In this Q&A Panel, Sinclair Ferguson (30:50-34:30) laments that many preachers never develop the humility to train their voices. This is how he puts it:

The voice is the instrument that employs the words and the voice needs to be sanctified, needs to be developed, the ability to use it needs it to be developed. It’s part of your sanctification.

He commends the practice of testing out different voices as you read the  same words and then says:

Just as we are to grow in grace and make progress in our gifts, we need to encourage younger men not to assume they’ve got all the necessary gifts, nor that, of course, they’re able to use their voice because they’ve been called to preach.

He notes the lack of pathos in much contemporary preaching…

which means that the preaching is going to be instructional and cognitive….We really need to see that pathos is an important element and its got to do with the way the use of the voice matches the teaching of Scripture if its going to be communicated vocally to living souls who are emotional as well as cerebral individuals.

I couldn’t agree more with Dr. Ferguson. If the voice is unimportant, we should just get Siri to preach for us. Reformed seminarians and pastors seem to be strangely reluctant to develop this talent with a view to maximizing the impact of their teaching on their hearers.

But where to start? Do what Dr. Ferguson suggests. Just get a paragraph and read it out in as many different ways as you can. I get students to do a form of this. I ask them to speak on a verse for a few minutes without notes and to do so as if their life depended on it. Some still manage to be executed.

Or try this NPR video. Don’t dismiss the techniques as silly or a gimmick. Something similar to the first breathing exercise saved my voice from burning out in my first congregation and continues to influence the way I speak even in everyday life. It’s amazing how just getting the air coming from the right place opens up so many vocal possibilities.

Of course, this is not just for preachers but for anyone who has a role in publicly teaching the Bible.

  • Les

    I wonder how George Whitefield trained for his feats of preaching to large audiences.

  • Benjamin Glaser

    I’ve listened to a lot of preaching lectures at various Reformed seminaries, not once have I ever heard this excellent idea.