The Persuasive Preacher

The Persuasive Preacher

One time, a long time ago, I raised my voice at someone. Not because we were having a pleasant conversation and all of the sudden there was peripheral noise that drowned out my words. It was because the person I was talking to wasn’t getting what I was trying to say.[1] Oh, I was speaking English and English was their primary language, but somehow I was failing to communicate in such a way that they were convinced I was right and they needed to change their mind on a particular matter. Well, as you can imagine, saying it louder wasn’t too effective. I simply wasn’t being very persuasive.

If you are a preacher of the gospel you are passionate about the message that has been entrusted to you and you want to communicate that message in such a way that it is believed and acted upon. In other words, you want to be persuasive. To persuade is to convince, to win over, or to bring about a change of mind. It means that something has been received and had its intended effect. Think about it, the work of the gospel requires persuasiveness since both conversion and sanctification require change.

Truly, only God can enlighten a darkened heart and bring the dead back to life. It is God who does the persuading, but he uses preachers in this process. Paul’s declaration to the Corinthians was “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.”[2] It is the duty of every preacher to work at improving his persuasiveness. So, here are 6 concepts to help you be a more persuasive preacher:

It is God who does the persuading, but he uses preachers in this process. Click To Tweet

1Insist on Substance

I don’t know about you but I’ve had enough of the frivolous non-sense and trifling news that is passed off as preaching. I don’t want to sound like a jerk, but good grief. I can’t believe some of the drivel! God has given us a message and it is bigger than “How to Keep a Smile on Your Face.” You don’t have to wonder what you should preach. Preach the Bible. It is your substance. Insist this from yourself and from anyone that preaches or teaches in the church you lead.

God has given us a message and it is bigger than “How to Keep a Smile on Your Face.” Click To Tweet

2Work At Your Words

The preacher in Ecclesiastes said that he worked at his words.[3] He said that the words of the wise are like goads and like nails firmly fixed, so he sought to find just the right words. If Solomon hasn’t convinced you to work at your words, maybe Jesus will.[4] Jesus said that the Father commanded him both what to say and how to say it.[5] According to him, this leads to eternal life.

Wordsmithing is critical to communication. It is a labor to arrange words, manage tone, and coordinate body language so that what you intend to communicate is received. This eliminates shooting from the hip in your delivery. Work at your words so that you say what you want to say with aim and precision.

One more thought on this; don’t believe the lie that sermons don’t matter that much. Preaching is God’s means of converting sinners and transforming saints. So, prepare “the how” not just “the what” of your sermons.

3Be Sweet

“Be sweet.” That is a phrase I got from an old deacon friend of mine. He told me he used to say it to his kids when they were young. I know his kids, and they turned out pretty sweet, so I figured I would adopt that with my kids. When I hear them say something with an edge in their tone or that isn’t very nice I remind them with this simple phrase.

Some years ago I listened to a preacher for numerous weeks whom I knew personally. He was a nice enough guy one-on-one, but when he preached he would go into a thundering rant for an hour or so. At first I thought, “Hmm… he or the church must be in a rough season.” After a while I started to wonder why he was always so mad. It never changed. Well, people can only put up with that sort of preaching for so long. They simply stopped listening; even those who stayed in the church.

Being sweet is also the counsel of Solomon to those who would seek to teach others. Read these verses:

Prov 16:21-24 (ESV)

The wise of heart is called discerning, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness. Good sense is a fountain of life to him who has it, but the instruction of fools is folly. The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious and adds persuasiveness to his lips. Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.

Notice what he said increases persuasiveness: sweetness! Isn’t that wonderful! We can use gracious words when declaring God’s truth and by that sweetness we can convince people to follow Jesus!

Sometimes preachers get frustrated with the Pharisees. Rightly so, but don’t feel compelled to preach to them every week. They may be in the auditorium with the church every week, but they don’t deserve that much attention. True believers deserve the attention and they are far more receptive to your message if your speech is gracious, so “be sweet.”

4Believe Your Own Message

I’ve got two prevailing thoughts on this. First, believing your own message means that you have embraced the gospel and have received the mercy of God in Christ. Having done so you are attentive to your life and labor to align it to the gospel by God’s grace. We all know that the fastest and most effective way to discredit our words is through hypocritical behavior. Our lives are louder than our voices. In truth, if we don’t work diligently toward this alignment continually we might serve the gospel better by saving our breath to cool our soup! The Apostle James is right, “we all stumble in many ways.”[6] Since that is so, it is imperative for you to give careful attention to believing your own message and living it out.

Second, if you hope to convince someone else of a particular truth you must be convinced yourself. Richard Baxter, in cool old English style, said it like this: They will hardly believe a man that seemeth not to believe himself.[7] When you speak of great theological realities like justification or Christ’s second coming you must believe it yourself. And I would suggest that until you believe it with passion, you haven’t prayed or studied the subject through.

5Eliminate the Vocalized Pauses

When you study your own preaching listen for the small, often repeated terms like, “you know” or “um” or “right.” These are vocalized pauses that are really just undisciplined fillers. They are very common, but they take away from the message you are trying to communicate. Everyone lets a few of them slip out from time to time – no biggie, but if you have made a habit of using them, you are detracting from the quality of your preaching and reducing your persuasiveness. Preaching is a skill. Don’t be lax about your delivery.

6Preach Because You Love

Preach because you love God. Preach because you love the Bible. Preach because you love the church. Preach because you love those who are lost and who need Jesus. Part of Paul’s instruction to the church in Ephesus was for them to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.[8] This of course is the grand aim and intention of every believer and the dream of every preacher. If you are familiar with this passage you know that his leading statement is “speaking the truth in love.” The idea here is that when we speak the truth to others out of a love for them we facilitate their growth (and ours). This is quite different than just telling someone something. God has not led any of us to just be conveyors of truth. God has commissioned us to speak the truth; the whole truth – and we are to do it motivated by love. Truth communicated in love is very persuasive.

I pray that you are a persuasive preacher!

[1] Okay, it wasn’t just one time and it wasn’t just a long time ago.

[2] 2 Cor. 5:11

[3] Eccl. 12:9-11

[4] Solomon is the likely author of Ecclesiastes

[5] John 12:49-50 NIV

[6] James 3:2

[7] Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor

[8] Eph. 4:15

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Brent Kimball
God rescued me through Christ from my sin and condemnation when I was 19 years old. Almost immediately I began to sense a call to pastoral ministry, which I entered into in 1994. My deep desire is to serve God by influencing people to follow Jesus and fulfill their role in and for the Kingdom of God. I relish the outdoors and am an avid big game hunter. I enjoy reading. My three favorite genres are Classic Christianity (think Chesterton, Lewis, and Tozer), Leadership (think Lencioni and Collins), and Non-fiction Adventure (think Lansing, Krakauer).