When you use a quote in a sermon, do you have a reason, or do you use quotes because pastors are “supposed to”? Do you quote with intentionality?
Perhaps the best question of all: do you waste a ton of time digging through magazines, commentaries, and puritan paperbacks looking for just the right quote for your sermon?
If you use quotes just to use them, they will not help your audience much. If you waste time trying to find quotes, they will not help your sermon prep much.
Follow these six rules of thumb so that your quoting habits in your sermons are effective for your audience and efficient for you.
Rule #1: Don’t use quotes in sermons. 90 percent of the time, I think a quote adds nothing to the sermon. As a matter of fact, I think that a quote will actually hurt your sermon 9 times out of 10. So here’s three reasons to avoid them.
1. You lose momentum. When you use someone else’s words, you lose your natural rhythm of speaking. For the sake of your delivery, it’s best to stick to your own words.
2. You lose eye contact. Never underestimate the power of eye contact between the preacher and God’s people. It communicates authority and mercy. But if you use a quote, you have to look down. The connection gets cut off.
3. You lose context. Most people are not aware of the who’s who list of commentary authors and theologians. When you refer to them to support your interpretation, you isolate your people more than you draw them in.
So I’m not a fan using quotes in sermons. But just like all rules (except the ones in the Bible), it has to be broken once in a while. Here are the exceptions:
Rule #2: Use a quote for added authority. When you are writing homiletical checks that your pastoral experience can’t cash, it’s effective to quote someone your audience can identify with. I did this when I preached Jonah 4 a few weeks ago.
I wanted to say that it’s not okay to be angry at God. Of course, many people think that it is okay. So, at the beginning of the sermon, I quoted John Piper, who calls being angry with God a sin in Pierced by the Word. I didn’t want people to think, “You’re young. You haven’t been through the hard experiences that I have been through. I have a right to be angry at God.” So I let a seasoned pastor – who most of my congregation knows – carry that authority for me.
Rule #3: Use a quote for rhetorical effect. If an author says something in a pithy or memorable way, use their words. Just put the emphasis on the content, not the author. Memorize it so that you can maintain eye contact.
Rule #4: Use a quote for polemical purposes. There are many ideas embedded in our cultural that our people take for granted, but simply are not biblical. Our responsibility as preachers is to deconstruct unbiblical arguments in support of these ideas.
If you are going to quote someone, perhaps from a magazine article, then you will need to quote the person’s exact words. Not to do so would create a straw man argument. As you destroy the false argument (that’s right, destroy, 2 Cor. 10:5), it’s best to re-quote it bit by bit, because they won’t remember the exact words just hearing it once.
Rule #5: Use a quote for personal integrity. If you want to use a famous quote, don’t paraphrase it so as to keep Rule #1. Everyone will know the quote and think you’re switching out a few of the words to take credit for it yourself!
Rule #6: Use a quote for clarity. When an author says what you want to say so well that you would actually communicate less clearly if you paraphrased it, go ahead and use the quote. But if this happens every week, I seriously question your paraphraseability.
Don’t assume that you’re supposed to use quotes. Maybe you had to in your preaching class in Bible college or seminary, but your profs aren’t grading your sermons any more. Sometimes you’ll need to. But hold off if you can.
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