Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Who Are You Talking To?

Here's a little tip for those of you who aren't regular public speakers. And for those of you who are, a reminder. To speak in appropriate ways, you have to be mindful of your audience & your occasion.

For example, I'm disappointed with how Rick Warren used the Invocation last Tuesday:

I love Rick Warren. I've got one major/minor quibble with him, but all-in-all I think he is a good minister & an outstanding ministry model. But I was disappointed with how he used the occasion of leading a prayer to preach a mini-sermon. It was inappropriate, because that's not what he was there to do. He was there to lead a prayer. Nevertheless, there were more than just a couple of moments where he appeared to be speaking less to God & more to the millions of on-lookers.

My sister & father both picked up on this, and expressed their distaste for how he used that platform in that moment. I'm especially disappointed when I consider how controversial his appointment was, and how to many people this will be their only exposure to Pastor Rick. How sad that many of them came away with a bitter taste because they felt like he preached to them in an uninvited way.

I was reminded of that moment from last week when I saw this video posted on John Piper's blog:

Now, I understand speaking to someone not in the audience as a rhetorical tool. But having it recorded, cropping the clip to that precise moment, then posting it on YouTube and your blog for the world to see? John Piper wasn't preaching to his congregation; he was taking advantage of his platform to try to send a message to the President. All he'll actually accomplish, in fact, is inflaming & emboldening his supporters.

And BTW, I like John Piper. Just as I like Rick Warren. But, in my view, that was inappropriate.

Anyway, the point is to be mindful of your audience & your occasion. Who are you speaking to? Why are you invited to speak there? What can you realistically seek to accomplish with that moment? In my mind, one of the largest sins of public speaking is speakers not spending time with those questions.

I hear so many preachers speaking to themselves instead of to their audience. And then they tell you that, too: "I'm not really speaking to anyone here as much as I'm speaking to myself." Well -- and I'm gonna be blunt here -- you weren't invited to preach for self-flagellation. That moment is bigger than YOU! Your mission is to bring a Word from God to your audience. Now, I understand that your personal temptations & pitfalls are likely temptations & pitfalls for others in your church family. But if you're using the occasion of preaching as your own personal catharsis, you have more work to do in the sermon preparation process to get beyond that obstacle before you preach to others about it.

I also get annoyed when I hear an ideological preacher before his identically ideological church build up a straw man of the opposite ideology in his midst & burn it down. What does that accomplish? Who are you preaching to? Does your audience receive any challenge out of seeing you bash the conservatives? Does it help them grow? Does it advance anything?

Or even in writing. Liberal-bashing in the Spiritual Sword is so shopworn. Same goes with conservative-bashing over at Cope's blog. Really -- WHAT is the point? Do those writings further anything?

Anyway, you'll do better in speaking & writing if you are mindful of your audience and your occasion. As the man who first taught me to preach called it, your milieu.


Dan said...

At times, I kinda like it when a preacher says "I'm speaking to myself as much as you today" or something of the like, particularly during a really challenging sermon. I think it helps the preacher seem like he acknowledges the plank in his own eye as he calls out the specks in the eyes of the congregants. Course, I think it can certainly be overdone as well, as I think it should be done only when warranted.

Also, I agree with you about Warren. I know he's got his critics, but man, if we all had the vision, dedication, and enthusiasm to grow a church of 20,000+, how great would it be?

III said...

Two totally different but similar sounding phrases...

"I'm not really speaking to anyone here as much as I'm speaking to myself."


"I'm speaking to myself as much as you today"


"This applies to me as much or more as it applies to everyone else."

The latter is fine, and good to acknowledge in measure. The former is what I have a problem with.

coffeedrinkingpreacher said...

Tell us what you think!

Amen, brother! I appreciate the high regard you have for the 'pulpit'.