Preaching as Public Speaking

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True, preaching is a divine task, yet basically it is also a form of public speaking. A true preacher will eventually realise that as much as preaching involves spiritual dynamics, it also certainly includes oratory skills. These oratory skills constitute the technical aspect of preaching.

Before I tell about this technical aspect of preaching, or the oratory skills, which make us realise that preaching is a form of public speaking, let me tell first some important points to consider.

The first point is that though the technical side of preaching is important, still the spiritual side is more important. Preaching is firstly divine, then secondly it is public speaking. Preaching achieves eternal spiritual fruits, something that ordinary public speaking can never produce.

The second point to consider is that no methodology is holy, no matter how helpful it is in preaching. The techniques of delivering a sermon are never holy in themselves, though they are blessed by God as secondary tools to deliver His Word. Only the written words of God in the Bible are holy; the Word of God is holy, not our methods and techniques. The Word that we try to deliver everytime we preach is the one that revives the spirit and strengthens the soul, it is certainly not the preaching in itself.

Psalms 12:6 (KJV)  The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.
Romans 1:16 (KJV)  For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
1 Thessalonians 1:5 (KJV)  For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.

Now that we have already discussed that the spiritual side of preaching outweighs the technical, we can now discuss the latter, and that describes preaching as a form of public speaking.

Preaching involves skills and techniques that enhance the delivery of our sermons (not the power but only the delivery). These skills basically revolve around the use of voice, eye contact, facial expressions, and gestures and movements.

The proper utilization and creative use of voice is of utmost importance in preaching, for the fact that spoken words serve as the medium for the transmission of God’s message to the hearers. A dull and monotonous voice will certainly invite boredom in the hearers. There are four P’s that could be used for the efficient use of voice during the discourse of God’s Word.

The first P is Pitch, or the raising and lowering of voice tone. The first and probably the easiest step that we could do to avoid a monotonous and boring sermon delivery is by putting stress on some words or phrases by varying the voice tone. We could also achieve this by varying the voice volume. Generally, heightening the pitch and increasing the volume on some words and phrases would put emphasis on the ideas that those words or phrases present.

The second P is Punch, and it is very similar to Pitch in its purpose of putting a stress on an important idea. However, what differentiates punch from an ordinary stress is that punch is usually used for some climactic expressions and thoughts, and is usually achieved by either a sudden or a much more powerful change of voice tone or volume.

The third P is Pause, and it is of equal importance to punch. We utilise pause also in trying to put emphasis on some ideas. We give around a three-second pause after saying something to indicate that what we have just told is important. Furthermore, by utilising the pause technique we give the hearers an ample amount of time to digest and reflect on the important idea given.

The fourth and final P in utilizing the voice is Progress. It is maybe the hardest one to master, but if done correctly will prove not only to emphasize a good point but furthermore to elevate the hearers’ interest and to provoke a more positive response. Generally, progress is effectively achieved by the continuous increase of the voice tone and volume beginning at the start of an idea you would like to emphasize, and then concluded with a strong punch at the end. Thus, progress is indeed the combination of the techniques of pitch and punch in a prolonged manner. Finally, progress becomes even more effective if followed by a pause. Those are the four P’s for the efficient utilization of voice, the pitch, punch, pause, and progress.

Another important factor to consider in the good delivery of the sermon is the eye contact technique. The function of eye contact in preaching is twofold: the transmission of truth and feedback.

Without eye contact, no matter how well we could use our voice we will never be able to truly connect to our listeners. It is a very awkward moment for the hearers to listen to a preacher who does not look at them, most specifically at their eyes. At worst, the hearers could feel offended. With the good use of eye contact, even the preacher who has not yet mastered the use of voice will be able to connect with his listeners.

