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The Seven Axioms Of Sermon Delivery

By Calvin Miller
Axiom #1: "The speech before the speech" is step one in audience bonding.

The narrative exposition more than any other expository form relies on bonding with the audience. This may be one of the very few preaching texts you will read that will talk about this strategic first step in pulpit communication. Bonding with an audience is both verbal and nonverbal. The nonverbal elements of bonding have to do with deportment, propriety, and an open demeanor. During those first critical moments when the audience to be addressed first catches sight of a speaker, the would‑be listeners are making up their minds as to whether or not they will be listening.10At this point they have their thumb on the channel surfers of their intent. Will they change channels once the speaker has begun or will they change channels even before the speaker begins?

This latter issue is totally nonverbal. Each of the persons to be addressed is sizing the preacher up with a series of questions:

  • Does the speaker look listenable?
  • Is the speaker sincere, amiable, and my kind of person?
  • Is the speaker dressed in a pleasing and non-ostentatious style?
  • Is the speaker tattooed, dreadlocked, gushy, friendly, aloof, etc.?

First impressions pave or bar the way to being heard. My ministry is largely itinerant these days, and so Sunday by Sunday I go from denomination to denomination and church to church. In a day of megachurch neuroses, I call the pastor to see how he dresses. Some megachurches are casual, but fiercely so. If you show up in a tie where the congregational detente is shorts and sandals, you will be suspected of being elitist and out of touch with the grass roots, who want to see the keynoter dressed for a disheveled and dowdy look. It may seem a small issue in light of eternity, but it will be a huge issue with those who believe the Holy Spirit only falls on the devoted disciples in Tommy Bahama dress.

The opposite is also true: If the congregation is a "suit‑and‑tie" gathering, they will believe that the Spirit is looking for a good starched collar and a set of white gloves. To fail to pay attention to this is to violate the nonverbal code of acceptance and will make bonding more tenuous.

The most important issue of bonding has to do with the first words out of the preacher's mouth. These should not be the first words of the sermon's introduction. They proceed the sermon's first formal thoughts. These words are the warm approaches to the first words of the sermon. These words don't comment on the text. They don't flog the audience toward rapt attention for all that the preacher intends to say. They are the "Hi there" words that notice the world around them and reach to the crowd with enough humanity so that the divinity being stirred up may become instantly palatable.

These words reference the little things of life: the weather, the Super Bowl, the choir which has just sung, the town in which the church is situated, the tragedy that has filled the newspaper for the week, the kindness the audience has extended, your admiration for the leadership of the constituency, or the warm opinion you have of the group who has come to listen to you.

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