Yesterday I referred to Jay Adams’ suggestion that we can improve our language use best by working on it in everyday life so that it becomes natural. He mentions another aspect of speech that many need to work on. The unnecessary use of, you know, like, filler words. These verbal pauses do a lot to distract listeners and lessen the impact of otherwise pointed and focused speech.
The problem with filler words or verbal pauses is that they only seem to get worse when we focus on them in a time of tension. So simply telling yourself not to say that thing you always say so often is not going to fix it when you’re preaching. In fact, it will probably exacerbate the problem. So Jay Adams suggests working on this at home, with the help of your wife. Have a family member help by making it clear whenever the filler is used. Gradually the added complexity of conversation will motivate you to drop the filler. “Know? I don’t know, could you explain it to me please?” That will really stack up in some of our, you know, conversations. “Like? What was he like, to what would you compare him?” That will complicate a relatively simple interchange!
If you can figure it out, a signal system that is only known to you and your spouse could be used in public settings too. However, Adams suggests this approach be kept to the private sphere if there isn’t total agreement on how to proceed in public!
Eliminating verbal pauses will achieve massive benefits for preaching. But perhaps the time to work on the habit is in the normal situations of life, rather than the pressure cooker situation of preaching. At th end of the day, you know, what have you found helpful in eliminating verbal pauses or distracting cliches?
Jay Adams suggests that improvements in speech should be pursued during everyday life, but not when preparing the message. The reason he gives is that focusing on grammar, phraseology or pronunciation during preparation and delivery is a distraction from the real task at hand. It is better, he suggests, to work on improving your speech during every day life. Over the course of several weeks it is possible to master a new speech habit.
For example, you might need to work on saying “He asks you and me,” rather than “He asks you and I.” By concentrating on this and working on it in everyday situations it will not take too long for it to become a speech habit that will naturally come out while preaching.
Another example is that of storytelling. Every day we can practice telling stories compellingly, with good flow, description and appropriate pausing. We shouldn’t wait for a dramatic life event, but rather choose an experience each day to recount to our families over dinner. Practising the telling of a story in the car can help, and the repeated telling of stories with increasing effectiveness will only help our ability to tell stories during preaching – personal “illustrations” or biblical stories.
Tomorrow I’ll mention another aspect of speech that can be worked on in everyday life.
So as well as excuses and lack of discipline, two more obstacles are worthy of note. As preachers preaching for life change, we must be aware of these obstacles in the listener, obstacles well known to counselors, but relevant to preachers too:
3. Complicating problems. One area of change may be hindered by a related area that complicates matters. For instance preaching on joint prayer in marriage will likely be hindered by general communication problems in marriage. Perhaps another sermon (or series) is needed as a first step, before addressing the first issue.
4. Failure to repent. People may want to be different, but resist repenting for the present sin. Many may desire a life of purity, but persist in impure habits. Many may want to be truth tellers, but still live with unconfessed deception in their lives. Failure to genuinely repent is a common issue, and an obstacle to life change.
Interdisciplinary studies are fashionable these days. Here we see input from the field of Christian counseling for preachers. What others interdisciplinary overlaps do you find helpful as a preacher?
If you’ve ever studied counseling at any level, you will have discovered fairly quickly that counseling is not just for the few. In fact, the case could be made that we are all in need of counseling. We all have inner issues that influence how we live, how we respond to God, how we relate to others, etc. Jay Adams is known for his writing in the area of “Biblical Counseling” or “Nouthetic Counselling.” He makes an interesting point in his chapter on “Counseling and Preaching” in Preaching with Purpose. Whatever school of counseling you ascribe to, I think his point is worth taking onboard.
When we preach applicationally for change in listeners’ lives, there are certain obstacles to overcome. Obstacles well known to the counselor, but just as real for the preacher. Adams lists four in his chapter.
1. Excuses. People resist impetus to change by making excuses. As a preacher it is worth thinking about what excuses may come up, and then rhetorically addressing those excuses biblically during the sermon. It would be a shame to preach a great message, only to have listeners resist change by an excuse that could be easily overcome with a little planning.
