Category Archives: Delivery

88 Questions Because Delivery Makes a Difference – III

Questions2Let’s conclude the list of questions to ponder about effective delivery:

14. Are your word choices appropriate for subject and audience?  Is there an appropriate combination of dignity and authenticity?  Do you sound like an academic?  Do you sound like a stereotypical preacher (whichever stereotype comes to mind)?  Are your words understandable, condescending, flippant, crass, attention-seeking, natural, coherent?

15. Do you actually make sense when you speak?  Are your sentences fully there?  Do you rely too much on people to get what you mean, or can you consistently say what you mean?  Do you lose volume or change pace at the end of your sentences?  Do you garble words, or skip them entirely?  Do you rely on awkward filler terms like, well, you know, so, umm, like those?

16. Is what you wear appropriate for your listeners or distracting?  Do you fit with the culture of your church?  What message does your attire give off?  Are listeners thinking about your excessive formality, your unkempt appearance, your distracting clothing choices?

17. Do you have any idiosyncratic quirks that should be eliminated?  It could be in your voice, vocabulary, expression, gesture or movement, but if people have heard you a couple of times, could they name something distracting about your delivery?

18. Is the combination of everything we’ve seen already coming across as genuine?  Do listeners meet the same you when they talk to you afterwards?  Does your spouse or child recognize the person preaching in the pulpit?

19. How goes your prayer about delivery?  Do you pray out of love for self and your reputation?  Do you pray with a heartfelt concern for your listeners?  Do you pray for your fame, or God’s?  Do you pray about delivery at all?

20. What is your strategy for developing as a public speaker?  Do you seek feedback from helpful people?  Do you give them permission to be honest about delivery issues with you?  How often do you listen to yourself preach?  When do you plan to get videotaped and see yourself?  Do you have one or two things that you are consciously working on and praying about at the moment?

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88 Questions Because Delivery Makes a Difference – II

Questions2Continuing our list of 88 questions, grouped into 20 . . . all to nudge us to evaluate our delivery as we preach:

6. What do your feet do while you preach?  Do you pace?  Do you rock forward and back?  Is your natural stance, well, natural?

7. And what about your hands, do they fit with your communication?  Do gestures fit naturally or look forced?  Does time go from left to right or right to left?  Which way do you point when you talk about creation, or Christ’s return?  Do your hands do anything weird, repeatedly?

8. Does your facial expression reflect your heart? (And does your heart reflect Christ’s?)  Do you look angry most of the time?  Do you vary from whatever the default expression is?

9. Do you pause at appropriate moments for sufficient length?  Are your pauses ruined by verbal filler?  Do your pauses give people space to breathe, or do you generate nervousness by your apparent anxiety?

10. Is your pace appropriately varied and is the average about right?  Do you go so fast that people can’t keep up, get breathless, or switch off?  Do you slow down through transitions so that listeners can tell the message has shifted into a new phase?  Do you generally go so slow people get frustrated listening and waiting for you to say something?

11. Does your volume make listening easy?  Can your listeners hear you without effort on their part?  Are you too quiet so that people get tired concentrating?  Are you too loud so listeners feel defensive or annoyed by the power of your presentation?

12. Is the pitch of your voice easy to listen to, and do you vary it?  Would anyone describe you as shrill?  Does your voice sound natural and genuine?  Do you sound robotically stuck, whatever the pitch?

13. Does your posture generate comfort, tension or nervousness?   Do you come across as nervous and twitchy so that listeners feel the same?  Is your posture stiff and awkward so they aren’t sure how to take what you say?  Is your posture aggressive or over-confident so that they feel intimidated in some form?  Would you be ok with a picture of your standard posture being shown around?

And tomorrow we will finish the list!

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88 Questions Because Delivery Makes a Difference

Questions2How many good messages have been wasted by poor delivery?  You’ve probably heard the old statistical misquote that content equates to only 7% of communication.  There are so many flaws in applying that study to preaching, but don’t make the big mistake of thinking that content is somehow only 7% of the equation.  Yes, body language and tone will overwhelm and negate content, but the visual and vocal will never fix or replace the verbal.  Content matters massively.  While a lack of content can’t be fixed by delivery, good content can be lost in delivery.

Here is a quick checklist for self-evaluation.  There are 88 questions grouped into just 20.  Remember, your self-evaluation is probably unrealistic.  You probably think you are doing better than you are.  You think pauses are longer than they feel, tone is more varied than it sounds, smiles are more noticeable than they are.  Nonetheless, evaluation is worth it.  Evaluate your own delivery and look for an area or two to prayerfully focus on and improve.  Also ask a listener or two to look at this list for you – they may be polite, but any hint they give is worth following up on!

1. What does your tone and manner do for the listeners?  Do they feel secure, loved, protected, safe?  Do they get nervous, agitated, upset, or got at?  Your tone and your manner make a big difference to the listeners, so do you think about these elements of your preaching?

