By O. Wesley Allen, Jr.
A student preacher writes, “I recently received feedback to ‘let the passion out’ when preaching. Based on this feedback, could you give guidance on removing inhibitions when preaching?”
Preachers must be passionate about what they preach. If they don’t appear to care about what they are saying, why should anyone in the pews care? The problem is that the weight and importance of the gospel we share can not only result in passion but also manifest itself in nervousness. This is not inappropriate given that one should step into the pulpit only with a sense of humility and inadequacy when representing God. Moreover, we should remember that in many surveys, death is seen as second on that which people most fear with public speaking claiming the number one spot. Nervousness when preaching is to be expected.
As communicators, however, we must work to diminish nervousness and inhibition from overwhelming us from delivering or obstructing our hearers from receiving God’s good news. So, how can one remove inhibitions? There is, of course, no “one answer fits all” available here. Different suggestions will resonate differently with different preachers.
First is patience. Newer preachers should be patient with themselves. The more you preach, the less inhibited you will feel when you step in the pulpit. Some of this issue will take care of itself.
Second is preparation. Too often, we preachers let the other tasks of ministry interfere with sermon preparation and we put it off until later in the week. The later we attend to “writing” our sermon, the less time we have to be comfortable with it, to really care about it and for it, to nurture and nuance it into a deeper message than initial impressions allow for. It is much easier to be publicly passionate about something we have lived with for a while than something that popped into our head Saturday evening.
Third is practice. Preachers sometimes worry that rehearsing their sermons will make them “feel” less authentic or extemporaneous. The opposite is actually true. Assuming the sermon has something valuable to say, the more familiar you are with your content, the more present you can be present to your congregation in delivering it. You can look down less at notes or pause less to remember what is to come next. Practice engenders passion, it does not diminish it.
Finally, personalize. Passion does not look the same for everyone or for every topic. For one preacher and congregation, passion may be exhibited by call and response, raised voices, raised hands, and moving feet. For another preacher in another congregational context, passion may appear more in the form of quiet, thoughtful intensity. To get past nervousness and preach with passion, you must find out what it means to be your authentic self in the pulpit. How do you sound and look in other contexts when you are speaking about something about which you deeply care? And how does that behavior and appearance translate into the way you hold yourself and convey your message during the sermon?
O. Wesley Allen, Jr.
Lois Craddock Perkins Professor of Homiletics