The preacher has a number of God-given voice tools in his vocal toolbox. Here are six. (Update: For more on how to deliver a sermon, see my new book from Evangelical Press, How Sermons Work.)
There is no point in preaching if we do not speak so as to be heard. The voice should be loud enough to be heard by all throughout the whole sermon. Volume should flow naturally from the subject material and its impact on our own hearts. It should not be manufactured.
Many people mistakenly think that volume is the most important factor in making ourselves heard. It’s not. It’s diction – the clarity with which words are spoken. People will hear even the whispers of someone who clearly separates and articulates all the consonants and syllables of his words without slurring, mumbling, or omission. Equally, without diction, the loudest voice in the world will be just a noise to the hearers.
Tone refers not so much to the volume of the note but the pitch of it. The voice has a wide range of tones from low bass notes to high alto notes. In our everyday speech our tone varies with mood and circumstance. This natural variety should be carried into the pulpit in order to avoid unnatural monotony. Normally sermons begin with a low tone/pitch, which usually heightens as the sermon progresses to application.
When we talk to people, we naturally emphasize what we most want our hearer to listen to. We do this by an increase in volume, diction, or tone for a word or two. This natural “tool” for making one word or phrase stand out from the rest is an important and much underused vocal asset.
Another “tool” is pace. Regular and appropriate variations in pace make listening easier. Care should be taken not to speak like a train – and also not to speak like a tortoise.
Wise insertion of pauses allow the truth to sink in and influence the heart before moving on to the next point. Sermons without pauses are like the flat stones which are skimmed across the surface of the water. They make shallow and temporary impressions on the surface as they skate along. Pauses allow the pebbles of truth to sink down and stay down.
“Variety” simply refers to the wise and judicious combination of these “tools”. When building a house, the joiner does not always use the hammer. He picks up different tools for different tasks. So, when preaching a sermon, the preacher should wisely vary the use of his vocal tools, moving from loud to quiet, from fast to slow, from didactic to emotional, etc.
Robert L. Dabney said: “Take your model here from Nature. She does not thunder all the year; she gives us sunshine, gentle breezes, a sky checkered with lights and shades, the stiffening gale, and sometimes the rending storm. So no hearer can endure a tempest of rhetoric throughout the discourse.”