A Fear Worth Facing

I think there is one fear that preachers may have, but may be unwilling to face.  It’s also true of struggling school teachers, or any public speaker.  It is the fear that the listeners may have already left the room, even though their bodies are still sat there.

The signs are obvious – fidgeting, vacant stares, shuffling, unusual levels of coughing or yawning, raised eyebrows, longing looks toward the clock on the wall or the watch on the wrist.  It may be that some people will wish they were somewhere else no matter what you do.  But what if the number grows from the few relatively unreachables to cross the line into an unacceptable range?

Some speakers may, I suspect, have a deep awareness of this reality every time they preach.  But it must be hard to see it for what it is.  Much safer to speak of spiritual warfare, or to critique the congregation, or to have a pithy grabber about Jeremiah and other unloved prophets, or to pretend the problem is not there at all.  But if it is, it is.

Perhaps some preachers would have the courage to take the faith step of calling it what it is.  If you are not engaging the listeners, be honest about that in your prayers.  I don’t recall who said it is a sin to bore people with the Bible, but I’m inclined to agree.

What if you’re not consistently boring, but dip your toe in now and then like most of us?  Then perhaps it is worth thinking about what it takes to engage a gathering of listeners.  It is important to be faithful to the text, but it is something other than that.  It is important to be clear in your content and delivery, but it is more than that.  It is important to be relevant in your message, but it is more than that.  It is the human to human communication characteristic of being engaging.

Possible ingredients to add to faithful, clear and relevant content, in no particular order: energy, smile, humour, confidence, gentleness, humility, authority, sensitivity, warmth, eye contact, vocal variation, naturalness, authenticity, laughter, affection, poise, and you can probably add to the list . . .

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4 thoughts on “A Fear Worth Facing

  1. Thanks Peter for addressing this pertinent topic for those of us who are called to engage our hearers in a monologue and will most likely have to face this fear. Many will, as you said, excuse their lack of ability to capture their hearers by pointing to spiritual warfare or something else but should probably own up to the fact that they are a good portion of the problem. I know that I have personally wrestled with this fear and continue to be work at engaging the congregation. There is one ingredient which has helped me to more consistently have those ingredients which you enumerated and that is passion. Passions is a characteristic that is essential in being an engaging preacher. But is must be a passion to communicate the truths that we have personally been impacted by in our study of the text we are preaching. This truth crystalized in my mind as I was working with a couple men in the congregation who are desiring to move towards full time ministry who had studied well but left people yawning in their seats. So it came about as I was attempting to assist these men to be more engaging in their communication that I had to figure out how to communicate to them in a kind and compassionate way that they were boring and what they needed was to exude a passion about what they had learned. The initial comment they made about their lack of passion was that they were not like me and that they did not want to manufacture passion as some kind of a product or put on an act as if their ministry was some type of performace. This is certainly understandable and right but still there was a need for them to be passionate about their message. What better way to communicate to them than share with them my own struggle as preacher and what had assisted me. If we think that what we need is to communicate the truths we have discovered in the scriptures with passion then we will have to be passionate about that information. But it is not merely to be the information that we found in the truth that we are to be passionate about but the Person Who is TRUTH! When we as preachers are passionate about the Person who we have personally encountered in the Word of God then we will have passion. When we understand at the heart of the Bible is the person of Jesus and that every text creates the shadow of the cross and that every text bisects our own experiences in a fallen and sinful world and shows us our need for Jesus, then what we have is a relevant and needed message. When we have come to understand that every text points to Jesus and it is in discovering how a particular text does so we will be able to along with Paul, to determine to preach nothing but Christ and Him crucified. When we are able to do this, then we will have a much more natural energy, warmth, naturalness, authenticity and affection in our preaching. Oh, how we need more of this kind of passionate communication in the Church.

  2. Great thoughts. I sometimes feel akin to stand up comedians when I preach. When a comic bombs, it’s bad, no on is laughing or clapping, they’re just waiting for it all to be over. But the comic still has material and they slog on through to the end. I’ve slogged to the end of a few sermons where I feel my pace quickening and my face reddening as I try to make the hurting stop quickly.

    Thinking about what engages people, I’ve been saying for some time that visual communication is key to engaging with people. But I used to mean that you need to use PowerPoint to do that. Now I’m moving toward a sense that visual communication is any technique that causes the audience to see what you are saying, be it with projected images, vivid stories, or live examples. It is hugely important to create a visual impact in the hearers so the message can be fully received.

  3. James, I have also found that visual language engages the minds eye of the listeners and is one of the most effective ways to engage the people. I began to understand this when we did an exercise in seminary. We were to read any of the famous sermons out of “Treasury of the Worlds Greatest Sermons” and evaluate what it was that made them great. What began to surface was those men used common and vivid imagery to engage the minds eyes of their hearers.
    There is a good book worth reading that illustrates this called “Expository Preaching with Word Pictures” by Jack Hughes. It is worth reading.

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