Kevin Miller asks:-
Four factors are at work here:-
The personality factor. Some preachers’ sermons are intense because the preachers themselves are intense. They are high-energy, in-your-face people. Others of us are quieter, more reflective. We love the Lord, his word, his gospel and his people. But it doesn’t communicate across the pews so obviously. It’s a personality thing.
The time factor. I have spent time with my message. I have thought about it, wrestled with it, prayed over it, talked it through in my head for a week or more. It has become warm and vital for me. It has had time to sink in. But my hearers are coming to it cold. I will have to work especially hard if my message is to grip them as it has gripped me.
The position factor. When I’m standing in front of two hundred people, I have so much adrenaline coursing through my body that I can ignore a raging toothache. My memory, emotions, and energy levels are all enhanced. It is not so for my hearers. They do not find my sermons as exciting as I do. They do not get the same adrenaline rush.
The distance factor. Those things that communicate intensity – facial expression, gesture, and so on – get diluted the further away a hearer is.
So, how can we communicate conviction? Miller suggests that the preacher asks the following questions:-
Are my bold statements bold enough? We (many of us) are university-educated, and have been taught to avoid sweeping statements and generalisations. But let bold declarations be bold. Don’t kill their energy with too many qualifications and nuances. And, at the emotional level, don’t let your love for God’s people stop you from telling them what God loves, and what God hates.
Am I varying my volume and emotional tone enough? Again, our Western-style education and upbringing tends to flatten out emotional expression. But here we could learn much from other preaching traditions, including the African-American style. When was the last time I shouted in the pulpit? And when was the last time I whispered? Ask: what is the peak moment in this sermon? And when you get to it, let it rip.
Am I making my movements expansive? We all have a natural range of expressive movement. Within that range, let your body help you to express what you are trying to communicate.
Am I speaking quickly enough? True, speaking slowly can be very effective. And varying the pace is a good thing. But, generally, intensity is ratched up when we speak quickly.
Am I trying to live what I’m about to say? The most powerful intensifier is not our content or our delivery. It is our life. If we have been amongst the sick, then we will be able to preach with compassion. If we experienced tragedy, then we can speak with some authority about trusting God.
Based on: Kevin Miller, ‘Questions of conviction’, in The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching, ed Robinson & Larson. 2005.