There are many ways to sound smart in the pulpit. But, make sure it's God you're glorifying.
There are many ways to sound smart in the pulpit. But, make sure it's God you're glorifying. (Flickr )

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Now, the solid born-again, God-called messenger of the Lord has no wish to sound particularly smart. True, he does not want to come across as ignorant, but he is not insecure, has nothing to prove, and is not there to impress. He is a messenger, delivering the Word of God and then getting out of the way.*

However, a less-than-solid preacher just might want to impress his hearers. An insecure, insincere preacher—one working for the paycheck and seeking the prestige some people bestow on a pastor—might want to bolster his image by dressing up his presentation in some way, and could use some assistance. That's where we come in. We can help.

Here is our list of tricks that a poor preacher might want to employtongue in cheek, of course.

1. Insert the occasional Hebrew or Greek word into your sermon. This is not hard to do, now that we have the internet. If you really want to sound smart, after saying, "Now, in the original, the Greek word is," then you will want to say something like "in the pluperfect aorist tense, of course." No one will know you have no clue what you've just said, but it doesn't matter. It sounds good, and that's the point.

2. At least once in every sermon, say "As my seminary professor used to say, ... ." You'll find great quotes on the internet to attribute to the anonymous teacher.

3. Google Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, and find something good he said. He said a lot of quotable stuff, so this won't be hard. In quoting him, be sure to pronounce his name correctly, otherwise the one person in the congregation who knows who he was will badmouth you and your efforts will be for nothing. This also works for the German preachers Helmut Thelicke and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Unfortunately, it does not work for Joel Osteen or John Hagee.

4. About three times a year–but not more often–drop in some version of this: "Now, I do not wish to pontificate on theological profundities." It sounds impressive, even though that is precisely what you are attempting.

5. Refer to your vast educational accomplishments. "When I got my doctorate" should show up regularly in your message. "I've got more degrees than a thermometer" sounds good also. Make sure your name never appears without your degrees, even if some of them are suspect or were earned cheaply.

6Mention someone who believes differently from you, and whether you even understand what that guy is saying, be sure to say, "The man is an idiot." This especially works for prominent atheists and liberals. Your people will assume you have studied the guy's positions and are able to refute them. They're so trusting.

7. When a pastor search committee is present, somewhere in your sermon say this: "The eschatological ramifications of this passage are self-evident." They will be impressed and will fall all over themselves in a rush to sign you up.

8. Overusing statistics. And when you can't find ones that say what you want, compose some. Just word it in such a way that no one can quite follow and check for accuracy.

9. Quoting Shakespeare from memory, as though you have memorized all of Othello or MacBeth. If you really want to strengthen the effect, don't say "William Shakespeare," but "the bard." That makes it sound like you and he went to high school together.

10. A pastor friend whose participation in this little fun exercise—and who owns two genuine doctoral degrees!—added this: "A lot of it has to do with demeanor and tone. An arrogant and condescending attitude" will convince a few people in the audience you must be smarter than the rest of humanity. Those believers with a closeness with the Lord will see through that, but such people aren't susceptible to impressing with these tricks anyway, so you may ignore them.

11. Name-dropping. If you were once in the room where John MacArthur or Charles Stanley or Chuck Swindoll was speaking, you may say, "Recently when I was talking with ... ."

12Another friend suggests you should always start with a C.S. Lewis quote. His great lines number in the hundreds.

13. In the public library or a bookstore, look up a famous intellectual and find some thick, inaccessible book he's written. Read just enough of it to get a good quote. Then, drop that into the sermon, leaving the impression you are well-acquainted with this guy's works. Do this often, and you'll have people thinking you regularly read the great books and are light-years ahead of them intellectually, which is what you want, of course.

14Take vacations in New York City or Boston. While there, drive past the campus of one of the famous schools, such Columbia, Princeton or Harvard. Do something while you are there—even if it's nothing more than visit the bookstore or ask a security guard for directions—so you can work that into the sermons. "The last time I was at Harvard ... ." "As you know, part of my vacation was spent studying at Yale." That sort of thing.

15. If you reference sports in your sermons, it should not be baseball or football. Soccer and lacrosse are good or, even better, cricket (it's so British). But never, ever mention that you love to watch wrestling or attend monster tractor pulls.

Now, one more thing.

There are things you must never do if you would come across as an intellectual. Here are a few that come to mind:

  • Never admit to watching television.
  • Never admit to admiring Adam Sandler, Kim Kardashian or King Kong.
  • Even if you grew up addicted to the Three Stooges or reading comic books, keep that little bit of information to yourself.
  • Never quote this blog.

(*Messengers of God may be male or female. I use the "he" in the generic sense.)

After five years as director of missions for the 100 Southern Baptist churches of metro New Orleans, Joe McKeever retired on June 1, 2009. These days, he has an office at the First Baptist Church of Kenner, where he's working on three books, and he's trying to accept every speaking/preaching invitation that comes his way. 

For the original article, visit joemckeever.com.

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