Speechcraft is the art of rhetoric and oratory. It is the study of techniques that allow the speaker to use language effectively to persuade, influence and entertain. It is a lost treasure abandoned to the domain of salesmen and it is time we salvaged it for higher purposes.
I am here today to make my case that we need to reclaim preaching as a form of art.
In my 26 years of church life I have heard many sermons that have set my heart on fire, but I have also sat through a number of sermons that have been more than a little bland. And that really annoys me. Is there anything more unsatisfying than a message that is just OK? The speaker may not have said anything wrong, but you struggle to remember what they said at all. A message that is correct but a bit dull is like a car that can’t go into fifth gear. It’s not great but it does the job, sort of.
But each message that fails to make an impact is a waste of a whole lot of potential. With every speaking opportunity you have an audience, a Godly truth and a time-frame to get that truth into the hearts of the listeners. When you think of the mad jostle of thoughts, worries and distractions that fill our busy heads you will realise that if you don’t approach speaking creatively you will never get the job done.
A good message should engage the brain with challenging ideas, it should stir the heart and it should inspire the hand to take new action. To accomplish this, a speaker must do more than simply keep the listener’s attention, with a gimmick or two. A speaker needs to craft a form of oratory that is captivating from beginning to end.
That is a high demand, and no one is perfect enough to hit it every time. We all preach a duffer now and then. But if we don’t aim high every time, we’ll get stuck in the rut of ‘OK’. And don’t we want much more than that for our church? I would rather have high goals that I sometimes miss, than low standards that are easy to meet but are also easy to forget.
When I study the writings of the Bible I am blown away not only by the content but how it is presented to us with the finest and most powerful creative methods. All the literary techniques that mark out great literature today are employed in the Bible: irony, rhetorical questions, the rule of three, symbolism, metaphors, imagery… It’s all there and not only that, it has been written in a way that maintains its impact no matter what language it is translated into.
Scripture is beautiful, its poetic, and it is powerful. Scripture is creative as its Author is creative. The potential in every seed of an idea for a message is massive. But it needs to be nurtured. Anyone who is called to speak needs to realise that no matter how inspired their idea is, a message still requires their creative input to take flight. Like with all art, the 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration rule of thumb applies here.
Every time we open our mouths to speak to an audience is another chance to create art using the vast treasures of the English language.
When we approach speaking as a creative art we unleash countless possibilities. We open ourselves up to new methods and challenges. Creativity stops us from becoming bored with ourselves, it makes the whole speaking experience more enjoyable for us and the for the listeners, and most importantly, a creative approach pushes us to say what needs to be said in a way that is memorable, inspiring and effective.