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Friday, 28 June 2013

Some Random Preaching Tips

You know, people often come up to me and say,
"Eileen, that sermon today spoke to me so strongly, I have completely lost my faith. I no longer fear God's judgement on me, and I'm going to run off with the milkman. Thank you."

Which just goes to show that sermons can still be effective, even in this multi-social-media world. But I know other people never get this kind of feedback. So, in the latest of this occasional series, here's a few more of my hints and tips for dynamic speaking.

1) There's nothing so boring as a sermon illustration about how the preacher bested someone in an argument. Unless the person whose suppositions and beliefs you so ruthlessly destroyed is in the congregation. At which point the gloves are off. You can say what you like, safe in the knowledge that you're the one on the stage / behind the lectern, and they are sat with the punters unable to respond. If they start arguing you can have them exorcised. Never forget who's the one wearing the pointy hat (or whatever the non-Beaker equivalent is).

2) There's nothing wrong with attacking straw men. They're much safer than real ones.

3) If you don't believe something but think other people might, say "in a very real sense." This gives the impression that you have deeper mystic knowledge, while simultaneously distancing you from whatever preposterous idea you're putting forward.

4) Sometimes you feel you have to explain something you don't really understand.  The best bet is to do so by analogy with something that you do understand but most other people won't. I often compare things to the second law of thermodynamics, as if Entropy is a real force rather than a statistical description. Failing that, draw analogies with Quantum Theory.  Nobody really understands that.

5) If while preaching you start to feel your line of reasoning is weak, then you've already fallen into the trap of trying to present a coherent argument. You should have stuck to being uplifting and jolly.  But if you're now stuck, don't try and dig your way out of it by doing theology on the hoof.  That's what led to all the early-Modern burning. Instead, stick with what you've written - but speak - very - slowly - and - quietly. People don't generally get coherent arguments, but they like sincerity.

6) If people are drifting off, SHOUT!! If, on the other hand, they're all actually asleep - sneak out and get first dibs on the biscuit. If you find the congregation's snoring is waking you up, then frankly you need a better guide to preaching than this one.

1 comment :

  1. "3) If you don't believe something but think other people might, say "in a very real sense." This gives the impression that you have deeper mystic knowledge, while simultaneously distancing you from whatever preposterous idea you're putting forward."

    Might I point out that the General Instruction on the Roman Missal restricts this phrase to Bishops? Obviously, this isn't binding on Beaker Folk or Anglicans, but I gather some follow it, nevertheless. (Or, if the Bishop is being interviewed: but I gather some follow it, in a very real sense. )

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