Effective Preaching
Effective Preaching

Cecil J. “C. J.” Sharp wrote hundreds of articles that appeared in Christian Standard through the years. The first appeared in 1912, while he was still minister with First Christian Church in Hammond, Ind., which he served from about 1903 through 1929. Prior to that, he was a high school principal. He joined Standard Publishing—former parent company of Christian Standard—in January 1930 as head of the Teacher Training Department. He retired in 1951.

At the time of his death in 1953, his New Training for Service had sold more than 250,000 copies. Sharp’s version of that book dates to 1934, when he revised Herbert Moninger’s Training for Service, first published in 1907. The Bible overview—designed to equip lay leaders—has been revised three additional times. (More about that book in July’s print issue.)

Today’s “Throwback Thursday” feature is adapted from “Department of Church Efficiency: Effective Preaching,” which appeared on p. 9 of the Nov. 11, 1916, issue of Christian Standard. (By the way, we reprinted this adapted article in the April 2019 issue of Christian Standard, but we also have decided to feature it here.)

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Effective Preaching

November 11, 1916

By Cecil J. Sharp

The pulpit is the place consecrated to the delivery of a divine message. God has spoken, and we are merely his servants to deliver, not our thoughts, but God’s message. I believe that this thought needs to be held in mind by every preacher at the beginning of every sermon. I believe it ought to be called to the attention of the people again and again. It will help mightily to keep the preacher from wandering into vagaries, and it will hold him to the proclamation of the great message when he is tempted to wander into untaught fields. It will help to cause the people to listen with more grave respect and think with more concern.

In this busy and distracting age, men will hardly stop to listen to the learned pronouncements of any man, but convince them that God speaks and they are glad to hear. In other words, “Preach the Word,” and do not fail or hesitate to point out that it is “The Word,” not “Your word.” It will give you confidence, earnestness, positiveness and a pointedness that can not fail to tell.

Did you deliver a sermon last Sunday, or did you preach to people? Is there a difference between preaching and delivering a sermon? What is a preacher doing, or meaning to do, when he preaches a sermon?

I have observed some men preaching, and their eyes had a kind of ethereal, star-gazing glaze, as though they did not see the men and women before them, but seemed to be turned back into their own mental storehouse, keeping watch on the remainder of that precious sermon that was being delivered. I have seen others whose eyes seemed to look down into the very souls of the men and women before them, and whose message seemed to be fresh from a soul on fire and directed straight down into the hearts of real men and women who sat in the pews.

The subject of this article is “Effective Preaching;” that is, preaching that has an effect. What particular effect did you mean to accomplish with that last sermon of yours? Or, did you stop to determine that at all? Did you figure out the effect you were after before you prepared the sermon? Did that sermon have the particular effect you had meant it should? If it did not, why not?

One more question. Was the effect you meant to produce a worth-while effect? For example, is the kind of preaching that merely lifts people up into a kind of spiritual upper realm to float around awhile and then to gradually settle down to the same old level, an effect that is quite worth while? It is to be admitted that people enjoy this kind of experience, and it makes the preacher popular, provided he is able to do it well and constantly. But which is worth more, to have a large number of people walk forward at the close and say, “Brother, that was fine; that was a great effort,” or to have one poor man walk forward and say, “I believe that Jesus is the Christ”?

What makes preaching effective? What are the elements of effectiveness?

The first element in effective preaching is that the preacher must be tremendously earnest. Cold fire never burned, or even warmed, anybody. A most splendid message may go unheeded if its deliverer lacks soul-stirring earnestness. It may instruct, and even please, but it seldom moves a man. Earnestness is the human element put into the delivery. Abraham Lincoln, who was representative of the common people, said that when he listened to a preacher he liked him to preach as if he were killing snakes.

Oh, brother preacher, do not let the ignorant curbstone orator draw the people to his ridiculous gospel by his earnestness, while you let them slip from the mighty truths of God because of your lack of fire. Pile on the fuel. Burn up your blood. Go after that man in front of you as though you never expected to preach again. You may feel all gone after you are through, but you will get over that, and the chances are that you will have won the man.

The second element in effective preaching is clearness. Make up your mind that, whatever else you may or may not be, you will make your meaning clear. Some speakers track around, back and forth, in their message until it is all muddled or muddied up. Some suggestions as to ways of accomplishing clearness might be valuable.

