Preaching: Trust and You

 

Delivery matters because
communication does.

 
Preaching DynamicsPreviously we considered two important questions: can they hear and will they listen?  Two additional important consideration relates to how listeners perceive the speaker and you. Are you you?
 

Do They Trust?

There are many factors that influence whether listeners will trust or distrust the speaker.  For instance:
1. Eye Contact.
You wouldn’t buy a car from someone who refuses to look at you.  Shifty eyes are a real turn off.  If someone wanted to tell you about a wonderful place they visited, but kept hesitating and checking some notes, you might be suspicious.  Eye contact is massively important in the whole package of sermon delivery.  Whatever we can do to maximize appropriate eye contact, let’s do it.
Don’t skip around or you’ll seem flighty and untrustworthy.  Don’t linger too long or you’ll communicate intimidation or intimacy.  But do make and maintain meaningful eye contact with listeners if you want them to trust what you are saying.
2. Belief.
Bert Decker’s book, You Have to Believe to be Heard, is well worth a read.  We are able, as listeners, to perceive whether someone believes what they are saying.  The signals are made up of multiple factors in tone, articulation, gesture, expression, posture, etc.  If people perceive cockiness, that won’t help.  But if they don’t perceive belief, they won’t trust.
3. Body Language.  
So what are some of these visual signals of conviction?  If something is important, then not only should the words chosen reflect that, but the communication of our bodies should reinforce it.  A confident and secure posture is important.  Don’t stand awkwardly and squirm.  Be seen.  Don’t hide behind a heavy pulpit, be as visible as possible.  Leaning forward tends to underline an important point.  Appropriate gestures help.  Leave the hands in pockets casual look for a casual illustration.
One of the biggest challenges in sermon delivery is being yourself.  Preaching is not about performing.  It is not about taking on a new persona.  A pulpit voice should be a thing of the past.  People don’t trust performances.
Let’s move on to consider my next thought.
 

Are you you?

Three thoughts to ponder:
1. Being Natural Is Not Natural
When we walk up to the pulpit we step into an unnatural environment.  People sitting in rows and looking up at us is not normal.  Consequently, our presentation will be anything but natural if we just “go with the flow” and try to be ourselves.  It takes work for movement, gesture, expression, voice, etc., to come across as natural and authentic.  Remember, if people feel it is frozen, forced or fake, they will subconsciously not trust the preacher.
2. Breaking the Froze-Zone
The default reaction is to freeze.  I have heard many people say something like this, “when I ran through it earlier it was so natural and free-flowing, but then I went to preach it and I froze.”  That is normal.  Our voices become restricted to a narrow zone of pitch with a constant level of volume and a clipped (often too rapid) pace.  Our gestures become limited in variety and extent.  Our expressions become as fixed as a wedding photo shoot, typically without the smile.  Our movements become rigid and awkward.  This is natural.  Thus we need to work to break out of that fro-zone in order to come across without conveying nervousness and tension.
3. Don’t Be Too Much
Some people are more successful than others at breaking the frozen effect.  They can end up going too far.  While it is true that gestures need to be larger to look natural in front of a larger group of listeners, it is possible to go over the top.  This can be physical excess, or vocal excess, or even content excess (beware of feeding off nervous energy and turning into a bad comedian).  Dare I say it, some personalities are naturally over the top and putting them in a pulpit can make for an uncomfortable situation.  If there is a chance that this applies to you, pray and then ask some trusted advisers.  Not easy, but better to know than to unknowingly make others suffer.
You may comment on the question “Do they trust?”  here at Cor Deo,
or, leave a comment on “Are you you?” here at Cor Deo.
~ Peter
 
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://christmycovenant.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Peter-Mead.png[/author_image] [author_info]Dr Peter Mead is a Bible teacher and ministry trainer, based in southern England. His main ministry is as co-director and mentor of Cor Deo, a full-time mentored study and ministry training program.  Peter leads the Advanced Bible Teachers Network at the European Leadership Forum.  He holds degrees from Multnomah Biblical Seminary (MDiv/MA), and the Doctor of Ministry degree in homiletics from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where Dr Haddon Robinson was his mentor.  For more information on Cor Deo, including the weekly theological blog, please visit www.cordeo.org.uk. Peter also authors the BiblicalPreaching.net website for preachers.[/author_info] [/author] [button link=”http://www.biblicalpreaching.net” newwindow=”yes”] Visit Biblical Preaching[/button] [button link=”http://www.cordeo.org.uk/” newwindow=”yes”] Visit Cor Deo[/button]