Using eye contact to connect with listeners involves looking straight at the eyes, for around 3-5 seconds. If intimidated by the listeners, you could look also at the forehead. Look at them individually, trying to connect with each one of the listeners, for the duration of the preaching, if their number is around fifty. If their number is around a hundred or more, then having a look for each one becomes virtually impossible. In this case, using creative imagination, group the entire audience into several smaller groups mostly consisting of around five people each. Then try to look at the middle person of each group, and it will give them the impression that you are genuinely interested in them.

Furthermore, eye contact is arguably the single most effective tool to gain feedback from the hearers. If you want immediate feedback during the course of your preaching, the best way is by looking at them. That way you will immediately see if they are really listening or interested, and you as the speaker will be able to adjust your delivery to suit the emerging need. Eye contact demands that we have mastery of our sermon content. It is hard to practice good eye contact with the hearers if we are  relying too much on our notes or if we are not confident enough in our own message and delivery.

Then comes the technique of facial expressions. A serious message of rebuke and correction demands a serious emotion, but could also be told with a subtle smile and a sincere look – it depends on the ability of the preacher. Generally, laughter is very much minimal in preaching, overall the general emotions permeating are those of seriousness, sincerity, love, holiness, and command – those traits characterise very much a true preacher. A careful examination on the preaching of Jesus, the Apostles, and even of the prophets reveal the same thing. This is only my personal conviction, but I am not a follower of those preachings that use jokes and laughter just to engage the listeners. In my varied experiences in preaching, I have seen how a serious delivery of a sermon could captivate the listeners from start to finish, of course, with the power of the Word and the Holy Spirit.

Other equally important factors are gestures and body movements. With gestures, we pertain to the movements of the upper body, mostly those of the shoulders, arms, and hands. With body movements, we talk about the movements of the legs and feet.

The content dictate the gestures, and not the other way around. This means that the shoulders, arms, and hands movements reflect the true emotions and thoughts of the preacher. When I was just beginning to preach, I used to practice my gestures, and my actions looked like ‘scripted movements’, there was no life in them. Later on, as I gradually developed as a preacher, it is the message that would consume my heart and mind. That way, gestures flowed out naturally, and they certainly looked natural. Powerful gestures reveal connected movements, that is, the movements of the hands are not separated from those of the arms, the shoulders, and the upper body.

Body movements involving the legs and feet contribute to the lively delivery of the sermon. Personally, I like to get in touch with the hearers in the most possible way and to communicate with them in the most personal way, and I do that mostly by leaving the pulpit and walking towards them. Occasional walking is helpful, too much is already distracting. Another helpful thing about walking is that it relieves the tension and let go of nervousness.

The general rule regarding gestures and body movements is that the larger the audience, the bigger the gestures and body movements. The larger the audience, the further the pulpit is from the audience, so the preacher will likely to be seen by all.

A climactic note that I would like to add for all of these skills is that the Spirit of God and His anointing enhance all of them. In fact, I could attest that whenever I am filled with the Word and the Holy Spirit all of these skills just flowed out naturally and powerfully. Furthermore, the Holy Word and the Spirit of God have taught me to do these skills naturally, far better than what my training and practice did for me.

So I have presented the technical side of preaching, the side that tells us that preaching is also public speaking. We do not try to learn and master this aspect for the purpose of increasing the power of our preaching – only God could do that with our humble cooperation of holiness, submission, prayer, and obedience. As Robert McCheyne once told us, ‘A holy minister is an awesome weapon in the hand of God.’

What these techniques do for us preachers are to enhance the delivery of our sermon, to make it lively, penetrating, and connecting, and to catch the interest and attention of our listeners. True, the technical side is important, but we must not substitute it to the power of the Word and the Holy Spirit to change the lives of the listeners. The true mark of a preacher is not his very good oratory skills (though it may include these), but the divine capacity to change the lives of the hearers.

*I am indebted to Mr. Haddon Robinson for some of my learnings in oratory skills in preaching. I recommend his book Biblical Preaching, second edition.

Glimpses of God’s Glory

13 JULY 2017, 10:50 PM

I am so grateful to God for this wonderful day. In simple yet powerful ways He allowed me to see His greatness.

