I am fortunate to live in a big parish and, given that it includes a Jesuit house, we are certainly not short of clergy. Nor are we short of sermons. Some of these are excellent. Some turn out to be poor. So in my mind’s eye I know what a good semon requires. What is your experience?
Today I consider what general tips I would use to advise a preacher. I am certainly not an expert sermoniser but as someone who for several years was a professional public speaker I do have some experience of what might be needed. So here goes.
First point, and most essential, point. Start by deciding your objectives in terms of your congregation – not in your own terms. In what ways do you want to improve their spirituality? In what ways do you want to leave them thinking constructively? In what ways do you want to improve their knowledge or their understanding? Make a short list and make sure that whatever what you decide to say, and how you say it, matches up to your objectives.
Try to make your message original. By that I mean you must develop your own insights. Platitudes will look after themselves. In your ordained life you have thought much about spiritual progress. As you are an unique individual you may well have seen aspects of spirituality which are particular to you. These may be a gift to your listeners. One good idea is more powerful than a series of ideas.
Consider structure. How are you going to get them to move forward in their seats when they hear your first words? Are they always clear about the shape of your message, because you were clear about it first? Avoid expressing your message in several different ways – keep your examples few and short. Please. please don’t go round and round saying the same thing in different forms. Your congregation is not stupid – they can get the message the first time, if you are clear enough. A two minute sermon which says something worthwhile is better than a ten minute sermon which says everything three times.
Finish your sermon with a brief, but clear, summary – which invites them to make your message their own.