Why Being Natural Feels Unnatural

I hope you’ll forgive another oldie from the archives – this is from 2007:

While this may not be true in every culture, many have little time for “pulpiteering” these days.  The appearance of performance is significantly off-putting to those who place high value on genuine, vulnerable, honest and natural speaking styles.  People do not appreciate the sales patter of a car dealer or the obvious reading of a script in a phone conversation.  And in many churches the ranting, prancing or different enunciation of earlier generations is long gone.  But the key to being both natural and effective is not simply to relax.

As a general rule, the bigger the congregation, the bigger the gesture.  This can feel unnatural.  Yet the goal is not for you to feel natural, but for the listeners and observers to feel that it is natural.  Consequently a “natural” small gesture might look ridiculous to those in the pews.  It may feel natural to point to the left in reference to the past and gesture to the right when speaking of Christ’s return, but this is not effective as it looks awkward to the congregation.  After a while, the gesturing from right to left for time or logical progression starts to feel natural to the speaker, but only after thought and repetition.

As a general rule, a group of people require more repetition and restatement for concepts to formulate in their consciousness.  This can feel unnatural.  In a conversation with a friend it may be enough to say something once, but in a group you must allow several sentences for an initial thought to register, and then several minutes of careful work for the thought to form into something they can see in their minds.  This feels unnatural to you as the speaker, but that’s not the point.  The point is to come across as natural and to be effective in your speaking.

I am not advocating performance.  I am saying that effective preaching takes hard work, thought and much prayer.  Just relaxing doesn’t cut it.  Perhaps the real test of naturalness is the one that comes when the service is over.  As a listener approaches for a conversation, do they get the sense that you are a different person out of the pulpit?  Hopefully not.  Hopefully the switch back into conversational mode will not reveal that you are somehow acting when preaching, and a different person when not preaching.  Effective God-honoring preaching calls for real integrity in the pulpit, in conversation, in private . . . and we should learn our own appropriate communication approaches in each setting.

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