In describing communication, we often use what has been called “the electronic model” which pictures communication as going through several steps: the source who encodes a message and sends it through a channel to a receiver who then decodes the message and assimilates it. Actually, human communication is more complex than that. Thomas Long, in his book The Senses of Preaching, accurately explains that as we listen to a person speaking to us, we are not pieces of electronic equipment receiving data. We are instead human beings who interact with what the speaker is saying, sifting it, debating it, and adding to it. That’s why it’s not enough for preachers to have something good to say or even for us to say it for the right reason. We must also say it in the “right way.” What does that mean?
Preaching in the “right way” means to preach SIMPLY. An older member of the congregation once told John Owen, the Puritan preacher, that he was so long spreading the table that she lost her appetite for the meal. Sometimes we seem to be more interested in showing how smart we are than in communicating the truth of the Gospel. The key element in effective preaching is to simplify. We need to leave out unnecessary phrases and redundant words. We must use good transitions from one idea to another. We should use one illustration instead of two. To counter the complexity of communication we need to simplify.
Preaching in the “right way” also means to preach CLEARLY. Alan Walker, a Methodist minister in Australia, preached at a church one Sunday. After the service, a visitor asked for his sermon manuscript. Several days later he returned the manuscript to Alan with each phrase underlined which he did not understand. There were about forty such words and phrases. Look at a manuscript of your sermon from last week or listen to a tape. How many words and phrases did you use that a non-church person would not understand? Is it not ironic that we have the responsibility to proclaim the Gospel to the world, yet we use words that the world cannot understand? Before we preach, we need to go through our message and make sure our ideas and words are clear.
Preaching in the “right way” means to preach APPEALINGLY. The tragedy of preaching today is that we turn off many people not by our message but by the boring, uncreative way in which we communicate that message. Too much preaching today is characterized by tameness, lameness, and sameness. So how can we add “appeal” to our preaching? Variety creates interest. Stories create interest. Humor creates interest. Suspense creates interest. Surprise creates interest. It is not enough just to have a good message to deliver. We must also deliver our message in the “right way.”