Visualize the thing you have in mind. If you are describing a mountain and a chasm, see the mountain plainly in your own mind. Then see the chasm. If you are speaking of the four steps in becoming a Christian, hold four spread-out fingers before the audience, and before the audience name each finger after one of the steps.

Again, visualize. Do not try to tell of the Prince of peace, coming on the white horse, leading the hundred and forty and four thousand, unless you can clearly see at the same time that very scene. Just make it a rule to make some one thing clearer than you ever made it before. Be determined that the most dense, simple, or even “pig-headed,” person must at least see the truth.

The third element in effective preaching is positiveness. If you deliver the message that is not your opinion, but God’s message, you need make no apology for being positive. The message says, “His name shall be above every name;” then say it that way, with neither verbal nor mental apology. The Book says: “No man cometh to the Father save through Christ.” Then deliver the message positively. A wavering, impositive message is of too uncertain stability to serve as the anchor-hold for a storm-tossed soul. Remember, you are no Saviour. You are a servant, commissioned to deliver a message which is not your message. Preach the Word.

The fourth element in preaching is simplicity. If you want a reputation for being learned, then use big words and appear profound. If you want to deliver God’s message to lost men and win them, then be simple. Never use a big word if a simple word can be found to take its place. Use the words that are current in your locality, provided they are good English. Get rid of college or university terminology just as quickly as possible, unless you are preaching to a university crowd. You could, no doubt, say, “By the fortuitous concurrence of concomitant circumstances I was there,” but why not say, “I happened to be there”?

Inasmuch as one soul is worth more than your ambition for a great reputation, be simple, plain, direct. Study Lincoln’s Gettysburg speech, the greatest piece of American prose, and forever after be ashamed to be anything but simple.

The fifth element of effective preaching is to be conclusive. In other words, lead people to see that here is the simple, plain, Scriptural truth on this subject, and that it is the whole truth. There is no possibility of some other truth lurking around that we have overlooked that might overturn this one or that might do as well.

For example, if speaking of baptism, handle fairly, squarely and exhaustively every argument for sprinkling, etc., then give the Scripture teaching for immersion, and you are conclusive. If speaking on the subject of creeds, show that the New Testament covers every possible need for any creed, “so that the man of God is thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” There is nothing to be added. You are conclusive. If preaching to the man who expects to be saved by his own way and without Christ, show him that Christ is “the Way,” not “a way.” That Christ is the Truth, not one Truth; that there is no truth outside of Christ on that subject. There is no possibility of any more ground to go over. You are conclusive.

The sixth element of effective preaching is, be pleasing. I know no reason why a preacher should assume a belligerent attitude toward the people before him.  Do not argue with the man in the pew. Just teach the simple, plain truth earnestly, clearly, positively, simply, conclusively, and, last of all, sweetly. Remember that if the man in front of you is wrong, he is not necessarily either mean or contrary. Be as pleasant as you know how and as popular as you can, keeping in mind the message you are to deliver. Smile, and again I say, smile. Wave your fists at the devil and sin, but not at the man in the pew.

Embellish your thoughts, enliven them all you will, so long as you do not obscure their clear simplicity nor smother their fire.

Perhaps a closing word needs to be said on the cultivation of style and delivery. Some men may pooh-pooh style as uppishness, but remember, you have a style of some kind. I suggest you cultivate several styles. Variety, versatility, is needed. If you are slow and ponderous in delivery, try speeding up at times. If you speak like a machine-gun, slow down for a part of the sermon. If you have been preaching all devotional sermons, try some with the “forward-to-the-charge spirit” for awhile. Too much of any good thing puts people to sleep. Change both your costume and your mannerisms for awhile. Maybe you are in a rut and do not know it until you try to get out.

Remember there are several styles of people in every community, and that it will take several styles of preaching to attract them all.

Style is dictated by mental attitude and self-control, which two things need to be watched. The mental attitude we have somewhat touched on in the six elements above. Self-control will enhance all these elements, and will, at the same time, help to avoid exaggeration, unfairness, and many a foolish pitfall.

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—Jim Nieman, Managing Editor, Christian Standard

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