LECTURE 21 ON SERMON PREPARATION The Body in Delivery

Broadus says, that classically, this includes expression, posture, and gestures. Pantomimes use this with extreme exaggeration. However, as we have noted before, gestures should be a natural expression of our feelings. It must be spontaneous, but avoid particular faults. Some of us have facial expressions that are very powerful. I remember someone at a church I served reminding me of a certain facial expression. Their comment was neither negative nor positive. They simply noticed my reactions. They could tell what my emotions were from my face, but I was unaware of it. We should become aware of our body language. Then there is posture which should be erect, strong and not leaning on the pulpit. Fidgeting, rocking, and swaying are a no-no. Gestures should suit the situation and be graceful. The simple rules are use gestures suggestively, and use them preceding the words you are emphasizing. Keep it restrained and avoid monotony. Some people use the same words over and over again. Other people use the same gestures over and over again.

Chapell emphasizes being natural and not being intimidated. Conversational preaching is OK for some people, but not for everybody. The style must be true to you and to some extent it determines you bodily gestures. My style is declarative and bold and my successor in Pennsylvania had a classroom style. It took a while for the congregation to get adjusted. Chapell says that listeners remember the delivery of poor speakers and the content of good speakers. The modulation of the voice requires volume control, variety and intensity. He also emphasizes eye contact, posture and hand gestures, but he reminds us that caring deeply about what you are saying is the key to communication.

Dress is addressed as important, but also variable depending on the situation. I have preferences, and probably you do too. However, we should not force our preferences on others. The style he says should be plain, genuine, creative, and courageous. Above all it should not distract people.

Gwyn Walters who teaches at Gordon-Conwell gives us some Scriptural reminders of posture in preaching. In the New Testament standing is the most common. Of course, in the Old Testament, the prophets were directed to assume all sorts of bodily vagaries in delivering their messages.  His point is that preaching is not just verbal, but also visual. Confidence in preaching is important and no one can be confident when he does not fit in. Appearance is not vital to the message, but it is vital to you. In my first pastorate there was a barber in the congregation and he asked me, “Who cut your hair?”  I was totally upset because to him I looked like a farmer or a rube. My wife had cut my hair and this was before she went to beauty school and became an award winning hairdresser who also started her own beauty school and shop and is in great demand. I dealt with it by realizing that some of the greatest people in church history were not beautiful, and that started with the Apostle Paul and continued in Athanasius, the defender of the Trinity, who was small almost dwarf like and disfigured. I have watched grossly overweight preachers on TV talk about self control. I wonder about that! While our apparel should be suitable to the occasion, we must remember that the Holy Spirit can override our defects, and not lose our confidence. Actions should be appropriate to the circumstance. He gives the example of sitting while you are singing “Stand up for Jesus.” He suggests internalizing the meaning and truth so that our bodies are liberated to reflect that truth and it flows naturally. Body language is exceedingly important in communication. A warning is given that bodily expression is more inhibited among those that are highly educated. He talks about eye contact in relation to reading the manuscript. I found it interesting that a “Preacher Act” in Bern Switzerland in 1667 required extemporaneous sermons and forbad reading, which was very common in those days. Appropriate gestures tend to excite similar responses in the hearer.