Can preachers learn from non-preachers about how to preach? We do need to be very careful about using “tricks of the trade,” or as Paul put it “wisdom of words.” However, there are some basic preparation and delivery skills that we can safely learn from good public speakers in different walks of life.
Take, for example, the pattern of preparation that Tony Morgan sets out in How I write a conference talk. So many sermons could be improved by following these basic building blocks. One line that I especially put my “Amen” to is: “For me to be a better communicator, I’ve learned I need to sweat the outline.” Although I didn’t get so much from Peter Bubriski’s post on how to Improve your public speaking, I did appreciate two of his emphases:1. Don’t approach speaking like an actor: “To be a better public speaker, you just need to get out of your own way, so we can see you for who you really are. Glimpsing that authentic core can be riveting.”2. Approach speaking like an sportsman: “With a sport, you’re not pretending to be someone else. You are training your body and your mind to achieve feats of skill — building your muscle memory with drills and repetition.”And, lastly, which preacher can’t identify with and benefit from this post on Writing under pressure. It begins:
If ridiculous deadlines knot your gut and give you tunnel vision causing you to miss even basic errors, this is for you. But even if you’re an adrenaline junkie, needing the pressure to perform, it’ll help you, too, because it’s all about process.
Clear, familiar processes are lifesavers when you’re under pressure and not thinking straight. So, as pilots practice emergency drills until they’re second nature, try to internalize the process below – print it, look at it daily, use it often – so that when you’re under the pump you’ll do it automatically.
Here’s a summary of the first four steps of the process:
Objective: Clarify what you want to achieve. “Begin with the end in mind” (Stephen Covey).
Readers: Stand in their shoes. If you were them, what would interest you about this?
Dump: Do a brain dump. Quickly jot down your points as bullets, in any order.
Signpost: Next, highlight your major points and write snappy subheads above them.
I’ve got a funny feeling that by lunchtime tomorrow I’ll be glad I read that article.
Download here. If you’ve not listened to Connected Kingdom before, may I encourage you to start with this interview of Mary Kassian. Mary is a professor, writer, and speaker who specializes in the role of women in the family, culture, and the church. She really is a great counter-cultural thinker, a superb writer, and a lively personality. As the father of two young girls (aged 8 & 7), I found some of her advice profoundly helpful.
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Various Old and New Testament believers are set forth as examples of courageous believing, speaking, and doing: Moses before Pharaoh, Joshua before the Jordan, Rahab before the soldiers, David before Goliath, Nathan before David, Elijah before the prophets of Baal, John the Baptist before Herod, Paul before his accusers, etc. But of course our supreme example of courage is Christ Himself, and he demonstrated that in many arenas:
Courage in evangelism: He came to sinners with an authoritative summons: “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”
Courage in preaching: He addressed the most powerful religious leaders of the day as a “generation of vipers” and told them that woe was coming upon them unless they repented.
Courage in private: He was not just brave when everyone else was watching but also when no one else was there. Witness his truth-full dealings with Nicodemus at night, and with the Samaritan woman at the well.
Courage in dealing with his friends and family: Some men find it easy to be frank and fearless with their enemies, but Christ was frank and fearless with those closest to him as well.
Courage in reforming the church: He cleansed the temple of greedy businessmen with a scourge of leather, and of greedy pharisees with the scourge of his tongue.
Courage in the public square: Christ was not afraid to raise his voice in public, and speak up for the poor and against the abuse of power.
Courage in fighting the devil: Christ knew at times that the devil was about to step up his attacks, yet he did not flinch; rather he faced it head on.
Courage in crises: Christ continually faced the threat of physical pain and ultimately of death itself, yet “steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem.”
Tomorrow we’ll look at how we can imitate our great hero in these different arenas.
The pastor will face many difficult, daunting, demanding, and, sometimes, dangerous situations – both outside the church and inside the church. That’s why the military model of leadership is used so commonly in Scripture. It also addresses the perennial issue of cowardice in the ministry.
