Reading ‘Communicating for a Change’

The Pastor of our church lent a book to my Dad a few weeks ago. My Dad read it, returned it and immediately bought his own copy and lent it to me. After I had finished it, I bought two copies, one to keep and the other to give away to another preaching buddy. I think that is probably the biggest test that shows ‘Communicating for a Change’ by Andy Stanley and Lane Jones is worth a look.

The book’s central argument is that the main purpose of preaching is to inspire and equip people to make changes that will bring them closer to the life God has for them. Preaching is for the benefit and blessing of the listener, not the speaker, so your approach to a message has to be focussed on the needs and ‘journey’ of the listener. That is not to say that it encourages a watered-down Gospel but it does push you to approach preaching in a way that best serves people, even when that means creating more work for yourself.

It’s a strangely formatted book, but it works. The first section is a short story/parable about Ray, a Pastor who is trying to up his preaching game whilst on a journey with a mentoring Gospel-sharing truck driver, Will. During the story Ray learns seven key principles for delivering change-inducing messages. It’s a bit like The Alchemist but much less metaphorical!

Now this storytelling approach could have come across as glib or condescending, but it really doesn’t. The conversation between Ray and Will allows the authors to explore counter arguments to their recommended approach and dig into the reasons behind each principal without the pace dragging.

It helps that Ray is relatable; he is not an incompetent fool but neither is he a squeaky clean perfect leader incapable of getting it wrong, he is utterly human. The problems he faces are real and his discomfort at having to face the flaws in his approach to preaching struck true to me. More importantly, the solutions offered are helpful and achievable enough that the discomfort is fleeting and soon replaced with optimism.

The second half of the book unpacks the lessons from the story and looks at how to apply the principles. Each suggestion is thoroughly explained and often comes with a few examples. This is where things get really practical and as I read through it I started thinking about my own messages and where these points are relevant to me.

By the time I had read the final chapter my head was buzzing with preaching ideas. I was itching to start preparing a message. My fingers began reaching for pens and notebooks to start jotting down thoughts. I was excited to preach again, and any book that can leave speakers feeling enthusiastic and eager is one I want to pass around.

There is one final thing I want to say about this book; it highlights the need for critical thought and evaluations in our preaching ministry. The discussion between Ray and Will is sometimes uncomfortable but it brought home to me the value of talking openly and honestly about these things.

Delivering the word of God to His church is too important a ministry to just let things bob along without continuously checking that it is fulfilling its purpose. When we neglect evaluation we tend to stunt out growth, and when it comes to preaching this means it can also stunt the growth of our church.

Evaluation is hard to seek out because nobody likes to examine where they got it wrong, and with preaching it’s even more difficult to keep a level critical head on, because when you speak you pour your heart and soul into the message. It is a very personal ministry! But I think that knowing that preaching is there to serve others is a big motivation to put ego aside and do whatever it takes to deliver messages that are actually going to help people. Ultimately, it’s not about you; it’s about Jesus and His people, they have to come first.

After I finished the book I did something I had put off for years; I got hold of the recordings of my last couple of messages and listened to them with a critical ear. I was really not looking forward to hearing my voice on tape and it was cringe inducing at first. But, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. In fact, there were parts of the messages that I was really pleased with and when I spotted some things in my preaching that need improving I didn’t feel like rubbish for acknowledging the flaws. In fact, I felt optimistic about trying out these new tools I had just read about. It is easier to face up to failings when there are ideas and suggestions on hand to help you do better next time.

I know I have a long journey ahead of me in my preaching, and that at some point that is going to involve asking for critique from trusted and wise people (eek!). But right now I am very grateful to be part of a ministry where I get to share God’s heart and life-changing wisdom with people. And I am excited about what comes next!

So whatever your experience level with speaking I really recommend that you give this book a try, if nothing else their enthusiasm for the ministry is wonderfully contagious!

