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‘Can’t Help It’ – Bad Habits

Article 5 in a Series on Preaching
by David Cook

Interact Magazine 1991

Volume 2 Number 1

When you preach, people can both hear and see you. It’s so easy to develop bad habits in our audio and visual delivery. From a survey I conducted, here are some of the most common ‘bad habits’, in no particular order:-


Visual Bad Habits


1. Providing your own musical background: hands in pockets, jingling your money and keys.


2. Playing with your wedding ring (which used to be a favourite bad habit of the Prime Minister until somebody told him to stop it).


3. Looking out of windows or at the ceiling as if your congregation isn’t there or is seated on the roof (also favoured by the P.M.).


4. Leaning over the lectern.


5. Adjusting your underwear through your pockets.


6. Unnatural hand movements. If you don’t normally throw your hands around when you talk, don’t think you need to when you get in a pulpit. On the other hand, if it’s natural don’t try to stop it. Be you.


7. Wearing Safari Suits. I’m the last to be with the latest fashion. I still have my old paisley ties from the 60’s, but my kids tell me the safari suit is for the bin (not even the church clothing bin but the garbage variety)!


8. Taking your glasses off, sucking the ends, putting them on – taking them off, putting them on. If possible, do one or the other and leave them there. get some contact lenses or memorise your notes.


9. If you’re wearing a coat with 3 buttons, Leo Schofield suggests only doing up the middle button. The top and bottom buttons are only there to keep the tailors in business.


10. Lastly, what every preacher fears most: an open fly! Check it before you go into church. Ask the church secretary to remind you each week.


Bad Speaking Habits


1. The plural of ‘you’ is ‘you’. It’s never appropriate to refer to the congregation as ‘you’s’, not even, ‘how’s you’s going?’

2. Verbiage – the inclusion of unnecessary words like um, just, indeed, really, actually – as in ‘I actually think’, and ‘Lord we do just …’

3. If we normally talk like Aussies, why do we use the very English pronunciation of ‘holy’? Pronounce it like ‘hole’ as in ‘a hole in one’!

4. Using the big $5 word when the ordinary 50c variety word communicates more clearly. eg Hellenistic influencing, a priori argument, presuppositionalism. If you can’t find a shorter synonym then it’s possible you don’t understand it yourself.

5. Use of Greek and Hebrew words.

6. Use of the abstract in place of the concrete eg saying ‘mortality rose’ instead of ‘more people died’

7. Use of sloppy grammar and pronunciation. Some common mistakes are:

*dropping the ‘g’ – ‘goin’, ‘comin’, ‘addin’

*adding the ‘k’ – somethink, anythink, nothink.

*using ‘you and I’ instead of ‘you and me’. When we are the subject of the verb, ‘it’s ‘you and I’; when we’re the object, it’s ‘you and me’. eg ‘What this means for you and me’ – not ‘you and I’.


8. Use of Aussie slang. The worst examples are bull, stuffed; or trendy talk when it’s just not you, eg cool dudes, honkey, etc.

9. Make up your mind what you’ll call the congregation. Some examples I’ve heard are: brothers and sisters, folks, brethren. Choose the one you judge to be most appropriate. What’s good for The Midday Show may not be best for Sunday.

10. Bad breath. Preaching takes it out of you: good, sweet, fresh breath, that is. Use a peppermint before going to the door to greet the congregation.


General Principles


1. The Devil is the counterfeiter – be yourself as much as that is appropriate. Don’t try to be someone else in your delivery.

2. Have a good friend talk to you about your bad habits. You don’t want them to cloud the message

Rev David Cook, a Presbyterian Minister, served in several churches before becoming Principal of Sydney Missionary and Bible College.

© David Cook (1 July 1990)

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