God used me to bring His message of love and hope in the form of rebuke at the Provincial Jail with the Scripture of Lamentations 3:22-26.

Lamentations 3:22-26 (KJV) It is of the LORD’S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.
They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.
The LORD is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him.
The LORD is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him.
It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD.

God’s message for the prisoners was: Wait on His deliverance in the time of His discipline. It was a message of rebuke, yet love and hope were present. If only they would look upon His discipline as an expression of His Fatherly love, then they would also sense hope, and bring themselves under humble submission to the rod of their heavenly Father. Instead of rebellion, they would develop in their hearts a greater love for their Father.

Hebrews 12:5-6, 11 (KJV) And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:
For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.
Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.

As I was speaking His message, I could deeply sense God’s presence in their lives and their spirits were touched.

The second thing for which I was so thankful to God was my prayer time with a sister in faith. God allowed me to pray for her, releasing her from her burdens and granting her to receive more of God’s blessings. She cried in the presence of God, thankful for the freedom and peace that she received.

Am I grateful because God used me? Yes, but the main reason why I praise God is that He again allowed me to see His glory and greatness in simple yet powerful ways. I do not deserve any of these, and the fact that I am undeserving makes me praise Him even more. Truly, I am most satisfied in God when I know that God is most satisfied (and glorified) in God. It has absolutely nothing to do about me.

It takes more than that

26 OCTOBER 2016, 02:09 PM

I really thought I would be successful that time. But I was wrong. My efforts were not good enough.

For some weeks already I was planning to have a fasting in a place far from home – an ideal haven where I could have a full hold on God. Though my determination still falters on the last few hours, I still believed I would finally have it.

It made me think then and have a deeper introspection. What contributed to my failure? Or more blatantly, am I that far from God already that I could not fast?

Maybe it would help more if I say first my reasons for fasting.

My first reason is the feeling of utter helplessness. I have become so desperate in my situation that I needed something powerful just to meet my spiritual needs. I was actively pastoring a Church for the past few months, and the time has come that I would like to be the sheep now and not the shepherd. I would like to be fed and led, and be strengthened. I need the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ, to heal my dying soul. I was like a deer panting for water (Psalms 42:1). The whole Psalm Chapter really says my condition.

Secondly, the ministry demands it. The last time I fasted about two months ago the gift of healing flowed powerfully everytime we prayed together. I do not mean that I receive more of God’s power when I fast; His miracles and healing are released by His grace and not by our good works. But, by fasting God is more able to prepare me first for His great works. Still I could not say that fasting is my little contribution, because I became successful in some of my fastings only because of His Grace. In God’s mysterious design, I fast and pray, and He moves more — yet I have no part in that. Maybe it is because God exalts the humble (James 4:10), and that fasting is basically the humbling of the soul before God (Psalm 35:13).

The third reason is that I really miss my intimate moments with the Lord. Since the advent of the wi-fi connection at home, my habit of long time spent in praying died with its coming. Much worse happened when I bought this Android cellphone. I am inclined into technology and it consumes my time heavily. I have to fast to break these addictions. I have to separate from the world and be silent to once again hear the voice of the Lord.

Lastly, I need guidance and answers. Does the Lord really want me to pursue my teaching profession while pastoring? My logical mind says no, for teaching will take much time from me — some quality time that I should spend with God and with the members of the Church.

Now let us return to the first question, why did my efforts to fast fail?

One reason is that I lacked all the necessary preparations. Before you fast, you have to prepare yourself spiritually and physically. I lacked both. I rarely prayed for it, and for some weeks already I was staying late at night then woke up late in the morning. Fasting demands that I saturate myself first in fervent praying, and that my physical body is prepared for it.

