cut it.
Foolish is the preacher who asks people to believe something, “Because I say so!” Faith is a precious commodity indeed. Encourage listeners to invest it in the security of God’s Word. There it lies safely. Only there.
And if you’ve read the article this far, thanks for not “tuning out”!