Most people almost perish at the thought of public speaking. As only the statisticians can say, most people would choose death over public speaking (a good twisting of a statistic). But for those of us who preach, presumably we aren’t petrified of public speaking any more. Perhaps instead our fear might be turned toward performing.
As a preacher we study an ancient text, determine its main idea and its contemporary relevance, then design a message to communicate both the meaning and the relevance to the congregation who will sit before us on Sunday morning. Our goal is not to fill time, but to see people marked by God’s Word and to see lives transformed. If we’re honest, there are ways to generate some sort of response. It is not out of our reach to spin a story a certain way in order to turn the emotions of our listeners, or ask a rhetorical question that we know will poke a nerve of guilt in them. So how are we to avoid stepping up to the pulpit and treating it like a stage?
1. Give preparation time to soak. Last minute preparation will lead to last minute desperation wherein “preaching tactics” will seem like our only hope. We must be diligent to begin the study and thinking process early enough for a message or a series to soak in before we must pour out. Even if all we can do is to start reading and making some notes ahead of time, it is worth it. Performance is lines through an actor, but preaching is truth through personality (Phillips Brooks succinct definition). Allow time for the preparation to become a part of who you are so that you preach something you truly believe and know deep down, because it has already deeply marked you.
2. Prepare more, not less. In the quest for “natural” delivery, it may be tempting to prepare less. The hope is that what comes out will be less of a performance and more “from the heart.” The reality is that unprepared preaching will often lean heavily on our own abilities. It is better to craft, to sweat, to wrestle, to pray, to think and to think some more. As I have written before, in an ideal world it is best to write out a manuscript in full and edit it closely and prayerfully. All that extra work will result not in performance, but genuine preaching “from the heart” as well as “from the text” – choosing to do minimal work will compromise both the text and your heart, leaving only any performance skills you may have.
3. Pray. Not just a “bless this effort” prayer, but real prayer. Personal wrestling with the God who is at work in you first. Persistent wrestling for those who will receive the message. There is a great spiritual battle raging around you and around them. Let us not fight in the pulpit a battle we have not first heavily engaged in the closet.