How to Give a Good Sermon: Do’s and Don’ts

I have never given a sermon and I never intend to.  But I have listened to a lot of sermons and I’ve observed a few things about the good ones and the bad ones.   Here are my suggestions:     

Don’t read to me.

The best sermons are never scripted.  My pastor gives better than average sermons.  But he is at his best when he can’t find his notes, or, when he brings the sermon he composed and then decides on the spur of the moment not to use it.  I always know things are about to get good when he takes his glasses off and just starts talking.

Now it may be scary to work without a script.  You may not have the gift of gab.  But you surely have something you care about and really want to express to your flock.  So jot down a few notes just in case you have a brain freeze.  But don’t read your sermon.  You’ll get better results by being vulnerable than by being safe.

Don’t perform. 

Why do we hate to listen to politicians?  Because they aren’t talking to us, they are performing a scripted part for us.  It is possible that they mean what they say, but not likely, considering they aren’t usually saying anything.  If you are getting applause every few sentences, you are probably not giving a sermon.  If you are making us cry or occasionally laugh – that’s fine.  But if we are cheering you on you’re probably not telling us anything we need to hear and you’re definitely not making us think.

Don’t use visual aids

We are grownups.  We don’t need slides, or big hearts made out of construction paper. 

Do tell stories.

Stories are good, especially if they are from personal experience.

Finally, if you would like more advice on sermon-giving, I am full of it – as is every member of your parish.  We all know what you should say on Sunday – but don’t listen to us too much. 

– M. Ragazzo

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