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the pursuit of clarity – jonathan robinson

I have now done 9 months “cold turkey” without preaching. I didn’t expect it to be this long. It is officially the longest I have gone without preaching since I began as a pastor in 2000. Anyway, it has been good for me to be a listener instead. On top of sermons at my local church (when I’m not in creche), as a born-again student I have been attending various lectures and seminars at the university as well.

My one critical constant from both ecclesiastical and academic listening has been a growing appreciation of the power and importance of clarity.

I’ve always thought I was clear. I write and speak well. In my last pastorate people who had English as a second language often commented on how easy they found my sermons to follow. However, time spent listening to others speak clearly this year has made me appreciate there is so much more to learn. Conversely, I have endured a number of sermons and other talks which were not clear and as a result were confusing, tedious and by-and-large a waste of time for this listener.

Clarity leads to conviction

To be really clear, you have to have really understood your subject. You can be clear because you own appreciation of the topic you are sharing is not confused. For a listener this is very compelling. Your clarity in delivery allows them to have confidence in what is being shared but also to grasp the subject for themselves.

Clarity needs to be present at every level

Clear speech so we can make out each word. Clear sentences, so we know what you are trying to say. Clear links between sections, so we can understand how this connects to that. Clear thought progression through the sermon so when we arrive at the end we understand how and why we have got there.

Clarity shows respect to your audience

I think the Sunday sermon is often undervalued. Let’s say you have 100 people in your church. If they listen to you for 30 minutes, what is that time worth? $30 per hour per person? (about the going rate for a Baptist pastor I think). That’s probably too low. 100 x $30 x 0.5hr makes your sermon worth, in cash terms, $1500. Obviously in spiritual terms it is going to worth a lot more. So, if you as a pastor spent 50 hours that week (impossible for most of us) on your sermon you wouldn’t have overdone it. My point is, even if you do spend 50 hours on the sermon, if it is not clear your time and the congregation’s will be wasted. So, some of your valuable sermon prep time must be spent pursuing clarity.

You are not as clear as you think you are

No one gets up to give a sermon or a presentation thinking it is not clear. They assume that what they are about to share will be as intelligible to others as it is to them. I can tell you, in the local church and in the ivory tower there are many people who speak without clarity. Even if you think 99% of the congregation understand what you preach 99% of the time, shouldn’t you be going after the 1% (I’m sure there is a parable about that?).


Let me know what you think.


  1. Sonja Dixon says:

    A good reminder for me as I am learning to communicate well in my preaching. Thank you

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