Do people listen to what you have to say? Do they consider your sermons credible? Those are important questions, and the answer is not automatically, “Yes,” just because you are the pastor of the church and just because it is your responsibility to preach every Sunday morning. Credibility does not come from a position or a title.
So what can we do to establish our credibility in the pulpit? The most important factor in the hearing we receive when we stand in the pulpit is the life we live outside the pulpit. In other words, there must be some congruity between what we say and between how we live. Displaying Christian character and compassion in our relationships with our people will prompt them to listen more acceptingly when we stand in the pulpit.
Another important factor is our competence in the pulpit. Do we have something to say when we stand in the pulpit? Have we prepared our message? Are we continually developing our delivery skills? When the congregation sees that we take seriously our responsibility as we stand in the pulpit each week, they will listen to what we have to say.
Another key is our appearance. I’m not talking so much about the clothes we wear as I am about our sense of confidence or composure. Think of a witness on a witness stand. If his eyes dart back and forth and if he sweats profusely and if he appears nervous, this will undermine the credibility of his testimony. That truth also applies to preachers. How can we avoid those things? We need to spend time in prayer before entering the pulpit. We need to be prepared when we stand in the pulpit. And we need to remember that God has called us to this task and that he will be with us.
Yet another key is our relationship with our people. Call it the likeability factor, or as some have labeled it, the halo factor. Speakers who are more likeable are perceived to be more credible. When the congregation knows us well and likes us, they will listen more openly and attentively. They will give us the benefit of the doubt. They will think we are credible. Caring for our people enough to spend time with them and build relationships with them will make us more credible when we stand in the pulpit.
So what do we do that often undermines our credibility in the pulpit? Let me mention three things. To begin with, we undermine our credibility when we focus our preaching on ourselves. If we use a lot of personal stories that always put ourselves in a positive light or tell stories in which we always make ourselves the hero, we will begin to undermine the credibility of our preaching. After all, our purpose in the pulpit is not to build ourselves up but to glorify God, to communicate Christ, and to encourage our people.
Another thing that will undermine our credibility is mistakes. For example, when we use historical stories, we need to be sure of our facts, or the history buffs in the congregation will note our mistake and wonder what other mistakes we have made. This truth applies to facts in every subject area. Again, proper preparation is the key to avoid these mistakes. We need to check all dates and names and facts before we use them in the sermon. Too many evident mistakes will eventually undermine our credibility.
Finally, inconsistencies in our position on various subjects will undermine our credibility. We cannot flip-flop back and forth on critical issues, taking one position in one sermon and another position in another sermon, without creating confusion among the congregation and ultimately undermining our credibility.