Monday, November 10, 2008

Speaking styles--what "plays in Boston" may not play here

As a high school student, I knew I was headed into "the ministry." The mother of a close friend of mine said: "Bob, when you get into the pulpit, you shouldn't laugh or tell jokes because this is serious business."

At that moment in time, I had a choice to make: either change my personality or change my choice of professions because I "cannot-not" laugh or tell jokes or funny stories when I speak. In fact, one of my unwritten rules in MY speaking is: "if we haven't laughed--we haven't done 'church.'"

My wife has worked in hospitals for decades and she will tell about a funny incident from church or share something funny I said and, inevitably, a fellow worker will say: "you LAUGH in church?" Yeah, we do.

But it got me wondering about speaking styles. I have heard ministers [even highly respected ones] who cannot spell "illustration" or "story" and wouldn't know how to use them even if their sermon depended on it [which, of course, in my case--their sermon should depend on them more]. On the other hand, I have heard the messages where it is simply one story after another without any substance thrown in between.

In earlier generations, pastors were told to NEVER talk about family from the pulpit. I bridged that teaching and had some professors who advocated that position while others said that family should be used since it makes the pastor more of a "person." I shared about my family all the time and, especially if it was funny. [With this caveat--I tried always to get their permission ahead of time so they knew what was coming].

So--funny or not funny?
Family or no family?

We could go on and ask: manuscript or no manuscript?
How long? 15 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, "eternity" [see my blog on knowing how to stop]
Add to this things like: appearance [tie, suit, nothing formal]; formality or not [meaning--standing behind a huge wooden pulpit or being able to 'wander' on stage]

I recently prepared a DVD for churches which tapes me delivering a sermon. I am wearing nice pants, nice shoes and a nice blue shirt. No tie and no jacket.

A leadership team in Illinois watched the tape and someone commented: "I wonder if he always dresses like that to preach?"
To which someone else replied: "what do you expect--he's from Florida!"

I should have "closed" there but I will add one more thought. Whenever we hired new staff for a church, we always sent them tapes of sermons. We wanted them to know the "style they were getting into" because, after all, they wouldn't have much choice to change once they arrived. What played in their background would have great influence as to what they wanted playing now.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Safety of preaching through "books"

Decades ago I was requested to preach a sermon on a particular subject. "Why?" I asked.
"Because I have a friend who is struggling in this area."
"Oh, so rather than you talking with your friend, you think a 'pointed' message will take care of the issue without arousing curiousity as to why I picked that particular topic??!!"
"Hmmmm, I see your point."

The end of THIS story is that the "requestee" talked with the friend about the issue and it got resolved without a pointed message from 'Pastor Bob.'

I have often been asked by people: "do you ever preach on...................?" and you can fill in the blank as desired.
My standard response is: "I tend to preach through books of the Bible which means that if a topic is covered in that book then I will preach on the topic."

I find that there are many advantages to this form of teaching over topical messages which seem to predominate my audio landscape these days:

First--people can't accuse me of preaching "at them." Well, they can accuse me but it isn't accurate. Good preaching pierces the hearts of some and, especially when someone is wrestling with sin, temptation or "issues." If I touch on something close to their hurt, it is easy to think I am speaking to 'them' because I know something. Going through a book allows the opportunity to say honestly that the topic covered is being given because that is where we are in our study.

Second--preaching through a book does not allow me to escape 'hard passages.' Each book of the Bible has "THOSE VERSES" or, "THAT VERSE" which is going to be skipped over if I don't preach through the book. Whether it is dealing with 'baptism for the dead' or verses that seem to promote Calvinism or Arminianism or, whatever--I can't skip them but must deal with them. The tension in our faith is what has allowed us to have hundreds of denominations holding the same core beliefs while differing in "non-essential" points. Many of those points are derived from harder passages which I must cover if going through a book.

Third--eventually, we will cover the "whole truth" of Scripture as we go through a book. Whether it is trials or testing or application of truth or partiality or faith versus works or the tongue or wisdom or sin or unfairness or endurance or God's sovereignty [these are just some of the topics you go through in looking at James] a speaker will have to deal with these topics as he goes through a book.

Finally--no verse is neglected. My older brother teaches Bible courses and has made a point of allowing time for "rabbit trails" but also covering adequately all the verses in a book. Having been in Bible school, too often the last verses are glossed over because time is up. However, if we truly believe that all scripture is "God-breathed" then we need to look at all scripture adequately.

This week, I was asked by a church search team if I preach on "stewardship." I said, "yes, when it comes up in the book I am preaching. There is a safety given by the Lord when we take a book and go through it knowing that we will be able to deal with topics of importance without being fairly accused of emphasizing one point over another.