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.

No comments: