Monday, September 14, 2009

Connecting through the Spoken Word

I was sitting in a pizza parlor across from a retired clergy who had invited me out to lunch. As we sat and ate he shared with me some wisdom. I was a child when he was the pastor of my home church. Now he was retired and was proud that I was in the ministry. This was really the first time that we had chatted together, one-on-one. He was a dynamic pastor that enabled a congregation to relocate and thrive in a new part of town. He has great leadership ability and I completely respect him as a minister.

With that said, yes here is the big BUT, I would now, five years later, disagree with his advice. The piece of advice that was shared over a piece of pizza was that to really and truly connect with a congregation you have to preach without notes. You have to leave a manuscript behind. He was basically telling me that those who preach from a manuscript are placing those pieces of paper between them and the congregation. To effect the best change and to make the best connection, one had to leave those papers behind.

There is truth in this. There is truth that a manuscript can be a rigid wall of separation between preacher and congregant. I am a manuscript preacher but I think now with almost a decade of preaching behind me I do not see that as a constant and firm truth.

I stay with a manuscript because it fits me the best. I do not do well off the cuff and I do much better with well thought out points and a planned progression in my sermons. Yes, I have read Joseph Webb’s book Preaching Without Notes, and he would agree that this is part of the process. I find my attention then turns to the memorizing and not the purpose behind the words I am speaking. For my personality and preaching style the manuscript seems to be the best avenue for doing quality preaching. (that is if my sermons are quality, I’ll let you and God decide that).

I use to think that only quality preaching was done by one who stepped away from the pulpit, could preach the sermon without notes, and had a keen mind to memorize five pages of material. But I think I was merely envious of a style or skills or talents I do not have. God has created me in a way he so desired. My gifts, graces, and talents have been given to me in order to be the best minister, preacher, and pastor I can be.

I am who God has created me to be. I preach in the best manner I can to be the most effective, passionate, and connected to my congregation. I have learned to attempt to perfect those characteristics instead of the ‘style’ it is done in. We, preachers, practice our sermons and perfect our preaching in order to get out of the way and let God come through. We practice in order to be transparent. Once we have found how to do this, we need to continue.

Now that the pizza has long been digested in my belly, I still look at that conversation with joy but also with disagreement. Going from a manuscript, right now in my ministry, allows me to get to that transparent place. So what if I am not like the other “cool” preachers. I am being who God has created me to be and I am making connections with my congregation and that is all God asks us to do.


Erin G said...

for what it's worth, I actually PREFER sermons delivered with notes. I connect BETTER when the info/thoughts are shared in an organized manner, and I think VERY FEW preachers can do that without notes (some can, and kudos to them, but I don't think it's necessary).

I think it's awesome how you keep coming back to trying to honor how God made YOU to be, and not to try to be anything different, but just to live into the creation he intended you to be. It seems like that's really at the core of your ministry, and it's a concept that really resonates with me. :)

Unknown said...

Thanks for your comments Erin.

john said...

I'm actually writing a post about this topic.

It seems to be a common thought if it's on paper it's not from the heart. That's a fallacy, and I'm more a no-note-sermon kind of guy.

Good post. I'll get to finishing mine now.

John Meunier said...

Why do we do this to each other?

Jospeh Yoo just had a post about how he feels like he's been told that is bad that he does not preach from the pulpit.

People who told him that, and people who suggest you should not use notes, are mistaking the form for the thing itself. What matters in preaching - as you point out - is whether the way we preach hinders the Word being heard.

Gee, I'm getting pretty authoritative here. I'll step down off my high horse now.

mark said...

OK... I hear what you.

Go back and look at your Gallagher clip from your James 3 sermon. Imagine Gallagher doing his bit off a manuscript. Imagine any comedian for that matter doing her or his act off a manuscript. Granted, they practice the material over and over again, and preachers do not have the luxury of time. Also, the goal of comedy is different than the goal of preaching. Nonetheless, I believe preachers have much to learn from comedians on how to connect with people through spoken words. Jerry Seinfeld's movie "Comedian" unwittingly makes the case for this.

Unknown said...

Mark, thanks for the comment and I agree with you. Gallagher's act wouldn't be as good from a manuscript. But he has the luxury of performing that act each night, not a new one each week. I do agree that stand-up comedians have a ton in common. It is amazing to watch them connect with strangers in their audience through only the spoken word.

Thanks again for all the comments.