THE DELIVERY OF SERMONS
This message is for “Preachers Only,” and for perhaps a few interested Elders of the New Testament church who might be minded to pass this message on to their preachers for consideration and study. I would have you know that although I have been a preacher for over 50 years, I am no expert on the delivery of sermons. Many years ago one of the Elders in the Church I preached for said, “You are a better teacher than a preacher.” Of course, I didn't believe him at the time, but he was right. Like many preachers, I lacked skill in the delivery of sermons. However, along the way I came on to a message entitled, “The Delivery of Sermons,” by Aldolphe Monod, a preacher and writer unknown to me. He was considered to be a noted Orator in his day. I found it very informative on the subject of the delivery of sermons, a subject which should be of interest to all preachers. The article has been long out of print, and I doubt if you could find a copy of it anywhere today. It was originally delivered in German to theological students in Europe, and was translated into English by Dr. James Alexander. The message is far too long for a single message on the Internet, but I will present some of his outstanding thoughts on the subject. I will not use direct quotations in the message, but most everything you read will be his ideas and thoughts. Many things said will be exactly in his own words. Moreover, I believe with all my heart everything that is said in this message. I present it for your consideration. These are his words of wisdom, not mine.
It is scarcely necessary to call attention to the importance of good delivery. There is nothing which contributes more to winning the attention of people and moving their hearts than a good delivery of a sermon. A bad delivery can leave the audience cold, inattentive and unmoved. The author quoted the words of two master speakers on the power of delivery. Someone asked Demosthenes, the Greek orator, “What is the first quality of the orator?” He answered, “It is action, “ And the second, “Action,” and the third, “Action.” Massilon expressed the same judgment when he replied on a certain occasion, to one who asked him which he thought was his best sermon, “That one which I know best.” Why should this be, unless that which he knew the best was that he could best deliver. It may be that these two masters of oratory exaggerated their opinion in order to make it more striking, but its foundation is perfectly true. As a preacher, I agree with the idea that a preacher's best sermon is the one he knows the best. This is not merely an opinion; it is a fact based on experience and cannot be contested.
How then does it happen that preachers whose delivery is good, exist in no great numbers? Most certainly, the sincerity of their belief,
nor their interest in the subject can be called in question. This is all the more astonishing because preachers often manifest in ordinary conversation many of the desirable qualities which we miss in their pulpit exercises. This indicates they really need nothing in order to make them excellent speakers, but to be themselves. However, it must be born in mind that there is a wide distinction between preaching and ordinary conversation. Preaching demands certain powers, both physical and moral, which are not possessed by everyone, and which are not required in common n conversation. It is a difficult question, but let us attempt its solution.
The delivery of sermons can be given in several different ways. It may be written and read. It may be written and committed to memory and recited. It may be delivered by the use of copious notes or no notes at all. Still another way is to use extemporaneous speech, impromptu speech, without special preparation whatever, , without notes or even any immediate forethought. Yes, there is a notable difference between preaching and conversation. If we choose to manuscript the sermon and read it, we should be aware that it is almost impossible to assume a tone that is entirely natural. As strange as it seems, this may be due to the fact that the art of reading well is perhaps even more difficult than that of speaking well. Good Bible readers in public are about as numerous as preachers with a good sermon delivery. In addition, the preacher who reads, when he is supposed to be speaking, places himself thereby in a kind of false position, of which he must undergo the penalty. It will be better to rehearse after having committed the sermon to memory. The preacher then speaks throughout after his manuscript, it is true, but nevertheless he speaks, instead of reading. Where the preacher has prepared his thoughts and even his words, that is a matter which listeners need not to know, and which a good delivery can ordinarily conceal from those who are not themselves in a habit of speaking in public. The mind, the voice, the attitude, are all more free, and the delivery is far more natural. But can it be completely so? I do not know. However, many very successful preachers have used the reading delivery from a manuscript, and we will not condemn the use of the method. Some of us poor preachers do not have photostatic memories. Some have better memorizing ability than others. I have always envied preachers who can read an article once and remember it. Yet, it is better to read a sermon than stumble around in a sermon, get lost and forget what you intended to say.
Finally, it will be possible to avoid these inconveniences just mentioned by using the extempore method of delivery. I believe, indeed, that ths is the method in which a preacher may hope for the best delivery, provided he has sufficient mental faculties to be free from the necessity of a painful search for thoughts and words. If you do not have sufficient mental and memorizing ability, impromptu speaking is the worst of all methods for subject matter as well as organization. On this extemporaneous method of preaching, I would like to leave the chief author of these thoughts and use the thoughts of another preacher. Charles Spurgeon was the most outstanding preacher England and the Baptist church produced in the 19th century. He was acclaimed as a great orator, and more of His sermons are in book form than any preacher who has ever lived. His sermons are in printed form in 63 volumes, numbering over 3500 sermons Spurgeon made this statement on the delivery of sermons::
“We would not recommend any man to attempt preaching in the extemporaneous method as a general rule. If he did so, he would succeed, we think, most certainly, in producing a vacuum in his meeting house. His gifts of dispersion would be clearly manifested. Unstudied thoughts coming from the mind without previous research, without the subjects in hand having been investigated at all, must be of very inferior quality, even from the most superior men. As none of us would have the effrontery to glorify ourselves as men of genius or wonders of erudition, I fear that our unpremeditated thoughts upon most subjects would not be remarkably worthy of attention. Churches are not to be held together except by an instructive ministry. A mere filling up of time with oratory will not suffice. The most arduous and commendable plan is to store up the mind with matter upon the subject of discourse, and then deliver yourself with appropriate words which suggest themselves at the time. This is not extemporaneous preaching; The words are extemporal, as I think they always should be, but the thoughts are the result of research and study. Only thoughtless persons think this to be easy. It is at once the most laborious and the most efficient mode of preaching.” As the writer of this message, I think these words of Spurgeon are the finest thoughts I have ever read on the delivery of sermons. Some preachers are required to deliver sermons twice and even three times a week. The much preparation and laborious time required to speak impromptu makes it exceedingly difficult for most preachers to consistently have a good delivery.
I close this message with few more remarks of the author who
is the chief source of this message. . He speaks of the art of taking breath at the right time in our preaching. Preachers must learn to breathe well while preaching. In so doing a preacher will avoid a fault which is very common and very great. It is letting the voice fall at the end of a sentence, which renders the thought indistinct and monotonous. It is natural to
lower the voice slightly at the moment of finishing a sentence, at least in most cases. However, there are certain thoughts which, on the contrary, demand an elevation of the voice at the close. As a general rule, the voice should be kept up to the end of the sentence, but to do this you must breathe in time. It is only because the lungs are exhausted that you must lower your voice, for where there is no breath, there is no sound. There is no easy way to deliver a sermon, and that is a statement worthy of all acceptation.