The divine task of preaching will always involve the elements of content and delivery. Content is simply the message of the sermon, and delivery is the means wherein the message is seen and heard by the listeners. Complementing each other, these two go side by side and could never be separated from each other. Of these two, which is more important?
An efficient sermon will always have something to say, as Haddon Robinson calls it, ‘a big idea.’ A sermon that has several little ideas without one big idea will be a confusing one, and nothing would likely remain in the minds of the listeners. An ideal sermon will always have a central idea, or a big idea, supported by several little ideas. Without a big idea, there is no real message, it could hardly be called a sermon, and preaching becomes futile or mute. Thus, a clear message is a principal element in the holy task of preaching; the content is indispensable in preaching.
The same could be said for the delivery of the message. A good content will come almost void to the hearers if the delivery is lifeless. The delivery plays an important role in capturing the interest of the listeners, emphasizing ideas, and ultimately in affecting positive influence in the lives of the listeners.
It is not easy to put some clear distinctions; are we talking about the technical or mechanical aspects of preaching, or the spiritual aspects as well? Frankly, both the mechanical and the spiritual. Both the preparation of a good content and the efficient delivery of the sermon involves both the mechanical and spiritual.
To think and use your pen and paper are mechanical, yet the means and the grace to do it is spiritual, so the making of a good content covers both the mechanical and the spiritual. To say that it is purely mechanical reflects a boastful heart, one that is inclined not to acknowledge the miraculous working of the Holy Spirit to write a good sermon. Proper interpretation of the Biblical text, by the way, demands the illumination of the Holy Spirit, which is spiritual. The methodologies of hermeneutics (i.e., the science and art of interpreting the Bible) provide help in interpreting the Holy Scriptures, yet the Holy Spirit illumines it in a deeper way in our minds and hearts.
The same goes with the delivery of the sermon. Great oratory skills will fall short if devoid of God’s power thru the work of His Spirit. Is good delivery to be measured alone by the good utilization of voice, gestures, body movements, eye contact and facial expressions? Truly they serve their purpose and could for some measure touch the intellect and the emotions, but a good delivery has the power to influence the mind and heart that can only be achieved by the power of the Holy Spirit. How could this be assessed? Not just by the tears and different emotions seen from the listeners, but more so, by the inward change of the hearts, which is of course only possible to assess outside the church building, in real life. A powerful delivery of the sermon will and always will include the unction or the anointing of the Holy Spirit; mere oratory skills will never achieve the glory preaching deserves, for preaching is more than just public speaking.
1 Thessalonians 1:5
For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.
1 Corinthians 2:4-5
And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
Now before we answer the question which is more important between content and delivery, let us make first some clarifications.
The first clarification is that we do not try here to belittle any of the two, or to promote any of them at the expense of the other, or to put one against the other. Rather, what we are trying to do here is to encourage preachers to do their best in improving both their content and delivery in preaching. Today’s world is much more broken and darker than before, and preaching will always be one of God’s tools to bring lost souls to His Kingdom and to strengthen His Church.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began
The second clarification is that in the writing of the content and in the act of delivery, we are not only talking about the physical, mental, and mechanical actions in these two endeavors. Rather, the spiritual aspects (i.e., the help of the Holy Spirit in illuminating His Word and the anointing during the delivery of the preaching that gives its power) are also considered. Explanation about the certain distinctions and the blending of the mechanical and spiritual aspects has been given earlier.
Now let us draw the conclusion and the answer to our question. At first thought I am inclined to say that content is more important for two reasons. First, because what value is there in delivery if the content is wrong? And second, content is more important because I know of some preachers whose delivery is flat and monotonous (strictly in the technical sense, not spiritually) like Jonathan Edwards’, yet the preaching is so powerful because of its great content. Yet, I know, that Edwards’ preaching though flat in delivery is helped by the Holy Spirit to make it powerful. So these two reasons have in some value tend to bring more weight towards content than delivery.
Yet still I will say that these two, content and delivery, are equally important in both the mechanical and spiritual aspects of preaching. These two complement each other: great content demands and creates powerful delivery, and efficient delivery illumines the content to its utmost clarity, truthfulness, accuracy, and applicability in everyday life. These two both uphold the preacher during the task of preaching, partnered with the unction of the Holy Spirit. These two should be fully understood and acknowledged by every preacher, and every effort should be utilized to improve in both areas. Hence, let us do our best to write an accurate and relevant sermon, and deliver it with our everything and make room for the Holy Spirit to do His supernatural work of affecting positive change in the lives of the hearers.