2. Does your delivery flow, or does it feel like you get stuck?  Why?  Can you maintain momentum through the whole message in a natural way?  If you get stuck, can you handle that without generating nerves in others?  Do you know when you typically get stuck?  Does explaining the text trip you up more, or is it thinking applicationally?

3. How is your eye contact?  Are you looking at notes, over peoples’ heads, at one section of the room only?  Is it fleeting, forced, intense?  Can you look at people without closing your eyes or other awkward habits?  Do you over-stare and create awkward intimacy for some or a sense of aggression to others?  Which part of the room feel ignored as you preach?

4. Speaking of notes, do they really work for you?  Do you know how much you look at them?  When you look at them, do you lose momentum?  Do they enable you to preach unnecessarily complex messages?  Does your preaching feel canned rather than authentic?

5. Does your preaching furniture create unnecessary distance and function as a barrier between you and your listeners?  Could you come out from behind that thing?  Could you communicate better by being on the same level as the listeners?

We will continue the list tomorrow . . .

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Christocentric, Christiconic, …?

img_privilege_3d_02Abraham Kuruvilla’s book, Privilege the Text, offers a theological hermeneutic for preaching.  I have surveyed the book here and offered some review here.  Today I would like to nudge our thinking in respect to AK’s suggestion that we replace a Christocentric approach with a Christiconic approach.  That is, rather than trying to see Christ in every text of Scripture, we should see a facet of Christ’s perfect morality in every text, and as we present that theologically derived “divine demand,” the hope is that our listeners will be moved to align themselves with it and thus become progressively sanctified into the image of Christ (hence, “christ-iconic”).

What I took too many words to state last time is that I find this goal entirely too restricted.  The goal of preaching is not my individual, nor even our corporate, conformity to a perfect Christlike morality.  I believe Christian preaching should be looking for a greater transformation than I believe will result from the “Christiconic” model.  Let me suggest some five alternative models, with a few comments.  Please note that the morality desired in the “Christiconic” model is surpassed, rather than dismissed, in these suggestions:

1. Christotelic (Seeing Christ as the goal of Scripture) – Perhaps we should be aiming to preach individual texts in such a way that the goal of all Scripture (Christ) is not superimposed on and forced into a text, but is honoured as the goal of the whole?  I know that this can fall foul of some warnings included in Kuruvilla’s book relating to Christocentric models that don’t privilege and honour the preaching text.  I agree that there is a risk of the specifics in a pericope being “swallowed up in the capacious canvas of [Redemptive-Historical] interpretation.” (p240)  Fair point, but again, John 5 should sound sufficient warning at the danger of interpreting a text with a goal of self-improvement, while missing the person of Christ.  Let me push on to more explicit labels for our ponderings.

2. Christodoxological (Preaching that aims at the worship of Christ) – Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess.  Let’s preach Bible texts in such a way that rather than pointing to ourselves and emphasizing our need to apply them, we are pointing to a Christ so captivating and wonderful that he is worshipped.  And what about if it is not obvious how to preach Christ in the text at hand?  Feel free to preach Theodoxologically, showing how the text reveals God.  (And if you make sure you are preaching the “person” rather than just truthful assertions, then in many ways you are “preaching Christ” even while avoiding forcing the text into a mold it did not sign up to be in.)

Tomorrow I’ll offer three more suggestions for our thoughts.

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Courage and Preaching Tone

ToneHead2This series of posts has pondered the issue of preaching tone.  I’ve suggested we should understand the tone of a text and consider carefully the tone of the message.  Communication between people is rarely, if ever, purely informational.  Communication from God is never dispassionate.  He cares about people who will listen to our preaching.  So as well as considering the tone of the text, the situation of the listeners, and the tendencies of ourselves as preachers, we also need to pursue God’s heart in respect to the sermon.  What does God want to happen?  What tone would reflect his concern for the situation?

So to finish, let me highlight a danger and then two things to pray . . .

Danger: Considering the tone of a presentation is vitally important, but it does open up the dangerous possibility of inauthenticity.  If I am going to say something important to my wife, I would be foolish to not consider how the tone will come across.  But once I start thinking about tone, there is always the danger of faking something and launching into a performance.  When it comes to preaching, a performance never represents God well because God does not pretend.  God does not fake emotion.  When God speaks, God speaks with pure and authentic passion.  If we pursue “effective preaching” by looking at matters of tone, then we are in danger of inauthenticity unless we are gripped by the conviction that we must represent God not only in what we say, but by our character as we speak.  Though flawed and broken, somehow we get to speak for God.  Ambassadors.  We represent.  This kind of danger demands that we be prayerful about the privilege of preaching.

