Recently my church hosted the Sacred Marriage Conference with Gary Thomas, bestselling author of Sacred Marriage, Sacred Search and others. My wife and I gleaned some helpful insights from Gary’s teaching over the weekend, and it was nice to meet him personally.
During the conference I listened to about five hours of his speaking. It struck me toward the end of the weekend that I enjoyed his teaching so much that I wasn’t getting tired of him. This is a rare quality in a speaker and one that we can learn from as preachers. He had some approaches and techniques that set him apart as a communicator. I observed five things that we can glean from his approach that will make us better preachers. Some of these are standard best-practices of public speaking, but his execution of them was excellent.
Five Things I Learned From Gary Thomas About Preaching
1. He jumped right into his content. He didn’t begin his talks with long-winded introductory remarks about how grateful he was to be speaking to us. He just jumped in and took us with him – usually with an engaging story. A lot of preachers waste precious minutes at the beginning of their sermons with uninteresting rambling that doesn’t contribute to their content. We should avoid this, and instead learn from Gary, and most professional speakers, and begin our sermons with well-thought out carefully crafted words that immediately grab the attention of our listeners. Rather than giving them the first five minutes to get bored with us and stop listening.
My take away: Sharpen up the beginnings of my sermons with an aim to engage my listeners immediately.
2. He is a humble person on and off stage. For a guy who’s sold over a million books and is an internationally known speaker, he’s remarkably down-to-earth. His humility is evident onstage, and on a personal level, he leaves you with no pretenses. Gary Thomas’ humility is genuine and believable which makes his listeners open up to him in ways they would not if they saw him as arrogant. We should work to develop humility in our presentations and personalities. Humility can’t be faked because people will see right through it. This is why I’m not saying to “act” humble, but to develop humility in yourself. For some this might be a life time of effort.
My take away: Pursue deeper humility in my character.
3. He made historical references in an interesting way. He is well-read and brought much into his talk to support the points he was making including many historical references. This is not always done well, but he made references in a way that brought you into the historical scene. He painted a picture in your mind that made you believe you were there. Giving an historical account to illustrate a point is not uncommon, but I think most of us need to perfect this skill a little more. Making history interesting to the average listener takes more than just giving the facts of the event. It requires bringing your listeners into the setting and showing them around.
My take away: Study more significant historical events and learn to retell the stories in a compelling way.
4. He used humor well. He was funny. Really funny. And it wasn’t him telling a bunch of canned jokes. He knows what’s funny and he delivers witty, timely humor at the right moments to re-engage the audience. It is important to use humor well and he did remarkably. Not everyone is naturally funny just like not everyone is smart. But anyone can learn and develop this skill with effort.
My take away: Bring more well-placed humor into my sermons.
5. He used engaging stories, metaphors and analogies to make his ideas come alive. Illustrations can be a powerful tool. Gary made his ideas come alive with stories, metaphor and analogies that were masterfully well-crafted. The listener was not left to try to figure out how a point applied, Gary made it clear with compelling illustrations. Don’t assume that your listeners will always take a theoretic principle you’re teaching (like trusting in God) and be able to make it practical. You have to show them. You have to make them feel it. You have to say, “This is what it looks like to trust in God.” An engaging story or analogy is a great way to make your points work in real life.
My take away: Think through the best illustration for each point I’m making.
None of these are earth-shattering concepts. What impressed me was his execution of these. And while I knew these techniques before, I was inspired by him to improve my approach.
Are you utilizing these core-concepts effectively? Which ones could you improve on in your preaching?