But it’s not just a ministry problem. Apart from some notable exceptions – mainly in the military and the emergency services – most people are cowards. We avoid danger. We walk away from conflict. We prefer comfort and ease to sacrifice and pain. And Christians especially may have a tendency towards timidity rather than bravery. Fear comes more naturally than faith. Why is this? Let me suggest seven reasons: 1. The Holy Spirit has wrought a new tenderness and sensitivity in the Christian’s heart. The sanctified Christian feels things more deeply than he used to. He used to watch war films with cold and steely hardness. Now the loss of precious life pains him to the core of his being and moves him to tears. Suffering and death impact him much more than before. He is much more sensitive to the impact of his words and actions on others. And others’ words and actions also affect him much more now.2. An unbalanced teaching emphasis on Christian humility, patience, love, and peacemaking. This imbalance in many churches, tends to produce weak and timid Christian leaders that are characterized by retreat, hesitancy, and indecision.3. Pastors are dependent on the voluntary givings of their congregations. Unlike CEO’s or civil leaders, they have no financial or judicial levers of power to pull. They cannot sack or jail disobedient or problematic members! They have probably tried to address problems before, and the person or family (and their money) have just moved to the church next door.4. When a pastor takes a public stand, it usually results in media misrepresentation and a backlash of opposition on the local or even national level. This embarrasses the more nominal members of his church, while others hint that his hard-line views are hindering evangelism and outreach.5. A pastor often has to take decisions alone. Even when there is a plurality of elders, the buck often stops at the pastor. It is much harder to be brave alone! Even with a plurality of elders, it is usually down to the teaching elder to initiate programs, begin reformation, and execute the elders’ decisions. 6. The risk of persecution. In some contexts, there is a very real possibility of persecution, of suffering loss if we are faithful to the cross of Christ. Sometimes a pastor may be willing to face this, but his wife isn’t.7. The old sinful nature. The Christian pastor still has the remnants (and sometimes much more than a remnant) of a sinful nature that usually prefers easy compromize rather than courageous confrontation. These tendencies explain why we need the more aggressive and offensive (as in going on the offensive) model of the courageous captain, and why the military metaphor is so common in Scripture. It is used in the Old Testament (Josh. 1:6,9,18) and in the New Testament (1 Cor. 9:26; 1 Tim. 6:12; 2 Tim. 1:7; 2:3-4). And, of course Christ Himself is called the Captain of our salvation (Heb. 2:10).Captain implies authority, bravery, and a proven track record. In pastoral ministry, these take a while to develop. The office or role does not bestow it on a man automatically. He has to earn his stars. And he does so not by keeping his powder dry for major battles of his choosing, but by courageously marching into the small battles that God decides to send his way in the early days of his ministry. As these battles are faced and won, the pastor will grow in stature and gain the respect of the congregation. His authority will also grow as they see him more and more like Christ in character, word and action.Tomorrow we will look at some examples of courageous leadership.
Whitney Johnson gives us a clue in responding to a similar question, “What’s the essence of a great presentation?”Her answer: “Connection not perfection.”I’m sure we’ve all sat through “perfect” sermons (or even preached them), that simply never connected. The perfect manuscript was perfectly read. The perfect hand gestures jived with perfect tone and volume. Perfect illustrations supported perfect applications. But no connection. The preacher was in his perfect world and we were in our imperfect world. And not once did the two bubbles meet.How does this happen?Johnson says it always happens when the speaker’s focus is on his performance rather than his audience’s benefit. She describes how her own presentation skills dramatically improved when she stopped thinking about impressing – How am I doing? Do I sound good? – and started thinking about helping and serving her clients.
In setting aside the script and focusing on the client’s bottom line, instead of our own, we lay the groundwork for a long-lasting rapport. Of course, it is essential that we are well prepared and know our material cold; however, knowledge alone is insufficient. Moving away from a scripted, pundit-style, one-size-fits-all message, we will certainly make mistakes. But, the only real mistake is thinking that these slip-ups equal failure. If we focus on the audience, not ourselves, whether in a one-on-one meeting or a packed auditorium, we’ll deliver a crowd-pleasing, even praiseworthy, performance every time: because success is ultimately about connection, not perfection.
So why not set aside the manuscript from time to time – or at least rely less upon it – and try to connect more, even at the expense of a few verbal slip-ups.
There are many in our pews who would gladly sacrifice some pulpit perfection for some personal connection.