Prayer Point 1: Discernment.  Pray for God to give you discernment.  To be able to discern the intent of the biblical author and the need of your listeners.  And to be able to discern God’s heart for them, as well as God’s perspective on you.  Instead of asking God to be able to discern the state of your own heart as you approach a preaching engagement, better to ask him to do the searching and trying and weighing and to lead you into a place where you can preach in a way that represents his heart most effectively.

Prayer Point 2: Courage.  It is much safer and easier to preach dispassionately as if preaching were mere presentation of material.  Arms length.  Uninvolved.  But preaching calls on us to love people enough to be real with them.  It calls us to preach as one who represents Christ the Word of God.  Just as Christ was not universally loved by the lost and by the religious, so we might find our hearts trampled as we give ourselves away in preaching ministry.  That takes courage.  Pray for it, because the Lord knows what its like to represent the Father well and to suffer as a result.

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Preaching and the Tone of the Message

ToneHead2So assuming we agree that the tone matters, how are we to arrive at the tone of a message?  Three steps are needed here:

1. Consider the tone of the text.

As we develop sensitivity to the text and the setting of the text, we should be increasingly effective at grasping the tone of the author.  We need to go for a humble confidence rather than a brash confidence in this.  We are looking at lots of factors and weighing them up.

2. Consider the listeners to the message.

Who are you preaching to, and what is the occasion of the sermon?  Sometimes the occasion will influence the tone significantly (i.e. a funeral), sometimes it will be less significant.  It is not enough, though, to figure out the tone of the text and replicate that.  That text needs to be preached with sensitivity to these listeners.

3. Consider yourself as a preacher.

What is your natural or default tone?  Do you have a theological bias?  For instance, do you see everything as duty and expectation?  Do you see everything as gentle and joyful?  Do you turn any passage into a guilt trip?  The better you know yourself, the better you will be at selecting tone on purpose rather than defaulting into a tone that is less than helpful.

When you have evaluated all these factors, then there is still a bit more to consider.  Next time I’ll blog about the dangers and the needs as we think about preaching tone.

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Preaching Tones and Texts

ToneHead2This series is not about “adding tone” to lifeless letters and words.  It is about recognizing the tone of the text, and then being sensitive to the impact of our tone as we preach that text.  Here are a couple of example contrasts:

1. Tone of writer: Galatians and 2 Timothy.  This is perhaps the two extremes in Paul’s writing.  In Galatians Paul is very upset about the false teachers.  He forsakes convention to deliver a stinging astonishment statement in 1:6 instead of the standard thanksgiving opening.  In chapter 3 he is questioning who has cast a spell on the believers who he obviously loves deeply, but is so concerned about.  And by chapter 5 he makes the strongest remark in all of his writings, again about the false teachers.

Compare that with the sensitivity of Paul in his later letter to Timothy, beloved Timothy.  He writes about false teachers there too, but the tone is completely different.  He is concerned, he is deliberate, he is urgent, but he is gentle at the same time.  Paul wanted both letters to get through – one as a wake-up call, the other as an encouragement.

2. Imposed tone of preacher: Hebrews and Ephesians.  One example of how we can impose a tone that contradicts the material we are preaching can be seen when we think about these two letters.  Hebrews is a sermonic message designed to encourage and warn.  It startles.  It urges.  It paints pictures and explains a small number of specific Old Testament texts in such a way as to urge the believers on.  But preachers can bring in a foreign tone – one of theologically dense intensity that loses the energy of the original letter/sermon.

Or think about Ephesians.  The opening sentence in 1:3-14 is abundant in language choice.  The grace of God seen in the choosing, the giving of the Son, the giving of the Spirit, is lavished on believers.  And what might we do with it?  To be honest, too many of us turn it into a sterile detailed presentation of a theological doctrine triggered by one or two key words in the passage.  I wonder if the Ephesian elders would recognize our presentation of it?

Tone matters.  The tone of the text.  And the tone of the preacher.

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Your Default Preaching Tone

ToneHead2When you preach, you probably have a default tone.  Most of us do.  If we are going to preach the Bible effectively, we need to get to know the tone of the text and the tone that we will default to using.  Only then can we think through effective communication in respect to the tone of the sermon.

So what is your default tone?  Here are a few possibilities to get us started.  You should certainly listen to yourself on a recording, and you would be wise to ask some listeners how they would describe it!

A. Dull Deliverer - This preacher is generally flat in tone.  Not much variation, not much energy, not much life.  This is a hard one to spot in the mirror as we tend to find ourselves more compelling than others do.

B. Energizer Engager - This is the opposite: pure energy and continual variation in tone (albeit mostly enthusiasm).  Massive energy, excessive movement, a tiring experience for most listeners, unless they are so relieved by the contrast it provides to a diet of dull deliverers, then they will be complimentary for a while.

