You have one job to do as a preacher, and you are probably not paying attention to it.
Your job is not to tell stories. Your job is not to tell people what the Bible says. Your job is not to provide practical life advice. All of those are critical components of preaching, but they are not your job as a preacher.
Think about a pitcher in baseball. His job is not to throw strikes. His job is not to mix up his pitches. His job is not to keep runners close to the bag when they are on base. All of those are critical components of a pitcher's job, but they are not his job.
When the manager hands the ball to a pitcher, that pitcher's job is to win the game. When you open the Bible and preach, your job is to make a human connection with your audience.
Doesn't the incarnation prove this to be true? God has a message that he wants to get to his people. And the primary way he communicates that message is through words and the Word. Good news from heaven to the world passed from one person to another.
Most preachers spend dozens of hours per week focusing on communication. I am inviting you to take five minutes to focus on connection. You can be better at your job - making better connections - with these five practical tips:
1. Slow Down
Do you remember the Micro Machines TV commercial? Yeah, the one with the fastest talking man in the world. Well, by the sound of things on sermon podcasts across this big shiny world of ours, there are a lot of preachers auditioning for a reboot of that commercial.
Please do not confuse speed with passion. Talking faster does not necessarily communicate emotion; it only demonstrates that you possess an oratorical fastball. Try this next Sunday. Make a point. Stop talking for five seconds. Let your thought or question hang in the air. Smile. Who knows? Someone might smile back.
Oh, and don't just slow down by adding speed bumps in your sermon. Use fewer words per minute. If you don't have time to say everything in 45 minutes, say less (we can talk later about the fact that you probably have no business preaching for 45 minutes week in and week out).
Slowing down is not easy if you preach like Ricky Bobby speeding around Talladega, so don't try to slow down your entire sermon this Sunday. Slow down when you make a point of application or tell a story. And speaking of stories.
2. Remember That Stories Are Sriracha
I have a subscription to Nature Box (seriously, you should click on that link; I don't get anything for it - just pure love for them and you) and my favorite snack is their sriracha roasted cashews. Why? Well, because cashews are the Cadillac of nuts and when you add sriracha to them? Heaven with a kick.
While you dream about your cashews, let's talk about stories and sermons. Your sermons could use a few more stories. They make your message sticky and go a long way in connecting your big idea to your audience. But let's get something straight. Stories are the sriracha, not the cashew.
No one should walk away from your sermon unclear about your message because you told a humdinger of a story but never connected the dots back to a particular biblical text. And, yeah, we can talk sometime about why using the Bible to get across your big idea is not the same as pulling your big idea from the Bible.
3. Make Eye Contact
So I don't preach with notes. Ever. But I am not very good at making eye contact with people when I preach. I am the master of the pan-and-scan. And if you sit close to the front of our room, you can make faces at me, take a nap or keel over dead from a heart attack and I would never, ever know.
Now the reason I tell you that is because I am not the only person who has mastered the art of looking at everyone without ever looking at anyone in particular. So we can be buddies and work on this together. While you are preaching, make eye contact with one person and keep it there until you finish your point, paragraph or sermon. Then move on to the next person, connecting with individual people until you are done.
Is it awkward? Not going to lie. Felt like I was playing a game of chicken with lots of people the first time I tried this. Now, it's no big deal. Good to learn new tricks. But I do have to warn you about something if you do this...
4. Don't Look At Everyone
No, this is not a warning to avoid creating an awkward situation staring at someone in the crowd you find attractive (seriously, don't act like you don't notice). I will say that another elder (or elder-equivalent if your church does not have elders) should know who you are attracted to in the church. Transparency is a gift, my friends.
But that's not the point here. When you make eye contact with people during your sermon, you are going to get the stink eye from someone. Maybe they hate God, maybe they hate you, maybe they're just having a bad day or have a resting face like Severus Snape. And while I'm not saying you should awkwardly avoid looking at them, I would take my business elsewhere.
Focus on people who are locked in and seem to be enjoying what you are saying. No preacher has ever been encouraged too much, and your focus and attention will go a long way in making a connection. And don't forget, kids, it's not enough to merely communicate; the name of the game is making a connection.
5. Say Thank You Again
When you wrap up your message - or at the very least before the benediction if that is part of your tradition - make sure to say 'thank you' to everyone in the room. Yeah, I know I encouraged you to say 'thank you' at the beginning of the message in a previous post. And, yep, we can all agree that you are not the star of the show (Audience of One, and all that stuff).
But in a world where our most valuable commodity is our time, everyone in that room gave you 20, 30, 40, (heavens, I hope not) 50 or more minutes of their time. I hope you and I will never take that for granted. One way to keep our head on straight and our heart resistant to a preposterously inflated sense of self-importance is to say 'thank you' to friends and strangers for such a thoughtful gift.
Do The Next Right Thing
Grab one of these five ways to connect with people and work it into your sermon this Sunday. And come back here next Monday and let us know how it went.