Contemporary Preaching Angles

We recently watched a classic movie from before I was born. It was good, but it felt somewhat stilted. The camera position felt static, the conversation felt wooden, the timings felt hesitant. We could enjoy it, but we had to consciously accept the old fashioned feel. Today camera work is so much more fluid – close up, from a distance, stable view, hand held and gritty. Somehow today’s approach seems closer to human consciousness than the earlier attempts from Hollywood.

Here’s a quick question: does our preaching feel stilted? Do we sound slightly wooden, hesitant? Here are five quick suggestions to help…

1. Know the text as well as possible. Don’t go into a sermon with an okay awareness of the text. Know it better than you need to for this sermon.

2. Pray about your listeners and how they will best engage with the message. How will a guest hear what you are saying? How might a young Christian misunderstand? The better you know your listeners, the more you can target your presentation appropriately.

3. Appreciate the variety God has given us in the Scriptures. The Bible is not a manual. It is a rich and diverse collection of writings that tap into human emotions and experience on multiple levels. As preachers we should thank God that we don’t have to preach other “holy” books!

4. Become comfortable delivering your message. That involves planning for it to be communicable, running through it ahead of time, praying about its assimilation in your heart and life. When you are comfortable delivering the message you will have more bandwidth for adjustments during preaching, for clarification, for more effective communication, etc.

5. Watch and learn from preachers that communicate effectively today. There are some good examples of contemporary communicators that you can watch, analyze and learn from. Don’t copy, that will look stilted.

People can appreciate and benefit from an old fashioned feel in your preaching, but they have to choose to appreciate it. Why not pray about communicating as naturally and effectively as possible in this era?

When Delivery Grates – Part 2

Yesterday we thought about shifting weight between our standing legs and moving our eyes like we are watching a tennis match.  There are two more aspects of delivery that can really become distracting.  Not if we do them once or twice, but once they become repetitious habits:

3. Simon Says Touch Your Face, And Again

Some preachers get into a semi-rhythmic obsession with some sort of facial touch.  I know it is probably not proper to touch your face at any point, but let’s be realistic, we probably will.  But if it becomes a repeated thing, listeners will get distracted.  I have a year round issue with allergies, so an itchy nose is a regular challenge when preaching.  Others seem to have itchy glasses, or ears that need stretching, or disappearing teeth that need confirmation of still being present, or a rebellious beard that needs to be kept calm.  A movement repeated will mean listeners distracted.

4. Let’s Play Charades!

Whatever you call the game, you’ve probably played it.  Words not allowed, nor noise, just gestures.  And if the guessers don’t guess it, what do we do?  Repeat the gesture.  It’s like shouting the same thing louder through our hands.  It doesn’t tend to work, but if you do it when preaching, it will grate.

Any repeated hand motion will be consciously or subconsciously noticed by at least some of your listeners.  There are so many, and actually, all of them are fine.  But any of them repeated will be an issue.  There’s the spider on a wall mirror, the random point, the extended fist point with pen gesture (sometimes called the fishing rod cast off), the let me hand my words to you gesture, the elbows stuck to your hips T-Rex impression, or the tension in the hands werewolf, or the dead arm, or the Perspex screen around the waist stopping the hands coming above, or below it.  There’s the fig leaf stance, or the unscrewing a light bulb motion, or the wringing out all moisture from the hand, or the . . . we could go on, but you get the point.  It would be possible to get all these into one message and people wouldn’t notice.  But get stuck on one of them for a few repetitions and they will certainly notice, and be distracted.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine Like This!

Unhealthy Division: Style & Substance

Perhaps people like me add to the kind of division I am thinking about by the labels used in our teaching of preaching, but still, we’d do well to think about this.  Do we too easily divide elements of preaching?

For example, content and delivery, or substance and style.  It’s a simple distinction, and it works for planning a class schedule.  But when you consider the complexity of the act of communication, perhaps the distinction can be unhelpful?  Certainly once we start dismissing style out of a resolute commitment to substance, we are shooting ourselves in the foot.

Now don’t get me wrong.  The term “style” is not the best for what I am writing about.  Even “delivery” can sound like a performance.  The reality, though, is that the message is transmitted through a preacher.  This includes many elements.  Not just vocal production, verbal clarity, non-verbal presentation, etc. (the classic elements of “delivery”), but also that which you might label “ethos” and “pathos.”

I recently tweaked my gradually-improving definition of preaching in one part by adding the two words “and life.”  In reference to the oral communication aspect of preaching, my current best attempt at a definition says that preaching involves “…effective communication through the preacher’s words (and life)…”

Perhaps we would do well to not dismiss matters of “style” and “delivery” as “mere performance.”  It is too easy to take Paul’s self-distancing from the manipulative skill of classical rhetoric (1Cor.2:1-5) and therefore dismiss all rhetoric and homiletics.  The problem with such a blanket response is that Paul clearly utilized both rhetorical and homiletical skill in his writing and preaching.  Instead of a quick dismissal of all style/delivery issues, or at the other extreme, an obsession with delivery that results in a performance mentality, perhaps we would consider more seriously that which results in the pulpit from the weight of who we are personally in our walk with Christ.

Maturity shows.  Passion shows.  Love shows.  Life shows.  Perhaps a preachers style and delivery are a lot more about the preachers inner life and spirituality than our categories tend to recognize?