Speechcraft 101: 5 Tricks to Instantly Improve your Delivery

I owe a great deal of my confidence in speaking to a woman named Maggie Randall, a retired teacher and children’s worker at our church. When I was about 12, Maggie gathered a group of us young people together from our church to coach us for a service where we would each be doing a reading.

At that short evening session I learned 5 simple things about public speaking that have helped me feel in control every time I stand on the platform.

Now your content is important, as is your passion and style. But no matter what kind of talk or reading you are doing these five simple tips will instantly improve your delivery and make public speaking feel much more comfortable.

  1. Slow Down

    When you are addressing a crowd you need to talk far more slowly than you would in normal conversation. You cannot rush your words, no matter how much you would like to hurry up and get it over with. You have to slow down, and you have to slow down a lot!
    Speaking slowly makes you speak more clearly which helps your audience to understand you. It’s that simple.

    If you speak too quickly, or even at a normal pace, you will be more likely to utter ‘um’ and ‘err’ and your nerves are more likely to show through. But if you slow down you take control of the words, and you give your mind time to remember what you are going to say next, which cuts out the involuntary ‘erring’.

    Slowing down feels very unnatural at first but I promise you it doesn’t sound unnatural to the listener and you will get used to it. Just remember to slow down a lot more than what feels comfortable.

    Of course there will be times in a talk where you may want to deliberately speed up your tempo for the sake of humour or to build up a point. That is great, but your cruising-speaking-speed needs to be slow and steady

  2. Take big pauses

    This goes hand in hand with the above. Leave a good long pause between your points. Let a thought settle in the audience before you begin the next sentence. Don’t be afraid of a moment of silence.
    When you are speaking in front of an audience your words are more thought out and more purposeful than they are in normal day to day life. Each sentence matters so slow down and give it space to sink in.
    This works especially well for scripture, dramatic readings and poetry!

    Maggie taught this by having us write a big long forward slash over each full stop in our readings as a reminder to stop and take a breath. We then added more dashes in other places where a pause would be appropriate, mostly where there are commas. So for example a reading would look this:

    emphasis

    Believe me when you are up there speaking it is really hard to remember extra things so giving yourself visual prompts on your notes is very helpful.

  3. Underline words you want to emphasise

    Another visual prompt you can give yourself is to underline the words that matter. This has a huge impact on your delivery as which word you emphasise can dramatically change the meaning of the sentence.

    For example, the simple phrase ‘I love you’ can have three slightly different meanings depending on which word you stress. Try saying the phrase aloud three times, each time stressing a different word, so if you say:

    • I love you – your point is ‘I’m the one who loves you, not that other guy.’
    • I love you – your point is ‘I don’t just like you, I love you.’
    • I love you – your point is ‘it’s you that I love, not someone else’.

    Do you hear the difference? Apologies if you are reading this article at work and have now unwittingly declared your love to a perturbed co-worker.

    So when you know what you are going to say, look over your notes and underline the words that you want tob place the stress on so that you really get your point across.

  4. Lift your chin up

    This is a fairly obvious one and doesn’t need expanding much, but remember to look up and out into the audience. It is tempting to just look at your notes and imagine the audience aren’t there but you do need to connect to the listeners.

    Lifting your head up makes it easier for you to project your voice and people will find it easier to understand you when they can see your lips move. When you do need to look at your notes read a couple of lines in your head, then look up again and deliver them.

  5. Smile

    Finally, when you do look up, smile. In most circumstances your listeners won’t be scary judgemental critics waiting to tear you a part; they will just be good, ordinary people, so remember to be friendly towards them.

    If this is tricky, find someone in the room who you know is rooting for you, make eye contact, smile and then share that smile with everyone else. Smiles are contagious and you will find that people start to smile back.

    The more at ease you look and feel, the more at ease your audience will be and more you both will enjoy the experience.

Those are my 5 simple tips for excellent delivery. Basic but effective. So the next time you are called to speak remember to slow down, take pauses, choose your emphasis, lift that chin up and smile!

You’ve got this!