Preachers live in the world of WORDS!
How many of us have read a biblical book / commentary and have been caught by the WORDS!
A statement worth underlining / recording
The words used by that writer
A phrase that grabs our thought
The allusion made to “this-or-that” which struck our imagination
A quotation worth remembering
A particularly interesting word — worth circling
We live in a world of words! Words are everywhere — home, work, online, school, radio, television, books, plays, social media platforms, courtrooms, political rallies, talking heads, negotiations, etc.
Without words – verbal or non-verbal — we cannot communicate our thoughts.
What we talk about and the words we use are windows into our thoughts, emotions, motivations, personalities, and what we value.
We say – “Choose your words wisely.” — and even address the power of words as stated through the pages of Scripture.
One can even gain insight into the psychological state, social class, educational level by text analysis.
In fact . . . .
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’
Peter May (M.D. & Contemporary British Apologists) states . . . . .
Should we worry about the words we use? Do we need to be careful about language? Well, I think Luke thought so. His Greek was eloquent. It surely is important that people find us easy and interesting to listen to. Think of good broadcasters that people love to hear. Or journalists whose columns are widely read and discussed. They all have worked hard on their communication skills. We should not throw up unnecessary obstacles of poor diction, limited vocabulary, unimaginative phrases or monotonous voices.
If anyone has shown in our generation the power of eloquent language to get across the Christian message it is surely John Stott. He is a great word-smith and his prose is immaculate. When I was a student, I used to listen to him regularly and particularly enjoyed his final summaries. Why? Because he would re-express the essentials of his exposition with entirely new and imaginative phrases. I would find myself asking, “Did he talk about that?” and then realize that he did but has now expressed it in a new context, that sent a new set of connecting thoughts running through my mind. I defy anyone to produce a passage of boring prose from the craftsmanship of Dr. Stott! His book sales speak for themselves. It is interesting that the new – and excellent – biography about him reveals that he learned to use precision in his speech from his pedantic father.
Words are our tools. We don’t want blunt instruments to bludgeon people with but precision instruments to cut through to the heart of the matter. (Stott’s father was a doctor – he knew about scalpels!) We need to sharpen our word skills, increase our vocabularies, consider our sentence constructions and feel the force of poetry to find the words that connect with and stir the imagination.
In our daily speaking, we use a very limited range of words – words we know well and are confident about their meanings. The moment we start writing or prepare a talk, we use a much broader range. Interesting words come to mind and we may wonder what their precise meaning and range of meanings is. We find ourselves asking, “Is this the appropriate word to use here?” Earlier, I quoted from the Shorter Oxford Dictionary. My two-volume tome sits on the shelf immediately behind my rotating chair and I refer to it regularly. “What is the etymology of this word? Is it actually the word I want? Is there a better word?”
And why should we learn to love words? Because God loves the Word and the Word became flesh and the Word said exactly what God wanted to say to us. The word came in a highly accessible format! He took great care over the Word he sent us, and we should take great care over the words we send out. Paul denounced empty words, vacuous rhetoric, and human wisdom but was at great pains to make sure his message from God was clear and on target.
May I suggest that effectiveness in the pulpit is not so much hindered by not knowing or understanding what a particular passage is teaching, as it is by not taking the time to work at how best to communicate what the passage is obviously teaching.
In fact, what the passage is teaching is by in large known and understood. Even a common study Bible will have the sections highlighted and headlined with what the passage is talking about.
More often than not, what the passage is teaching is clear though some take an inordinate amount of time theologically “reinventing the wheel.” While at the same time, how to effectively communicate really very basic biblical truths and principles is overlooked!
Whether that is true of your effectiveness in the pulpit — or not — here are some possible questions which may evidence whether you work at your communicative skills and effectiveness.
√ What is in your rhetorical toolbox? What “wordsmith” books do you own?
Dictionary of __(i.e. Sports – Business)____ terms
Dictionary of Related Words
40,000 Word Spelling Dictionary
Oxford’s Collocation Dictionary
Electronic wordsmith sites
If Our World Is Words, Then Our Toolbox Is Filled With Rhetorical Tools!
√ Is your toolbox well-worn or bright and shiny? Do you use those tools regularly & consistently? How often do you use those books to work out the wording of a key thought or point?
√ Do you take the time to read articles or books on communication, the art of public speaking, homiletics, pulpit speech, public address, or persuasion during the week or the month?
√ Do we have this mindset (as described by Tim Keller)?
we don’t use wise and persuasive words
we don’t focus on needs
we don’t analyze culture
we don’t analyze the audience
we just speak the truth
we just preach the truth
I just tell people what’s in the text
√ Do you typically start out a message with the same words?
√ Can the audience fairly well imagine how the sermon will begin and/or proceed?
√ What are some different ways you can begin, end, or structure a message?
√ Why do you think that some preachers are really effective?
√ When you listen to what you consider a good-to-great message, do you attempt to determine “why” — what made it effective?
√ Are you alert to the feedback being sent to you while speaking or do you hardly notice members of the audience?
I don’t think you’re going to be very persuasive unless you recognize what I put down here — unless you process the small but significant amount of feedback the audience gives you while you’re talking to them.
You’re crazy if you don’t notice whether people are with you or not
whether they’re becoming – getting bored
whether their eyes are glazing over or not
whether you’ve got them by the juggler or not
whether they’re kind of — you know as Martin Luther like to say — staring at you the way
a cow stares at a new gait or not.
Not only that when I look out there and see people I don’t preach the same way when I see older heads vs younger heads I — I adapt to some degree to the way people are dressed the racial makeup
why because I thought I know something about it because of that anyway so one is you have to process what you actually see
√ Do you think about what an audience may be thinking as you speak? — (audio link-Tim Keller)
Other Information & Links:
*Peter May was/is a medical doctor in England. He trained at the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine in London.
He was a staff worker for the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship(UCCF)before being a family doctor in Southampton for thirty years and chairman from 2003-2010.
He was a lay member of the General Synod of the church of England for twenty-five years and served on it’s Board of Mission.
He was co-founder of the Bethinking.org website.
Author: “The Search for God: And the Path to Persuasion”
“This is a marvelous book. It is so fresh, free of jargon and nonsense. I know of no better study on persuasion (Os Guinness being the possible exception with his latest, Fool s Talk). Your applications are so personal and believable, mostly because many of them are from your own experience. Being a physician is a great help, as no one can accuse you of romanticizing the Gospel. You have marvelously woven your personal testimony into the larger biblical narrative. And the use of Scripture is full and rich. Your treatment of Acts 17, 1 Corinthians, the Sophists, Barth, etc., is masterful. Apologies to Spurgeon, but he made a category mistake with his lion metaphor.”
— William Edgar, Professor of Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary and Director of the Gospel and Culture Project.
Tract: “The Greatest Person” — used and published by Christian Medical Fellowship — https://www.cmf.org.uk/resources/bookstore/?context=book&id=266
Books & Publications:
- Miracles in Medicine
- The Miracles of the Saints
- The Greatest Person?
- The Search for God and the Path to Persuasion
- Beyond Critique
- Life After God? The Ethical Teaching of Peter Singer
- Claimed Contemporary Miracles
- The Faith Healing Claims of Morris Cerullo
- Dialogue in Evangelism