It's Not Getting Any Easier
The Ministry of Preaching and Teaching
I have the great privilege of doing this as Pastor of Leadership Development and Spiritual Formation at LWCC.
I have the similarly great privilege of doing this as the founder of Leadership ConneXtions International, in a variety of cross-cultural, global settings.
I work hard at the communication task
I currently have a new collection of communication resources that I'll work through in the next several months. I believe I can always improve as a communicator. It is my belief that what I communicate has been entrusted to me from God and that the people to whom I communicate, have likewise been entrusted to me from God. Therefore, it is REQUIRED OF ME that I be as fully faithful as I can for my stewardship of gifts, repsonsibilities and the community of faith.
From time to time I read biographies of preachers/teachers. I recently read one about Charles Simeon. Simeon was the great Anglican preacher of Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge England in the late 1700's and early 1800's. To learn more about Charles Simeon, check out this website on him.
Here is why Simeon was such a great preacher who not only transformed Holy Trinity, but was used for renewal throughout England.
By the way, I don't necessarily stand by everything Simeon said, but I did want to faithfully pass on to you his approach. And most of it does resonate with me.
1. He lived with great opposition from his own church for many years. He was persecuted by his congregation who did not want him appointed to be their pastor. Through this, Simeon learned to carry a cross for Christ and to suffer in his vocation. That either utterly breaks you, or it drives you to the depths of intimay with God. For Simeon - it did the latter.
2. He was humbled by a deep knowledge of his own sinfulness. Simeon said the three lessons every pastor must learn are: humility, humility, humility. In a world of narcissitic, superstar celebrity communicators, and the temptation to either be like them (in most cases a hopeless thing) or to envy them (in all cases a bad thing) - what a profound lesson Simeon provides.
3. He lived a life of great devotion. Most days began with four hours of personal prayer and reflectieve devotional time in the Scriptures. His life was deeply shaped by devotion and intimacy with God. No ten minute devotional life for Simeon. It is tragic how little devotional life so many communicators have. The source of all spiritual power is the transformed life of friendship with God. That was the source for Simeon. It is not on the chariots and horses of our rhetoric.
4. He studied hard, to understand the Scriptures. By the way, not in his times of devotion. Devotional time was not study time. Study time was done later. And he studies a lot. He wanted to learn the lessons and principles of the Bible as they were taught in the Bible.
5. Simeon had a simple, sustained intention. Let the Bible speak. Let all the Bible speak. Let the Bible always speak. Even when you don't like what it says. Even when your theology would prefer to skip over parts of the Bible. Let the Bible speak. It is the Word of God that illumines and transforms. Not the cleverness of the communicator. The substance of truth is what is needed, not the style of rhetoric.
6. All sermons must have a (a) unity of theme, (b) be intelligible and understandable by all, (c) and be interesting to the hearer. Simeon wanted to preach the gospel: earnestly, interestingly, and fully. Of course it took hard work to communicate like this. I've been lost and puzzled and left stranded by more than one message... and I left my hearers confused... and worse - uninvolved. They just politey sat there.
7. He had three great aims that guided all his study, all his preparation, all his craft and all his communication. Humble the sinner, exalt the Savior, promote holiness. In whatever way you shape your great aims, shape them and then constantly keep them before you. Know what you are aiming at and make sure you hit it.
8. Prepare your material fully and carefully, but then leave the wording to the time of delivery. Simeon, like many of the great preachers of his day was against the writing of manuscripts and the reading of sermons and even the dramatic reading of sermons. (This was the prevailing practice of the church of England at that time.) He was also opposed to memorization of written sermons. He wanted to be intimately familiar and well prepared, but then to move with the Spirit of God and in the moment of the experience. While I would not make this one a "litmus test" of good communication, it has been my preferred approach for the last fifteen years.
9. Sermons (and lessons) should be full of the best content, arranged and delivered in a way that sustains attention and helped the memory of what was heard, and delivered in a natural manner. Passion - yes. Rhetorical flourish - no. Energy and enthusiasm - yes. Showmanship - no. This one hits me because the studies say that 90% of what is preached is completely forgotten by Monday morning... and that a very high percentage of people don't even remember the topic of the sermon! How's that working for us who long to see transformed communities of faith?
10. Here is one of the most important! The whole state of your soul/heart before God MUST BE the first thing to be considered. For if you the communicator are not personally living in to and out of the truth you communicate; if you are not experiencing the life of God in acordance with what you say; if you are not truly spiritually formed by the truth you speak, then don't speak it. Experience it, live it, pray it in to your life before you presume to give it to others. I've heard more than one teacing and more than one lesson by communicators who are not living what they are saying. Hmmm, actually, I've been guilty of this very thing on more than one occasion.
12. Be sure to fix the attention and interest of the audience, not on your self (a pretty major temptation in our time). And not even on your message (what?). But rather, on Christ. The message is a conduit to Jesus and connectedness with Jesus. If they walk away saying, "What a brilliant speaker" you have failed. If they walk away saying, "What a profound message" you have failed. If they walk away saying, "What an awesome God" and longing for God and responding to God - then you have been faithful. It's time to set the standard of desired outcomes where it needs to be.
13. And pragmatically, in terms of delivery, Simeon sought afte the following:
have distinct articulation, unlabored utterances, accurate pronunciation.
maintain a reverential air, deep sincerity, unflagging energy.
have frequent but never forced eloquence.
thoughtful originality, an animated face, easy and graceful gestures
strong prose, but not ornamental.
It is a high calling and a high responsibility.
It is hard and demanding work.
May all who are called to the ministry of preaching and teaching the mysteries of God, make our way in our calling.
May all who sit and receive the teaching ministry, be in constant prayer for those to whom you listen.
For some fun . . .
I have twelve famous preachers on this post. Some of them old, some of them very recent. The first one is Charles Simeon. After you read what Simeon has to say about the work of preparation and communication, look back over the blog and see how many names you can identify. If you don't know who someone is, click on the image and it will expland it and provide the name. Just because they are famous, they may not exemplify what Simeon said.
Brian K. Rice
Leadership ConneXtions International