This article was written by someone who listens to sermons. One of the folks. The one’s we preach to every week. What a surprise – they’re listening. You might be surprised what they hear, and what they don’t.
Pay attention. It was not written to any particular priest, but distills the experience from a multitude of contemporary preachers, and every priest should be attentive to what it says. I will attempt to publish many such articles, as I feel they are the most valuable form of homiletics feedback available to active preachers.
You used “you know” 26 times in your last sermon. “I know” because I counted them.
Yes, that was very bad of me. I taught my children not to count the number of times the cantor says “Lord have mercy” because it’s rude and we’re not supposed to be counting, we’re supposed to be praying. My bad. I’ll confess that next week.
And that week that you brought up Volume 1 of the Ante-Nicene Fathers and digressed for four minutes while looking for the reference – I’m not one for folding down corners of a page in a book, but how about a book mark?
And that off-the-cuff statement – “The Bible says this, but in my experience, that’s not true,” – should never be said by a priest in a sermon.
The time that you have to spend in study, writing and preparation before giving a weekly sermon is a huge chunk of your time. I feel bad telling you that your efforts behind the scenes aren’t visible in your presentation.
May I make a suggestion? Try Toastmasters. http://www.toastmasters.org/
The responsibility to produce a new, topical and pertinent sermon is not one you take lightly, but most colleges and seminaries don’t teach the skills and techniques of rhetoric to make you successful. You’ve already mastered the hardest part. Standing up there and speaking is a victory that most people in the world will never achieve. But there’s more to learn and Toastmasters is there to help you.
This world-wide organization is committed to developing speaking skills. In less than a year, using their Competent Communicator project manual and attending the weekly meetings, you can improve your presentation skills. Their program uses immediate feedback to shine a light on what you’re already doing well but also to gently help you find the filler words, gestures and vocal issues that undermine your effectiveness. At meetings, you will not only learn from your own experiences, but see what others are doing that you can use.
Toastmasters isn’t just about speaking. There is also the Leadership series to develop management techniques for parish council meetings, deanery and diocesan committees.
All in one hour a week – Toastmasters is not another huge drag on your already over-booked schedule. Because the program isn’t sequential and doesn’t require you to attend classes in a specific order, you’re not locked in. The usual meeting has members working on several different levels in the Toastmasters track, which gives you the opportunity to learn from experienced speakers every week. One hour to focus on a critical part of your ministry is a small commitment for tremendous results.
I sound like an infomercial, don’t I? But I don’t know of another cheaper or more effective way to help you sharpen your presentations. Toastmasters can help you.
Your (anonymous) parishioner
PS – You won’t be the only clergyman in Toastmasters. We have several others who have benefited from the training. You wouldn’t believe the sermon excerpt we heard last week…