Spurgeon’s Advice for Holding Attention

Preaching is one of the most important things that happens on Sunday in our Churches. Therefore, it behoves us to not only strive to do it well, but to truly preach with excellence. One of the most sure fire ways to do this is to learn from people who are master preachers. One of those is the renown Charles Spurgeon.

Photo credit Griszka Niewiadomski via freeimages.com

We previously reviewed one of Spurgeon’s books here, and I still highly recommend it! One of my favorite chapters was Spurgeon’s advice for holding people’s attention, and I knew I wanted to turn it into a post here on Reach the Deaf. If people are not paying attention, it is of no consequence what you are saying. Sometimes, there is noting we can do. However, as the preacher or teacher we have a responsibility to be engaging and do all we can to make it easier for our audience to pay attention. Spurgeon’s advice will help you do just that! All of these quotes are from the book, “lectures to my students,” I have also included some of my own commentary on Spurgeon’s thoughts!

1. “In order to get attention, the first golden rule is, always say something worth hearing.”

I love this advice. Give those under your preaching and teaching Spiritual sustenance that they can grow from and use. I’m not sure there is much I can add to this.

2. “Let the good matter which you give them be very clearly arranged.”

Know where you are going with your sermon and how you are going to lead people there. Have a plan! Whether that is your three points, or a single point you want to drive home, have a logical order to your message. Don’t simply ramble and hope you hit upon something.

3. “Be sure, moreover, to speak plainly.”

Speak, or in our case sign, the way people understand. This can either come across as “Christian-ese” or as Theological Jargon. For the former, I find it best to assume people do not understand our Christian lingo, especially when I am calling them to believe. There is no reason an unsaved person will just know what “repent” means or “saved.” We need to take time to explain those kinds of words. As to the latter, 99% of people do not care that you studied sublapsarianism in Bible College (or even know what it is). Speak plainly to people so that people can understand you. I find it telling that, when God could have chosen a much more polished form of Greek for the New Testament, he opted to write it in Koine Greek, the language of the people. Let’s follow His example in this and speak like normal people.

4. “Attend also to your matter of address; aim in that at the promotion of attention.”

To simplify Spurgeon a little bit, “Don’t be boring.” Do things that engage people’s attention. Use facial expressions, move around, tell stories, and show them how the Word applies to their lives.

5. “If you would be listened to, do not extemporize in the emphatic sense…. Don’t go into the pulpit and say the first thing that comes to hand.”

PREPARE! While there are some amazing preachers who just walk up, open the Bible, and preach life-changing sermons, most of us cannot, and should not do that. Even those who do, I have noticed, are speaking out of the abundance of God’s working in them for decades. In that sense, those sermons were years in the making. As for the work of the Holy Spirit in all this, I find it much easier for God to guide me in the silence and prayer of my study time while looking over the Bible than in the moment of walking up to the pulpit.

6. “In order to get attention, make your manner as pleasing as it can possibly be.”

This is similar to number four. Vary your speed and intensity while you are signing. Do the Word of God justice and convey it in a manner worthy of it’s high place in our faith.

7. “As a rule, do not make the introduction too long.”

If you had been in church for any amount of time, you have seen this done. Most of the time, everyone is thinking, “Just get to the point!” When I find myself getting stuck, I like to stop and mentally ask myself “What am I trying to say?” Then, I just say that!

8. “In preaching, do not repeat yourselves.”

Here, Spurgeon and I are in a little bit of disagreement. I believe repetition is necessary to make your main idea stick. I will often go back to a central theme or idea for emphasis and repeat it again in various ways. In the book, Spurgeon acknowledges that repetition in beneficial in moderation, but as seen it over-done far too often. That is all I will say about that. Take my advice for what it’s worth weighed against the words of Charles Spurgeon.

9. “Avoid being too long.”

I see this happen quite often! Of course, the meaning of “too long” is relative. Spurgeon recommends 40-45 minutes. I preach about 25 minutes on average. If you are preaching before a meal time, be doubly aware of this! When people get hungry, you will loose their attention.

10. “Be interested yourself, and you will interest others.”

Care about your topic. Let that show through in your preaching. I have also hear this put “It has to touch me before it can touch others.” Make sure you care about what you are saying, and that will cause other’s to care!

11. “If you want to have the attention of your people- to have it thoroughly and always, it can only be accomplished by their being led by the Spirit of God into an elevated and devout state of mind.”

This requires prayer. If you are not praying for you people, this simply will not happen. Also, sometimes you just need to accept that some people will not be paying attention, and that is not always your fault.

12. “There should be a goodly number of illustrations in our discourses.”

People love stories. Use that fact and tell stories to illustrate what you are saying. Use personal stories, Bible stories, made-up preacher stories, but I would suggest not trying to pass off made up stories as things that have happened to you, someone will have heard it before and it just looks bad.

13. “Do not say what everybody expected you would say.”

This was advice that I had not thought of an have been working to integrate into my preaching. Contrast and unexpected statements hold people’s attention. For instance, I once started a message by asking “Can God do anything?” Of course, everyone said “YES! YES!” I came back and said, “No, God cannot do everything!” (Which led me into Titus 1:2). They were interested at that point because I was challenging something they assumed to be true about God, and they were not expecting that!

14. “A very useful help in securing attention is a pause.”

Michel Port, who is a secular public speaking coach and teacher, has great advice about pausing. To paraphrase, his advice is that, when most people are saying “Slow down,” the true solution is to pause more. This is true regardless of what language you are using. Pauses break up your thoughts, create tension, add suspense, and give hard-hitting statements time to sink in.

15.“Make the people feel that they have an interest in what we are saying to them.”

Frame your message so that people see the importance of what you are saying. Spurgeon also expands on this by saying “Self interest quickens attention.” This should be easy for us because the Word of God is applicable for every area of our lives! Simply explain to them why this is important to their lives and why they ought to do what the Word of God says.

16. “Prevent attendants from traversing the aisles.”

I guess back in Spurgeon’s time, people walking around the aisles was common place during a sermon. I have not seen that go on in any church I have been a part of, but who knows, maybe it does in yours! However, I think the overarching principle here is to cut down on distractions where you are able. For us preaching and teaching the Deaf, that means paying attention to lighting and placements of things like pulpits and screens. There will always be distractions, but lessen them when possible.

17. “Be yourself clothed with the Spirit of God.”

I absolutely love this advice! Simply speak and sign naturally when you are preaching! Be who you are outside of the pulpit while you are in the pulpit. I remember guys when I was in Bible college who were interesting, engaging, and funny when you talked with them one-on-one, but became stiff and ridged when asked to stand up in front of people and speak or preach. It’s not easy, but developing the comfort to behave naturally behind the pulpit will automatically draw people’s attention towards you and keep them engaged throughout your sermon.

Spurgeon was a master preacher and we would be wise to learn from his practical advice and put it to work with the Deaf and Hard of Hearing communities in which we minister. I hope this list will help you capture and engage your audiences this Sunday!

What do you think of Spurgeon’s advice? Anything you would add or say differently?

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