A Key Bit of Jargon

 

“anthropopathism”

 
Let me offer a nice bit of theo-jargon here—“anthropopathism”—for anyone who doesn’t already know the term.  I’ll then comment on it and invite any responses.
An anthropopathism is the emotional and less-well-known cousin of anthropomorphism.
The latter term refers to human descriptions of God that use bodily terms—as in the Father having arms or legs despite texts that tell us he is a never-seen Spirit.  An anthropopathism makes a similar God-to-human parallel but instead denotes our use of the language of human emotions to describe God’s attitudes and activities when he—as immutable—is necessarily emotionless.
William Perkins, for one, promoted this.  He was among the most influential English Puritan theologians of the 16th century and his heritage is still lively among us.  In his Treatise of God’s Free Grace and Man’s Free Will he asked, rhetorically, “whether there be such an affection of love in God, as is in man and beast.”
He went on: “I answer that affections of the creature are not properly incident unto God, because they make many changes, and God is without change.  And therefore all affections, and the love that is in man and beast is ascribed to God by figure.”  [Perkins, Works, 1.723] Thus, God expresses his unchanging will so that he achieves “the same things that love makes the creature do” even though, in his essence, he has no feelings or affections.
Any biblical expressions of love, then, are simply figures of speech. God, we are told, does everything out of a sublime but dispassionate will: “Because his will is his essence or Godhead indeed.” [Perkins, Works, 1.703].
In summary, this priority of the divine will, along with a rejection of any divine affections because of divine changelessness, explain anthropopathisms.  With this insight we then learn that every biblical reference to God’s love, compassion, wrath, or joy are actually actions of his ever-determinative will.
So, too, we learn, God is just wearing a warm and winsome mask in Bible texts such as John 3:16 “For God so loved the world . . .”  In fact, he doesn’t really care about us but has a plan in mind to achieve good outcomes for us.  To suggest, in this view, that he is merely a calculating God may sound harsh, but we just need to suck up our distress and start to be more godlike and Stoic.
The problem, of course, is that this has to be a carefully guarded secret—shared only with those in the know.  Perkins, for instance, first offered this pivotal insight in his academic tomes that only theology students would read.  From the pulpit, by contrast, Perkins was famously affective—always presenting God’s love as a profoundly comforting reality for all the saints.
Was he lying to his non-Latin-reading parishioners when he did this?  Not in his view.  He was, like God, just using the proper—but not literal—terms that the Bible offers to produce proper obedience to God’s will.  If we need the appearance of emotions in God in order to respond to him, that’s just fine, but don’t look for affective authenticity in any of it.
But what if Perkins, and his current theological kin, are actually missing the reality that God does love us in emotional, affective terms?  Would that make a difference to us?  What if the Nicene-based doctrine of the Trinity as an eternal community of mutual love and shared glory were true?  And what if Perkin’s devotion to the Greek philosophical and monadic axiom that God must be an “unmoved mover” was wrong-headed in light of Trinitarian realities?
Would it make any difference to us?  Would it keep Bible College students from progressively losing their initial passion for God as they encounter the world of anthropopathisms?  Might we rediscover God’s attractiveness even at the highest levels of theology by dumping Perkins’ version of God?
I’m certain that is the case.  The Triune God, who “is love” according to 1 John 4, knows and directs the beginning from the end—so his stability is not threatened by love.  Instead his love is the real and winsome motive for all that he plans and does.  And the Bible can, indeed, be trusted for actually meaning what it says.
~ Ron
You are invited to comment on Ron’s article at Cor Deo
 
Dr. Ron Frost
Ron served on faculty for more than 20 years at Multnomah Bible College and Biblical Seminary. At the seminary, from 1995-2007, he was professor of historical theology and ethics. He earned his PhD at King’s College of the University of London. His research featured Richard Sibbes (1577-1635). He now teaches internationally while serving as a pastoral care consultant to missionaries with Barnabas International. Ron authored Discover the Power of the Bible and writes on spreadinggoodness.org [See “Resources”].
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