Is Your Preaching Style “Homiletical Ventriloquism?”

Don’t hide your voice because their voice is so effective.

preaching style

Are you guilty of homiletical ventriloquism? I can hear my preaching professor at Beeson Divinity School, Dr. Robert Smith, hollering at me to ‘Make it plain!!!’ Got it, Doc. Have you found your voice or are you borrowing someone else’s voice? If you’re just getting started as a preacher, it’s likely that you find yourself in someone else’s preaching style, using the words, cadence and nonverbals of other preachers you respect.

But what happens if you never find your own voice?

Maybe you really latch onto someone else’s preaching style because you find it captivating. Perhaps you become convinced that the way someone else explains, applies or illustrates a text is far more effective than anything you might come up with on your own.

Every tribe has preachers they point to as uncommonly effective.

And please, let’s admire them and thank God for them! But don’t hide your voice because their voice is so effective. And if you don’t know how to find your voice, I can help you.

What I’ve found in my own journey of more than 20 years and through my work with hundreds of pastors is that there are two things you need to find your voice.

First, you need experience.

The more opportunities you have to preach, the more you’ll learn about how God has wired you to tell people the good news of all that God has done through Jesus Christ.

Second, you need a sermon delivery system.

You need a process, a plan, a framework that helps you discover and develop an approach to preaching that is faithful to the biblical text and frees you to be yourself.

Build Your Preaching Style

1. Cultivate spiritual health. 

Too many preachers have let themselves go spiritually. The reasons vary but two indicators stand out among the rest.

First, a lack of prayer. Both in the amount of time spent and the content of those prayers.

Second, an absence of deep relationships with other men. Our friendships rarely go beyond the surface.

And because our job is to be a spiritual leader, we are forced to fake our way through Sundays. Carrying ourselves as though we have been with Jesus and have been changed by him since the previous Sunday.

That’s the bad news. Now here’s some good news. Spiritual health does not require spiritual perfection.

In fact, the hallmark of spiritual health is its simplicity. Honesty and hope. Repentance and faith. A real life with the real Jesus that shapes prayers and friendships.

2. Decide on notes, no notes or something in between.

I don’t preach with notes. For the past six years, the only thing I take with me when I preach is my Bible. No post-it-notes inside of my Bible. No outline. No devices like a teleprompter.

Does it make me more effective as a preacher? Yes. It works for me. But it doesn’t work for everyone. It’s part of my preaching style.

Name a method—manuscript, outline, post-it-note, etc.—and I can point you to an outstanding preacher who uses that method to bring their study into the pulpit.

So how do you know what’s right for you?

First, start with the method you are most comfortable with.

Then, reduce your notes incrementally. If you use a manuscript, spend a month using an outline. Then spend a month with a 3×5 card of notes. Then spend a month preaching all or parts of your sermon with nothing written down.

Be patient and explore your options, particularly if you are new to preaching.

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Matt Adair is the lead pastor of Christ Community Church (christ-community.com) in Athens, GA and the founder of Griddiron, a coaching and consulting firm that helps church leaders build your world so you can change the world. Matt is the former North American Director of the Acts 29 Network, a global partnership of churches that plant churches. Matt is married to Lindsey, is the father of three sons, and is a graduate of Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, AL.