Free Sermon Writing Courses – Clarity

by Bruce Ballast

Free sermon writing courses are available through the Christian Leaders Institute. Just sign up and take a free admission course. Today Bruce Ballast is talking about how clarity helps the listener tune it and stay there.

We’ve looked already that effective sermons are Therapeutic, that is, that they are geared to address peoples’ felt needs.  We’ve also discussed that people will tune into your preaching more effectively if you do something unconventional or attention-getting.  In this post, we turn to the topic of clarity, or Lucidity (in the TULIP) an acronym.  Here is a truth: clarity helps hearers tune in and stay there.

Who Are You Trying to Impress?

I heard about a research project that was done in a university.  The goal was to find out what impresses people in a speech.  So they gathered a group of young, smart college-age young adults and had them listen to two speeches.  The first person who spoke did what was the equivalent of a college lecture, informing the group about a period in history and the forces that created it.  The students then rated the speaker.  He rated pretty well as being knowledgable about his subject and fairly interesting.

Then came the second speaker.  The designers of the project chose this man because of his ability to memorize strings of words that sounded impressive; they weren’t part of a normal vocabulary.  He weaved a bunch of nonsense with those words during his twenty minutes, but did so with passion, while he made a diagram on the board.  The students then ranked him after his speech.  To the surprise of the researchers, the students rated the non-sensical speech higher than the other one!

What’s the Point?

The point is this: if you are trying to impress your hearers, then use the biggest words you know, and talk about obscure topics. But if you want your hearers to draw closer to God and to have a deeper understanding of his will for them, then know that clarity helps hearers tune in and make that connection.

Organization Is The Key

This principle is always true when you speak in public, not just when you preach.  Clarity helps hearers stay tuned in to you and your subject.  This quote is from NBC news in a  short on-line article that makes this same point.

Plan ahead. Take the time to figure out the best way to tailor your message to your audience — what approach will keep your listeners attention and resonate with them? North asks. Think of a strong introduction that will grab listeners’ attention. And craft a thoughtful conclusion, so listeners leave remembering what the key points you want them to take away.

Preparing for less formal conversation — such as a dinner party with new neighbors, a networking event, or a meeting at work — is different from preparing for a formal speech, Fleming adds. But planning can still help. Thinking about points, you might want to make about a project at work before a meeting with the higher-ups will help you feel more confident when it’s time to voice your opinion. And knowing a little bit about fellow party guests ahead of time can make it easier to land on conversations you’re both engaged in.

How Do You Do It? 

How do you maintain clarity and lucidity in your message?  It’s not difficult.  It involves these things:

Know your main point

Later we’ll get into the mechanics of writing a sermon, but for now, let me suggest that you read the passage that you are preaching on prayerfully more than once.  Then reflect on your subject enough so that you have one, or at most two main ideas you want to get across.

Outline Supporting Points

Steve Brown, the one from whom I got the TULIP acrostic, says, “If people can’t take notes on what you say, you should not have said it.”  And, “…The organization is desperately important in any presentation.”  (Steve Brown, How to Talk So People Will Listen, p. 117).  Now for some fun.  Here’s a clip of a speech that will remind you again that clarity helps your readers tune in and stay tuned in.  The target is business speakers, not sermon-makers.  But it shows the tendency to wander confusingly.  Just watch part of this, and picture what it might look like for someone to do this with bad sermons.