Is there a difference in preaching and communicating? Not supposed to be… I mean, when someone gets up to speak to the people of God a message from God, it should be communicated well. (Communication involves not only speaking words but how well these words are received.) However, we have all sat and listened to well meaning preachers who have presented a message but it went ‘right over your heads’. We have all heard lessons where we have thought it would have been better to have stayed home. In other words… boring. No change, no challenge. I am guilty of all of this for sure. Over the years of preaching, there have been quite a few occasions where dad was in the audience, and he offered a lot of good advice. However I also learned from simply watching and listening to others who were more experienced. What appealed to me was when a preacher really communicated to the people. There is something that happens when God works in His man.
There is something that happens to the audience as well. It shows in their faces, people lean forward, they laugh, they cry, they smile, nod. It’s hard to put in words as you have noticed, but when you are communicating and reaching the audience, you ‘feel’ something happening. Someone wisely said that “no one has the right to make the Bible boring”. Unfortunately, too many times, I made it boring. Didn’t mean to, but here are some things that I have learned… ie mistakes.
1. Poor preparation results in shallow lessons. I look back over my first few year’s lessons and just wonder how they put up with my lessons in Fitzgerald. They were kind and patient. But poor study habits result in poor lessons. People need and want to go deeper into the scriptures. They should go home saying, “What a wonderful Lord” not “What a great speaker.” “How great is His grace” not “How great an orator this man is”. They want to see Jesus.
2. No contact with people (staying in the office too much), hearing theirs stories, their laughter, their tears. Without this contact with people in your town (soul winning), and congregation (visiting their homes), the lessons are more a shot gun approach, hoping you may spark an interest. If you know people’s hurts, and needs it’s easier to reach them in the lessons, and illustrations without being direct.
3. Too nervous about how you will be received (Dad called it “too much Exum, not enough Lord”). Preachers should not get in the pulpit because they have to say something… but because they have something to say, ie a message from God. that is what people need. Actually the preacher is standing in God’s stead speaking to the greatest people on earth. Love the people, relax, hide behind the cross, forget yourself, and speak a word from God.
4. Poor illustrations. and jokes. Don’t get me wrong. Jokes and illustrations really help. Without them a lesson CAN BE dry. Many times a good illustration at the right time, done well, really nails down when you are saying. A “thus saith the Lord” is good, but Jesus didn’t just quote scriptures… he used simple illustrations and stories. They were done well, and ‘hit home’. These things have to come across naturally, even if you have to reherse them over and over. “Make it your own”, dad said. Make sure the illustrations, and jokes, are appropriate for the occasion.
5. Poor conclusions are like a “burp in a presidential speech”. You can have a great lesson, and then ruin it with a poor conclusion. Plan it all to the end. Make your endings vary. Don’t think you have to mention the 5 steps every time, and call people to be baptized. The invitation did not begin at Pentecost, it began in the 1800’s with the Mourner’s bench, and the “Altar call”. Sometimes it is good to end with a prayer. Be sure and convey your thoughts to the elders, but the idea is to reach people, not follow tradition for tradition sake.
Preaching is a privilege that carries with it huge responsibilities, so be sure you are right in yourself with the Lord. A preacher who is not right with the Lord cannot be right in the pulpit. The power needed will not be there. Be lost in the Lord and in his power. The Lord will use you if you let Him. In the end you will be humbled at what God does through the selfless attitude. Dad said, I’m the kind of guy that believes the act of communicating always supersedes any teaching or praying. Many preachers preach, but how many really communicate? You first have to get permission from your students that they want to learn. I always believed in hands-on teaching. Most preachers put themselves away from the audience as they stand behind the pulpit. When I teach I use all kinds of visual aids. I use their eyes, and their ears, and that’s two different modes of communication working in concert. I always wanted the congregation to move up so I could touch them in many ways. I remember a child coming down front, and sitting next to me. I said, “You like being close don’t you?” She said, “Yes”. That’s the key to communication… to be down on their level. I believe the idea of a hierarchy is a no-no. It is said in the Bible, “Holy and reverend is THY name”, not my name….”
He always loved the people he spoke to and for the time he was there… he was theirs and they were his. There was a relationship with the audience, a bond, and they knew he cared. This was dad. Hard to emulate, but easy to love. Again, he would be the last one to say, “Copy me”. He would also be the first to say, LEARN FROM ME, copy what will help, and avoid that which will not help. He would encourage any and all who wanted to be a communicator, to be yourself, and let God use you in His service.
People that dad loved in the pulpit… Charles Hodge Jr., Earl Williams., C.E. McGauphy., Fred Walker, are the ones I remember him speaking about.
“Preach the word” brother…
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