Are You Guilty of Homiletical Ventriloquism?

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

Are You Guilty of Homiletical Ventriloquism?

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 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 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.

What goes into a sermon delivery system? Let me show you:

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.

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.

Do I think you should try to preach without notes?

Yeah, I do. At least try it.

The reason it makes me more effective is because it communicates to the congregation that this message is embedded in my head and heart.

And I love it because there is nothing in my life that causes me to trust the Holy Spirit more than the 40 minutes every week when I’m preaching and all my prep work is 20 minutes away in my home office.

But in the end? You need to be yourself.

All I’m encouraging you to do is to explore the possibilities that might bring more of you to life as you preach.

3. Understand how you grab people’s attention.

There are multiple ways to start a sermon.

Tell a story. Make it funny. Make it dramatic.

Report on a current event.

Summarize a previous sermon or series of sermons.

Which way is the right way?

Whichever way most naturally suits you.

If you’re a great storyteller, tell great stories.

If you can effectively recap last week’s message and build a bridge to today’s sermon, make it happen.

If you can say things with an uncommon intensity, bring the thunder.

Certainly, the context of your text and/or topic should play a significant role in determining how you start a sermon.

But don’t discount what you do best as a communicator.

4. Evaluate every sermon you preach.

One of my favorite questions to ask preachers is ‘how do you evaluate your sermons?’

I always learn a lot from the different ways that someone looks back and determines the effectiveness of their sermon.

I also know that most preachers don’t consistently evaluate their sermons. And those who do often create something that is either too complex or pays attention to relatively minor issues.

If you’re looking for a simple way to evaluate a sermon, use these three questions:

  • What was the best part of the sermon?
  • If you could do it again, what would you have done differently?
  • On a scale of 1-10, how effective was the sermon?

Let me say something about that last question. If I’m using that to evaluate myself, I’m comparing this sermon to past sermons that I’ve preached. And I consider a ‘5’ to be a normal sermon. So a ‘4’ or a ‘6’ isn’t a bad sermon; it just means that it’s an average Matt Adair sermon.

Can you ask more questions? Sure. And you might need to if you have a particular aspect of preaching you want to focus on. But I use this with our preaching team and it has been very, very effective.

Do the Next Right Thing

To learn more about what it takes to build a Sermon Delivery System, download our FREE resource, The 3 Systems You Need To Preach Better Sermons.

It will help you evaluate your preaching and provide clear next steps to help you continue to grow as a preacher.

Comment below with questions or observations. And feel free to share this with others using the menu at the bottom of the screen.

Thanks for the opportunity to help you get the most out of your preaching!

This article originally appeared here.

Matt Adair
Matt Adair is the lead pastor of Christ Community Church ( 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.