Continuing our walk through twelve points of advice from John Wesley. So far we’ve looked at numbers 1-2, and numbers 3-5. Let’s move on…
6. Speak justly, readily, clearly… Clearness in particular is necessary…because we are to instruct people of the lowest understanding… Constantly use the most common, little, easy words (so they are pure and proper) which our language affords. Most of us are not preaching to uneducated miners like Wesley did, but don’t let out-of-date phrasing obscure the point he is making. Our job as preachers is to communicate, not to show off. If you don’t have a theological and grammatical terminology that is higher than your preaching vocabulary, then you are either aiming too high with your words, or you are too weak in your study. Say the profound things that the Bible says. And say those things in the simplest way possible. Even if ten PhD’s walk into your church, you still need to preach so that people with the least understanding (by means of their education, church being an alien environment, English not being their first language, or whatever) will be able to understand what you are saying. Be clear. Simple.
7. Beware of clownishness… Avoid all lightness, jesting, and foolish talking. Again, good advice. There is a place for humour in preaching, but we do need to be very wary of entertaining or making the sermon about us. I suspect that if we avoid jesting and foolish talk, as well as clownishness, then we are on safe ground. We don’t have to come across as sombre in every moment, but we should speak as if we have a very important message to convey – which we do if we are preaching the text properly. We need to be wary of inappropriate formality. Just as wearing a tuxedo can feel out of place, so can a strange and affected formal tone or a presentational gravitas that is not consistent with our personality and natural demeanour. In our fear of jesting, let’s not come across as unloving, lacking in warmth, or out of touch with the room.
8. Never scream. Never speak above the natural pitch of your voice. This was probably a greater concern before amplification equipment. Nevertheless, this point still applies. There is a natural upper limit to your pitch, your power, and even your pace. Don’t go above that level to achieve some kind of emphasis. The screamer seldom communicates anything other than a loss of control. In fact, it is good to consciously work on going down instead of up for emphasis. Down in pitch. Down in power. Slow down the pace. Emphasis sounds very natural in the opposite direction, but it takes unnatural work to develop the skill! And even more foundationally, your emphasis and impact is not ultimately determined by your vocal delivery, but by God’s Spirit bringing conviction to your listeners.
Next time we will finish the list.