An old time evangelist named Vance Havner once quipped that “most churches start at 11:00 sharp and end at 12:00 dull.” This elicits a chuckle from many pew occupants simply because it is often true. One of the arguments against church attendance has been the criticism that sermons are boring. Is it still possible in today’s information age? I have probably delivered more than my share of boring sermons, and I have a theory as to why I and many others are also guilty.
I believe the reason that sermons are boring, or at least perceived to be as such, is that they are written for the eye and not the ear. In other words, they are prepared much like one would write an essay and not a speech. Essays can be very compelling to read, but you may not wish to have one read to you.
So what is the difference between writing for the eye and writing for the ear? Let me offer some observations about the distinctions.
First, writing for the eye includes longer sentences that can be more detailed and complex than typical speech. Speech can be be delivered in smaller bites and utilize repetition for emphasis that writing would not include.
Second, writing for the eye is more formal whereas writing for the ear is more informal and conversational. This is the difference between a saying a length of distance is 300 yards versus saying the same length equals three football fields.
The third difference is that writing for the eye is timeless and can be reviews over and over. Writing for the ear is timely, making its impact in an exact moment of time.
Next, writing for the eye is a one way conversation while writing for the ear is a two way conversation. Writers who publish papers and books do not have the benefit of immediate feedback that speakers do, allowing them to make on the fly edits based on the audience’s responses.
Finally, writers for the eye depend on punctuation to deliver emphasis compared to the speakers use of gestures and volume to deliver emphasis. An unspoken gesture, facial expression, or a pregnant pause are all tools that a speaker possesses that cannot easily be replicated on the printed page.
Sermon and speech writing is unlike any other form of writing, in that it is intended to be heard. Wise pastors and speakers will identify the difference between writing for the eye and for the ear, and will use that to enhance their preaching.