The second reason for my failures is that I have to make some things right first. Of course I know I will fast to ask for God’s help me to fix the wrongs in my life, but I do sense that I have to fix some of them now before I meet the Lord in prayer. Fasting is a sacred time with the Lord and for sure it has the spirit of repentance, but we will be able to show that our repentance is truly true if we start making amendments in our life now before the time of fasting comes. After all, my shortcomings in the family and Church really take the issues right back at the heart of self-denial and obedience. If I would really deny myself now and choose to obey, more than half of my shortcomings would be resolved now even before I fast. I hate to approach God in fasting with fake repentance, and much worse, to fast with no real intent of changing my ways, just like what God saw in Israel when they fasted in Isaiah 58. They fasted hypocritically with no repentance in their hearts.

To fast before God with a right heart is not a complicated thing, but not an easy one either. It takes more than sheer determination. It takes more than a simple sacrifice. It takes more than the usual planning. It will demand your everything — because you will meet your Holy God.

Let the Fire Glow

I have been preaching for several months already in my new local church, the Jesus Lamb of God Church. But, I feel that I lack the fire that has been present in my years of preaching.

I know that partly it is because of my lack of prayer. Also, that I lack the usual over two weeks of preparation that I had before every time I preach.

The biggest reason, I believe, is because even though I occasionally pray and study the Bible, my heart is very far from God. Many times I am guilty of disobeying God. Many times for consecutive weeks I am not able to fulfill my promise of fasting.

I know it will take much discipline and hard work, and of course God’s grace, but I will once again be close and intimate with my God and be a powerful pager again.

“A holy minister is an awesome weapon in the hand of God.” – Robert McCheyne.

God Moves Mysteriously

Right now my Church Members are decreasing in number. I don’t know if it’s because of God’s answer to my prayer – “Lord, visit the Church and uproot its false foundations.”

False foundations may sometime refer to church members? I don’t know. But God is revealing something. Maybe He is telling us that dependence on sponsors is wrong. Or too much formality is not His way.

I know that in His own ways He wants us to return to true worship.

God reveal your will to us!

All Things New

"Forgiveness 3" by Carlos Latuff.
Forgiveness – an essential element in starting anew.

We do not naturally want bad endings. We do not want to be hurt, and when we do, if we could only turn back time, we would have corrected it. But for us the only sure available option is to start anew.

To begin again, however, is not that always easy. Often it is harder than we thought. Being dreamers in nature, we are always in the illusion that it would be better this time – that we are capable of doing better while exercising the least of efforts. Wrong.

As we strive to be better, there are many things that would pull us downward. The thoughts of past failures are always there. The inward weaknesses, the fleshly desires which are often undealt, would shake our determination to succeed. Noteworthy to mention – the judgement of the people around – those people who have marked out how filthy you are based from your past mistakes and sins – always play insurmountable forces to hold you back.

The only incentive then is to look upward and realized that there is Someone who is capable of ‘forgetting’ your errors and would not judge you, seeing that you are truly repentant and really try to change. Your forgiveness and shame could be deeper than the sea, but His forgiveness is even deeper than the abyss. You may have not felt real love, but His embrace is wider than the sky.

His Person and love alone are great motivations for each one of us to be hopeful that as long as He grants us to live another day, there would always be hope for genuine change.

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Prayer Request:

A God-glorifying ending of the semester.

If You Pray Unceasingly, You Really Glutt on God.

“Prayer will make a man cease from sin, or sin will entice a man to cease from prayer.” ~ John Bunyan

Strong words. Beautiful tension. True to every person.

These words primarily targets the battlefield of prayer that continuously is being encountered by Christians. The simple truth is this: the more that we pray, the more we can stay away from sin; the more that we sin, the more we stay away from prayer.

Or to put it in another way: the more we would like to stay away from then the more that we pray; and the more we would like to stay on sinning, then the more we avoid prayer.

This is the real Christian Life. Our new identity in Christ desires that we draw to God in holiness, but the flesh, still being alive in a Christian (in varying degrees respective to every Christian individual), desires to sin and to stay from holy living.

The battle of every believer.