The inadequacies of content are inseparably related to delivery. Effective delivery cannot be put on as a coat. Like enthusiasm it springs from within, from significant ideas, clearly understood, firmly believed, and vividly expressed. Trying to correct the faults of delivery without first giving attention to invention, organization, and language is like trying to run a car without gasoline. In a word, many of the abuses of delivery have both their cause and cure in content. Having said this, we may state certain defects of presentation.
Monotony in delivery comes from the lack of variety in vocal and bodily action. If variety is the I spice of life, it will certainly add life to the sermon. See the delivery of the typical preacher. His face is a dead pan. His hands are glued to the pulpit, locked behind him, or hanging limply at his sides. His voice rises in pitch and volume, evens out in rate, and drones steadily on to the bitter end. His eyes, since they rarely make contact, appear glassy. He looks at his manuscript, the floor, back wall, ceiling, or out the window. There are exceptions, but in general his facial expression resembles the Sphinx, bodily action the wooden soldier, and vocal expression the drone of an electric motor. The "holy tone" is still with us. Voices wear clerical robes. This is shown by the fact that nine out of ten radio preachers can be identified as preachers by the use of their voices long before their words are understood. Not so obvious as it once was, the holy tone is still devastating to the listener.
Delivery can be interesting and persuasive. To make it so, preachers must achieve directness in eye contact and vocal quality, and variety in vocal and bodily action. To be sure, these qualities of delivery should arise naturally and spontaneously as the preacher responds to ideas and feelings. Preachers, nevertheless, can do more than prune away mannerisms and hope that they will not return. They can free themselves to develop an effective delivery in these ways.
First, think of preaching not as a new species of talk but as enlarged conversation. Yes, conversation, just the same as when you talk to your parishioners on six days in the week natural, direct, and personal. At the same time enlarged enough to fit the subject and the congregation. The word preach is unpopular today, not so much because of what is said as because of how it is said. People say, "Don't preach to me," because the holy tone suggests condescension. Try talking to your people as man to man. Give your parishioners the naturalness and directness of conversational voice quality. The holy tone presents a subject in front of an audience but not to an audience; it destroys the vital I-thou relationship. Eliminate the holy tone and improve vocal expression by holding to conversational speech. The value of recording equipment in this task cannot be over-estimated. Every preacher ought to have an adequate recorder and a record library, which will permit him to hear not only himself but examples of both vocal faults and vocal excellence.
Second, master the extemporaneous method. It would be well if you could learn all the methods of delivery: impromptu, extempore, memorization, and reading. Time rarely permits such proficiency. Consequently, the most useful method should be mastered first. This is the extempore method. Write the manuscript, therefore, in full when possible, and then speak from a written or mental outline, rethinking the sermon ideas, not the words, as they are presented. Speaking from an outline will provide freedom in presentation. The memory method is less desirable than the extempore method, because it puts great strain on the speaker, limiting vocal variety and spontaneous adaptation to the congregation. The reading method restricts spontaneous adaptation to the congregation, vocal variety, eye contact, facial expression, and bodily activity. Moreover, few preachers have time to write all their sermons for either memorization or reading. Thus, the extempore method will best free your voice and body for effective presentation.
Third, learn to speak without a lectern or a pulpit. If the pulpit would confess its sins against effective speechmaking, it would cry: "Woe is me! I am a barrier between a preacher and his people. I encourage indirectness and the unholy tone. I invite the preacher to read or to use extensive notes which cause him to lose eye contact and to limit his vocal variety. By urging the preacher to cling to me I cripple his bodily activity for life. O miserable offender that I am!" Once the preacher has learned to look at his congregation, to talk to them, and to enter fully into the speaking situation, nothing-not even a pulpit-can cripple his delivery.
What's wrong with preaching? The content has been diagnosed as having superficial ideas, hazily understood, weakly believed, and drably stated. The proposed cure is a greater emphasis upon Biblical and doctrinal themes, long-range preaching programs, appeals to the emotions, picturesque language, and the "how" of religion. Delivery has been found indirect and dull- indirect because of the lack of vocal naturalness and eye contact; and dull due to monotony in voice and body. The recommended remedy is the directness and the variety that come from conversational quality, extempore method, and learning to speak without the support of a pulpit.
In brief, preaching has a lot wrong with it, but nothing that thorough speech training, common sense, and the grace of God cannot cure!
Edmund H. Linn was an instructor in speech at Andover Newton Theological Seminary when he wrote this article.