C. Critical Cleric - This preacher is generally judgmental in tone.  Whatever the text, whatever the situation, whatever the opportunity for leadership and encouragement, the message will probably come across as a finger wagging critique of the listeners or the culture.  As with every default, this will get some affirmation. You can critique culture mercilessly in a way that would unhelpfully offend any visitor, but some in the congregation will celebrate you “saying it like it is” or something similar.  Don’t evaluate tone on feedback, but do get feedback to evaluate the tone!

D. Gym General - This preacher is similar to the Critical Cleric, but the emphasis is on pressurizing the listeners.  Instead of just critiquing, there is a continual arm twisting going on.  No amount of application is ever enough, so do more, more, more.  Again, some people are attracted by fleshly ascetic religiosity, so this approach will be affirmed.  That doesn’t make it healthy though.

E. Cheery Chatterer - This preacher looks like he thinks he is in a wedding photo shoot.  Upbeat, smiling incessantly, nice and happy, perhaps even plastic in tone.  It is good to smile and be warm.  It is good to connect with your listeners.  It is good to remember that the God we represent should be evident in our manner and demeanor.  Consequently, let’s be careful not to come across as simply cheery all the time.  God is good, but He is not an unauthentic salesperson.

F. Rushed Reteller - This preacher has more to say than time to say it.  Consequently everything has to go at a clip in order to fit.  Information transfer gives way to information statement and all aspects of effective delivery give way to the one over-riding goal of saying the message.

What would you add to this list of default preaching tones?  There are many more out there.

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Preaching The Tone

ToneHead2I’d like to point our thoughts to the issue of tone in preaching.  Not just our tone, but also the tone of the text.  Let’s start there.

Good Bible Study – Good Bible study methodology has to include awareness of context, both written and historical, as well as content, both details and flow of thought.  In fact, that is a fairly good summary of good inductive Bible study.  Looking at both context and content, we try to make sense of a passage.  If we lose any of those four elements, we won’t understand it properly.

Without historical context/setting, we will import our own culture into the meaning of the text.  Without written context we will pluck passages from the larger flow of thought in their particular book.  Without attention to flow of thought we will be explaining apparently random details and probably using them to springboard to our own systematic theology categories.  Without attention to details we will make errors in grasping the meaning.

Better Bible Study – As good as context and content are, without looking at the author’s intent we will not really grasp the meaning of a passage.  Again, there are at least two broad indicators of intent:

1. Stated intent – if the writer tells us why he is writing and what he is trying to achieve, that is great.

2. Tone of text – this is more subjective, but there will be plenty of clues in the text.  Unless we ponder the tone of the text, I would argue that we are not in a position to claim understanding or to write down the main idea of the passage.

Tone Matters – In any communication tone matters.  Every spouse knows this.  Every child knows this.  Every friend knows this.  And in written communication, tone is not always easy to spot.  How many times have people misunderstood your emails or text (do you even know?)  I can’t imagine that the Bible writers were oblivious to tone in their writing, and they probably gave attention to the tone that they intended to communicate.

Before we can preach a passage effectively, we need to understand it.  Before we can understand it, we need to pay attention to the tone.

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One Step Closer

SteppingForward2Sometimes taking one step forward can make a huge difference.  Instead of remaining at arms length, one step can cross numerous boundaries of personal space and move you into a zone of great importance – this is true in romance, in fighting, in conversation, and in preaching.

Beginning preachers, and some that have preached for years, tend to preach their message at arms length. Some do so by some sort of conviction, others more unawares.  They study and prepare, but it is all about the notes.  From the Bible to the notes to the people.  Arms length. Somehow there is a nervousness about this thing out there called the message.  The preacher is anxious about saying the right words and that anxiety sometimes shows.  Even without showing overtly, it does leave the message somewhat flat, just about the words.

But one step forward can make such a difference.  If the entire process of Bible study, message preparation and delivery can all be brought inside the personal space, the preaching is very different.  Instead of something the preacher is straining to not forget, now the message comes from the heart.  Instead of preaching being truth preached by a personality (often a stilted personality trying to remember the message), now the message can be truth through personality.  Instead of a message being handled at arms length from the Bible text to the listeners, via the notes of the preacher, now the message comes through the preacher with the force of the life transforming power of the Word – clear and unhindered.

I am not really writing about notes.  More about whether the Bible is a curiosity and data source, a professional tool, or a personal treasure from a God who moves intimately into our personal space to wreck our self-absorbed worlds, bring about massive transformation and a deep intimacy.  I am suggesting our message preparation should be a unique experience for each of us, rather than following the checklist of someone else’s model.  I am saying that our delivery should come from the totality of a gripped heart and life in transformation, rather than being a mere transfer of information from notes to listeners.

It’s hard to pin down exactly how one message can be preached at arms length, while another comes through the heart of the preacher.  Yet as a listener it is usually not so hard to tell the difference.

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