2. Lack of discipline. Many preachers experience the polite platitudes of the many, but the definite response of the faithful few (or should I say, the disciplined few?) Most people don’t only need instruction on what to do, but also on how to go about doing it. Since it takes discipline to create new habits, perhaps the preacher needs to help people see the path to change more clearly.
Tomorrow I’ll share the other two obstacles to life change that need to be considered for preaching to be ultimately effective.
I’ve written about style before, but it’s worth revisiting. Not surprisingly, I am resonating with much of what Jay Adams wrote about style back in ’82. The reason I resonate is that I still come across pockets of preaching activity that fall into the three inadequate styles he lists in his book (I will quote and condense):
Preacher’s Style – This is a stilted style pockmarked with King James’s terminology and Elizabethan constructions (beloved, unto, beseech, the person of, babe, vale, etc.) This sort of style, unknown to the apostles, who spoke an elevated (by their content) fish-market Greek, or even the translators of the KJV/AV who wrote exactly as they talked. This style is a modern travesty totally without previous history or biblical warrant. Cleanse your preaching of all such “preachy” language.
Scholastic Style – This technical, super-sophisticated and bookish style is equally unhelpful. The great biblical, theological terms must be used, but not without exlanation, nor should be be used in profusion. Don’t sound like a theological treatise (or an academic essay).
Chatty Style – This approach majors on the slang and jargon of the day and lacks all form and order. Again, Adams sees this as unhelpful to effective communication.
Good preaching style is a plain (but not drab), unaffected (but not unstudied) style that gets in there and gets the job done without calling attention to itself. It should always be clear and appropriate to both content and mood. The best analogy Adams sees is the news reader on TV. Our preaching style should not be lower than this, but should be elevated by its content slightly above this standard style with its standard use of language.
That’s Adams take a generation ago, what now? I know some still choose preachy, scholastic or chatty styles. Is there a better standard than the TV newsreader?
In yesterday’s post I highlighted a helpful point from Jay Adams’ book, Preaching with Purpose, in which he emphasized the need for preaching to all five senses. For some of us this may come easy. For others of us, this will take some real work. Here are a couple of practice exercises that may help.
The Study Search – Adams suggests working within the confines of your study. Touch, smell, taste, listen, and look at everything around you. What does that wood feel like? What does that old book smell like? How does the painkiller tablet taste? What about the sound of the door opening? And that pile of stuff on your desk, what does it look like? Take a few minutes and observe carefully. Perhaps in the process you will come up with numerous similes and anecdotes to vivify your preaching.
The Scripture Search – Take a poetic passage – a psalm or song. Carefully comb through it looking for sensory language or allusions (direct or implied). Make note of ways to preach that text so that the senses are fully engaged. For instance, try Psalm 113 or 133 for starters. Then consider a narrative passage – life is lived with five senses, so this shouldn’t be too hard. What sensory language could be used to communicate this narrative vividly? Perhaps try Luke 15, or Genesis 39.
Just a quick quote today, again taken from Jay Adams, Preaching With Purpose:
Most homiletics books speak about “illustrating” truth and making it “vivid.” But those terms refer to communication by means of appeal to but a single sense: the sense of sight. That failure, so inherent in the very single sense vocabulary of homiletics, has led to dull, lifeless preaching. Of course, there are many dull, lifeless preachers for whom it is difficult to “paint word pictures” that appeal to the sense of sight, let alone learn to help congregations to taste, touch, smell, and even hear with the ear.
I think this is a helpful point. Listeners have five sense and preachers can communicate to every sense by means of carefully chosen words and well-crafted delivery. I remember sitting under the teaching of David Needham, a master of using words and emotion that caused us to salivate as he described the taste, smell and sound of the golden delicious apples of his Californian childhood!
