Homiletics: Do's and Don'ts

DO'S

  • In every teaching, you should speak both as a fellow-learner/sinner and as a prophet. Somehow, you should communicate that you have much to learn and a long way to go in your own walk with God. This helps people to identify with you and is a way of communicating God's grace. But having done this, you also need to boldly proclaim God's Word and call on people (as God's mouthpiece) to respond to it. Your use of personal pronouns is important in achieving this balance. "We" and "I" are usually appropriate in speaking as a fellow-learner. "You" is often most appropriate in speaking as God's spokesperson. Also, you should normally speak as a fellow-learner before speaking as a prophet.
  • Every teaching should include both indicative and imperative points. Indicative-only teachings tend to be theoretical and lack punch. Imperative-only teachings tend to be legalistic because they aren't sufficiently grounded in God's part. If your passage contains only indicatives or imperatives, you will need to supply the complementary portion either by simply explaining it or by reading another passage.
  • Be sensitive to non-Christians and new people. Keep them in mind throughout your preparation primarily in the terms and examples you use. This doesn't mean you can't talk about truths or issues that pertain primarily to Christians; it means you should be understandable and relevant to new people in the way you communicate your points.
  • Anticipate qualifications that need to be made in your teaching. One-sentence qualifications are often needed when making a strong point. It is usually best to make the point strongly first and then qualify it, rather than vice-versa. Beware of over-qualifying which dilutes impact ("death by a thousand qualifications").
  • If you lose your train of thought during a teaching, it is usually better to go on to the next point instead of backtracking.
  • Anticipate common secular objections, verbalize them and respond to them. These make good antitheses. (EXAMPLE: "victimology" versus Rom. 8:28; 1 Cor. 10:13; Gen. 50:20)
  • Use personal applications. This projects warmth and draws people in. But beware of using them exclusively or even predominantly, because your teaching will come across as self-focused. Mix personal applications with illustrations, contemporary antitheses, etc.
  • Use good illustrations, especially for abstract points. If you can't come up with an effective original illustration, use one that is proven.
  • You may use technical terms (theological, psychological, scientific, etc.), but be sure to define them immediately.
  • Be yourself! God recognizes individual gifting and styles. For example, use your own sense of humor—not someone else's. On the other hand, lean against your temperamental tendency in delivery. For example, if you are passive, you will need to animate to the point that you feel like you are being too extroverted.
  • Have good, clear thought development. Good transitions make it easier to follow your train of thought. The best transitions are brief and tie the next point back into the main theme.
  • If you do have a gospel message, explain how to become a Christian. During this section, resist the tendency to fear boring the Christians present. Also resist the tendency to look only at the new people.
  • Smile, use humor, and warm up to your audience. This helps them relax and relate to you.
  • Explain the subject of your teaching early on—within the first minute.
  • The proper use of slang (i.e., slang that they know and relate to) relaxes your audience. However, the use of slang that they don't know or relate to alienates them.
  • When giving the gospel, power comes from the Word. Therefore, try to include a verse like Revelation 3:20; John 1:12; Ephesians 2:8,9; etc.
  • Make use of vivid imagery and graphic description. Why say "bad" when you can say "unacceptable" or "despicable?" Practice this when talking with people in normal conversations.
  • Throughout your preparation, keep asking yourself, "What is the goal of my teaching? What one thing do I want people to understand and do?"
  • When you teach Christian ethics, remember to communicate that God gives us both the power and the motivation to do his moral will (Phil. 2:13), and that his moral will is for our own good (Deut. 10:12,13; Rom. 12:2b). These truths enable us to teach ethics/imperatives strongly and confidently—which is how they should be taught—without putting people under the law.
  • Have a concise introduction, and get into your text quickly. Once people have already turned to the passage, they will start to read it on their own if you don't guide them into it quickly.
  • Use rhetorical questions when possible.
  • Pause briefly after humor or important statements. This increases impact.
  • Try to work from the text. Arrange your points so that you can refer them back to the text frequently. This is a practical way of standing on the authority of the Word. Also, it is strange to say you are teaching a certain passage, and then not really get into that passage seriously. If you are going to work primarily from other passages, say this in the beginning.

DON'TS

  • Unless you are a very experienced teacher, don't tinker with your main outline 24 hours prior to teaching. You'll only get more confused and less confident.
  • Don't say "second Cor" or "first Thes;" say "second Corinthians," etc. Don't refer to temperaments and other Xenos "slang." This has the effect of alienating the new person by making them feel they are outside an inner circle.
  • Don't bore people with the gospel. Be excited!
  • Don't have nebulous applications. They should be specific enough that people can see clearly what it looks like to put the concept into practice. It is better to give a very specific application and say, "There are other ways to apply this truth," than to be overly general.
  • Don't have too much material. A few points that are well developed and applied are far better than many points. Resist the urge to tell everything you know about the passage.
  • Don't over use hand gestures.
  • Don't narrate what you went through as you prepared your teaching: "So I wondered what this word was in the Greek . . ." Tell your audience what you discovered, not what you went through in the process.
  • Don't say, "An example/illustration of this is . . . " Just give your example/illustration.
  • Don't feel compelled to give the whole plan and logic of salvation every teaching, or every time you make an evangelistic point.
  • Avoid using too many biblical references. This dilutes impact and focus. It is usually better to simply refer to a passage and quote it, than to have them turn to that passage—which takes time and distracts people's attention. If you decide it's necessary to turn to another text, be sure to give clear directions on how to get there, and then graciously give people the time to find it. Wait for the pages to stop turning.
  • Avoid doing a verse-by-verse commentary. This dilutes impact because there is no clear thesis with application.
  • Avoid overuse of application points. Don't make them the whole teaching. You must ground your application in the theology of the text, or it will come across legalistic.
  • Don't express as a personal opinion what God says in the Word—state it as a fact. In the same way, don't declare as authoritative what is only your opinion—say it is your opinion.
  • Don't act timidly about touchy subjects (e.g., financial giving). Be confident with God's Word in these areas.
  • Don't end declarative statements with a questioning tone in your voice. This dilutes impact.
  • Don't mix corniness with a serious point. Comic relief may be used after making a serious point to give people a breather, but if you get corny while making a serious point, you dilute impact.
  • Don't always address the non-Christian at the end; this is too predictable. Christians (wrongly) will tend to lose interest at this point, knowing that you're winding up, and thus distract the non-Christians.
  • Don't say, "I'm sure you're all familiar with this passage/doctrine . . . " New people are usually unfamiliar with the Bible, and this comment will make them feel even more aware of and intimidated by their ignorance.
  • Don't apologize for your inexperience, lack of full knowledge on a subject, etc. This needlessly erodes your authority. Stand on the authority of God's Word and trust it to move your audience.
  • Don't turn to another passage but say, "You don't need to turn there." Either quote the passage from memory, or let them turn to it with you. Saying "You don't need to turn there" sounds like you have something to hide.