Watch this. This is how it’s done.
Some years back, Robert Mueller was giving a commencement address at the College of William and Mary. This former director of the FBI in the first Bush administration is the epitome of dignity and class. He is anything but a comic or comedian. That day, speaking on “Fidelity, Bravery, and Integrity,” which he called the motto of the Bureau, he demonstrated a great way to use humor in a serious talk.
“In one of my first positions with the Department of Justice, more than thirty years ago, I found myself head of the Criminal Division in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston. I soon realized that lawyers would come into my office for one of two reasons: either to ‘see and be seen’ on the one hand, or to obtain a decision on some aspect of their work, on the other hand. I quickly fell into the habit of asking one question whenever someone walked in the door, and that question was ‘What is the issue?’
“One evening I came home to my wife, who had had a long day teaching and then coping with our two young daughters. She began to describe her day to me. After just a few minutes, I interrupted, and rather peremptorily asked, ‘What is the issue?’
This has happened to me more than once. I’m sitting in some huge meeting with hundreds of the Lord’s people representing churches across our state or country. A large number of preachers are in the audience. The speaker is sounding forth on some subject of importance to us all.
Suddenly, the speaker comes out with a statement that gets a hearty “amen,” something that sounds profound and undergirds the point he is making. He goes on in the message and everyone in the room but one person stays with him. Me, I’m stuck at that statement. Where did he get that, I wonder. Is it true? How can we know?
The speaker says something that stops us in our tracks.
Ever happen to you?
If “Facebook,” that wonderful and exasperating social networking machine, has taught us anything, it’s to distrust percentages and question quotations.
This is about what laypeople need to know about speaking in “big church.” You’ll understand that by big church, I mean you’re addressing a large group in the sanctuary. And laypeople means non-preachers.
Many non-clergy are outstanding (pun intended) on their feet in front of large groups. Schoolteachers and other educators come to mind. But the typical church member, even one who teaches a Sunday School class, is out of his,her element when suddenly thrust in front of the whole church.
They walk onto the platform (let’s not call it a “stage”) and stand at the pulpit, then look around. Wow. Things sure look different up here, they think. They open their mouth and begin to speak.
Anything can happen.
Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! I cannot speak, for I am a youth.’ But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not say, I am a youth. For you shall go to all to whom I send you, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you,’ says the Lord. (Jeremiah 1:6-8)
Short answer: Work at it.
Longer answer: Read, listen, attend, ask, study, change, improve.
I used to have a professional speaker in my church. When I asked her for advice, she declined. I was disappointed. I would loved to have had some helpful pointers from her. (Many years later, we are still in contact and to my pleasant surprise, she remembers only how effective I was. I’m thankful for her poor memory!)
I bought a magazine at Barnes & Noble the other day. OnPoint costs like a hardbound but is a slick quarterly from the Harvard Business Review. The entire Summer 2019 issue is devoted to “How to Become a Fearless Speaker.”
I paid $20 bucks for it.
If I get one or two great ideas, it’ll be an excellent investment.
And that’s another point worth remembering, pastor: Always be open to improving your technique.