Adams goes on in the same paragraph to make the same point I want to make today. When we appeal to the full range of human senses, we only do what the Bible does so often. Be sure to look carefully in your preaching text for any sense appeal that is already there. Then think carefully about your message, each detail, and how it can deliberately target various senses as you preach.
In his book, Preaching with Purpose, Jay Adams regularly distinguishes lecturing from preaching. One is designed to inform, the other to motivate appropriate response and change. One is about the Bible, the other is about the listeners and God, from the Bible. But does this mean that applicational preachers will say less about the Bible than “lecturers” in a pulpit? Not according to Adams:
The preacher explains the text just as fully as does the lecturer; in fact, more fully. He explains the ‘telos’ as well. Everything of importance that the lecturer might say about the passage (and, lecturing lends itself to by-paths, discussing unimportant details, it must be remembered) the preacher can say also. The difference is in how they handle the same material; the difference is in their orientation and use of it, and in how they say what they say.
So a Bible lecturer in a pulpit may state truth, but the listeners don’t know why they are looking at it when it is presented. The listener to true preaching will know the why as well as the what, of that which is presented.
A call for expository preaching is neither a call for apparently irrelevant informing (even with application tacked on at the end), nor is it a call for applicational messages weak in content.
In order to preach effectively, we must be at home in the world of the Bible, and in the world of our people. We need to know them. Jay Adams, in Preaching with Purpose, suggests three principal ways to analyze the congregation to whom we preach. Perhaps it’s worth evaluating our own ministry through these categories to see where we might be missing out on helpful understanding of our listeners?
1. Informal contact with people. More than just rubbing shoulders on a Sunday or in church activities (where people tend to act the way they feel they should), this means getting into the normal lives of the people in the church. Spending time with people at home, at work and at play is time well spent. Without probing or surveying, plenty of useful insight will emerge in this natural environment.
2. Counseling contact with people. Not surprisingly from Jay Adams, he sees the value of counseling people. Obviously confidentiality must be respected, but analysis of counseling notes will point to trends, concerns, areas of struggle. He points out that just as preachers are helped by counseling, so counselors are helped by preaching. If a counselor does not preach then they are in danger from not doing the deliberate and regular biblical exegesis they need to be biblically solid in their ministry.
3. Formal contact with people. Finally, Adams advocates for doing systematic, deliberate analysis of the congregation. When first arriving in a church it is important to analyze the congregation and review the diet they have received from the pulpit. Then regular surveys of key people, probing of elders, and so on, all helps to fill in the picture for the preacher.
Do we take “audience analysis” seriously? Is there one approach, of these three, that needs more deliberate effort on our part?
I am continuing to read Jay Adams book Preaching with Purpose (1982). Chapters 5 and 6 concern selecting a preaching portion, but point beyond stage 1 to the oft-neglected stage 3 in my process – passage purpose. Adams points out that a preaching passage has unity not because of literary convention, or by rhetorical fiat and received homiletical tradition. A preaching passage has unity because of the author’s purpose (“telically speaking” – major emphasis on the term “telos” and “telic” in Adams!)
Each book has an overarching goal, or perhaps several main goals. Some books state that goal (see John 20:30-31, 1John5:13), while in others it is through studying the whole that the goals become apparent. It is the preacher’s task to determine what that overarching goal is, then also to determine what the specific purpose in the indiviual passage is. This individual passage purpose will relate to the overarching goal(s). What was the author intending to achieve? Was this section to inform, to convince or to motivate? (Three developmental questions in Adams form)
So often preachers study the passage content, but give little or no attention to passage intent. Without the intention or purpose of the author, the passage remains a collection of content details. When we add in to the study process the critical element of passage purpose, then we are able to genuinely understand the passage, and hopefully, to beneficially preach the passage. Without passage purpose, a message is likely to pull a passage out of context and misrepresent the intention of the content. As I’ve written elsewhere, the message purpose does not have to match the passage purpose, but it does have to begin there and it does have some restraints imposed by the passage purpose.
Next time you are selecting and studying a passage, give some deliberate thought to the passage purpose – you haven’t really studied the passage until you do!