Many preachers are like a light switch when it comes to passion, it’s either flipped on or off, either talking or yelling. To more effectively use passion in your preaching, think of it as a dimmer switch with various levels of passion and smooth transitions from one to the other.
Calvin Miller, in his book Preaching: The Art of Narrative Exposition, points out six ways to preach with passion, each with its own spot on the dimmer switch:
Ask yourself how [the six purveyors of passion] must be used in your preaching to convince your audience that you feel strongly about your subject. Consider how these six elements of passion might be used to connote how you want your audience to feel the resurrection Let us take the account of John 20:1-2, 11, 16-17.
“Early on the first day of the week, while it was dark” (John 20:1a).
They said nothing as they walked. Silence. Aching silence. Heavy, breaking, agonizing silence. He was dead – dead – dead.
“Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance” (John 20:1b).
Tears, hot, cutting, desperate. He was not there.
“But Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb” (John 20:11).
“So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” (John 20:2).
They have taken the Lord!
“Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabonni!’ (which means Teacher)” (John 20:16).
Mary cried out at this point. The volume must keep pace.
“So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved…” (John 20:2)
Mary came running (let the rhetoric pick up speed).
Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia! Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
This is but a tiny model of the aspects of passion but is valid in all the rhetorical aspects that compose passion. Use each aspect only when the text or your feeling about it connotes passion.
But anywhere you suspect that you’re saying things louder than you feel them, then you need to rein in your rhetoric with conservative humanity and let the other aspects of passion show their stuff. But getting loud and staying loud is neither true humanity nor good homiletics.
What I appreciate most about Miller’s model for passion is that it takes its cues from the text. It is not so much a response to a disinterested audience – I’m losing them, I better whip up some passion to get their attention back – but a response to the passage. When you respond with passion to what the passage says, your congregation will respond to God’s word, not to you. Which I think is the goal of preaching in the first place.