John Wesley’s Advice – Part 4

The final part of the list of John Wesley’s advice to preachers.  Points 1-2, and 3-5, and 6-8 are already covered.

9. Take care to avoid anything awkward or affected either in your gesture or pronunciation.  It is interesting to see this from Wesley.  I tend to think of affected pronunciation as being related to vocal projection in vast unamplified venues – a concern that we no longer have.  But that would not be the only reason for it.  There is the awkwardness that comes from feeling self-conscious, or from attempts to be theatrical, or from a learned “pulpit voice” that attempts to sound more “hallowed.”  To connect with coal miners on Hanham Mount in the 18th century, or normal people anywhere today, it is better to communicate naturally and authentically.  Nobody likes listening to an actor.  Actually, the reason real actors are so good at what they do is that they convey that natural communication as someone they are not.  As preachers, our only goal is to convey natural communication as someone who we are!

10. Don’t just say ‘I read only the Bible’ in order to preach, read the most useful books, and that regularly and constantly… at least five hours in twenty-four… or return to your trade.  Can I be brief on this one?  I don’t know, but I suspect he wouldn’t include social media surfing in that at least five-hour goal.  Once we limit this to book reading, then it does feel like a big ask for many today.  Perhaps we should take this away and ponder it.  Are we neglectful of our calling, responsibility and opportunity to not give ourselves to as much reading as we should?  (And if you are a “lay preacher” – you can determine the appropriate goal for your circumstance.) 

11. There is no need to throw away old sermons just because they are old – the best can be reused.  I agree.  I would add that when reusing a sermon, it is helpful to spend some time refreshing it and making sure that it is current in your heart and not just present in your notes.

12. Never preach without doors when you can with any conveniency preach within.  This is the advice that probably needs the most pondering.  For Wesley, his move to preaching outdoors was radical and had huge implications for his church relationships.  But once he got known for it, it is intriguing to think about this advice.  Maybe the point for us is not so much about whether we preach indoors or outside.  Perhaps the point is to not allow anything we do to become a gimmick.  Don’t get known for something and then keep working that thing to the detriment of what really matters.  Be a preacher of the Word.  End of.  Once you get known for a specific type of sermon, a particular location(!), a specific type of biblical text, or even a specific subject, then you have to reckon with this point of advice from John Wesley.  What does this mean for you and me?  Maybe nothing at the moment, but it is a good one to prayerfully ponder.

There we go!  All done.  I have enjoyed thinking through these brief thoughts.  I hope that has been helpful for you, too.

The Two-By-Four Rule?

I was just listening to some training materials on delivery and public speech.  Interesting, although largely familiar material.  I haven’t gone back to double check this, but I think it was called the two-by-four rule: The impact of the first two seconds takes four minutes of further presentation to equal.

If that is true, then perhaps it’s worth giving more attention to such matters as personal grooming, dress, body language, smile, voice and so on . . . especially that initial impression.  Incidentally that initial impression in a church setting is often not the same as in a business setting where the speaker emerges from nowhere to begin the speech.  In church people see you in the car park, in the corridor, during the first part of the service.  Maybe the “I’m-so-stressed-because-Sunday-is-no-Sabbath-for-me” look is unhelpful?

When Less is More in Delivery

More power does not always mean more power.  Sometimes for emphasis we need to do the opposite of the obvious:

When less is more in delivery – When we are convinced or excited, our volume tends to rise.  But it can be dynamic and powerful to drop to a whisper at the point of emphasis.  When worked up we easily rise in pitch, delivering our most significant material in the annoying shrill of an over-enthusiastic choirboy (but dropping the pitch to a lower tone will add emphasis without the discomfort for listening ears).  And of course, when we get worked up we easily drop our foot to the floor and speed through key material.  In the cold light of midweek it is easy to spot the weakness in that approach!

Variation is critical in content and delivery.  One way to add variety is to be sure to look for opportunities to apply the old principle that works so well in preaching – sometimes less is more!