Speaking Beyond Fear and Doubt


Of Oratory

Of General Application

The fear of public speaking is a much commented upon topic.  Some studies suggest that it is in the top five social anxieties, and at least one puts it above the fear of death. Yet, most of us are comfortable sharing our views with our own “dear and near.” But why should it be so?  Is it the conviction that friends and family “have your back” or the assumption that their affection for you will override any faux pas?  If this is the case then we are building our security through familiarity.  Fair enough.

But if we see this as security, how much more can we take comfort in anonymity?  An audience is often addressed only once. And is it likely that a group of people who have gathered to hear you will bear you any ill will?  Why then did they bother to come?  Audiences have spent time, and sometimes money to come.  They too have your back, they have a vested interest.  They want you to succeed.

If what you say is safe with friends, then saying it to others is also safe.  If your message is worth sharing, it is equally valuable to any hearers. Roger Love has rightly observed that, “All speaking is public speaking, whether it’s to one person or a thousand.”

Of Christian Application

So far I have been “speaking” to anyone who has apprehension about addressing others, and especially those who dread speaking to strangers.  But to those who are aspiring pastors or other Christian “labouers in the field,” the point is even more fervently made to you.  You have been entrusted with “the words of life.”  How much more should you feel bold with your message, which in deed is not “yours” at all but that of “He who has sent you?”

Look at the call of Moses,

So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.” Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’Then what shall I tell them?”  God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you’ (Exodus 3: 10-14)”

Moses was sent (as are we)! But even with his more profound “call to serve” than any of us can hope for, he nonetheless responded,

“Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” The Lord said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord?  Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say (Exodus 4:10-12).”

His hesitation was countered by God.  And this message is not just for pastors and evangelists. Remember always that “go ye” means “go me.”

Take heart as you speak.  Make the message pure and relevant, and it will be heard.  If it is not spoken, it cannot be heard.  If it cannot be heard, it cannot be listened to. If it isn’t listened to, it cannot be heeded. And remember that at least of you listeners is among your “near and dear.” So near and dear that He laid His life down for you.


12 Great Quotes on Preaching


Preaching the word of God is a blessing, but also an irksome responsibility. There have been thousands of great proclaimers of the Gospel over the centuries, and I have picked just a few to share their sage advice on preaching.  I hope their words will help use to reflect on our own motivations and practice.


“Study hard, for the well is deep, and our brains are shallow.” Richard Baxter

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15

“Keep up a humble sense of your own faults, and that will make you compassionate to others.”  Richard Baxter

“It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.”  Francis of Assisi


“For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” 1 Corinthians 9:16

“Don’t preach to make friends or so we will be loved – don’t do that. Preach so God will be loved and souls will be saved” Marshall Keeble

“To preach Christ is to feed the soul, to justify it, to set it free, and to save it, if it believes the preaching.” Martin Luther

If a preacher is not first preaching to himself, better that he falls on the steps of the pulpit and breaks his neck than preaches that sermon.” John Calvin


“I preached as never sure to preach again, And as a dying man to dying men.”  Richard Baxter

“You can hit a nail too many times, then you bust the plank. So, don’t keep hitting it, hit it then ease off.” Marshall Keeble

“I would not have preachers torment their hearers, and detain them with long and tedious preaching.” Martin Luther

“If you haven’t struck oil in 20 minutes quit boring.” T. J. Jones (and others)







Preaching the Word: Why Bother?


The dictionary says that to preach is “to publicly proclaim or teach (a religious message or belief)” or to “earnestly advocate (a belief or course of action).” This earnest proclamation of religious teaching has been a central approach to spreading the Christian message ever since Jesus sent out his disciples in Luke 9:2-3. They were charged spreading the word of the kingdom of God, and they were to do it not seeking the luxury of life, but as a commitment to the task itself.

Paul later encourages the young Timothy to “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear (2 Timothy 4: 2-3).”

Why preach? Go into to the world without purse or second coat, to be ignored by those who you address. Put your own credibility, and maybe even life on the line, so that people will not put up with you, but seek after a more edifying and convenient message than your own.  Why?

Because we are called to.  Jesus said to go into all the world and make disciples.  The message of that call in found in Romans 10, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (verse 13).” But Paul builds on this, and Jesus’ imperative “to go.” He writes, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?  And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? (vs. 14 -15b)”

Paul has developed this well.  The world is trapped by sin, but if it turns to God, they will be saved.  But they need the message sent. They need preachers. Paul goes so far as to say, that preaching is not just ordered, but is “compelled.” He writes, “For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! (1 Corinthians 9:16)”

We proclaim as an act of love.  We preach in order for others to hear, and in hearing to respond.  We are to always be prepared to share the message, “in season, and out of season.” We are to rebuke and correct (as sin is real), but also we are to build up and encourage. We may be ridiculed by some, and ignored by others.  But we are to persist, woe unto us if we do not.  And our rewards will be not only from above, but there will be those who do listen and respond, and to them our labours will be seen as lovely, “As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news! (Romans 10:15b)”



Today I Preach


I have been a religious educator for nearly three decades.  I, along my spiritual journey, have also been a chaplain and a “pulpit minister.”  For ten years I preached on average three times a week, and found the exhilaration of bringing the Word of God to an audience.  I then made the lateral step into full time teaching, and with that move, my “pulpit time” dropped to occasional filling in for others, and to chaplaincy events.   The number of engagements has dropped even more in recent years (though my educational and advisory roles have increased).  So it is with mixed feelings that I face the challenge of God’s call today.  I am scheduled to deliver not one but two messages in a single day, at two separate churches. I am excited, but I am also apprehensive to be entrusted with the burden of God’s Word.

The Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 9:16 said, ” For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!”  I well understand him.  I preach not for my glory, but His.  The message of the gospel is compelling.  Woe to me, if I do not share, teach, admonish and comfort with it.

So, here I am preparing to stand before those who have all the usual human needs.  I trust that God’s Spirit will make me worthy and capable to meet those needs, not through my strength, but His.


The Challenge of Challenge


It is once again the beginning of a new academic year.  For the 23rd year, I have a new batch of students, some eager, others apprehensive. It has been a very long time since I was in their place, and knowing what I know now I would take more risks in my own learning if I were in their place.

It is because of this that I strive to open my subject up to them.  They are after all, not just the future (generally), but the future of theology and religious studies.  If I cannot capture their imaginations with the wonders of the divine, then the trend of society as a whole (increased secularisation) will continue.

So what shall I do?  Try gimmicks? No!  Challenge them? Yes.  I need to not give watered down baby food.  I need to see these young people as entrants of my trade and profession.  I need them to own the subject.

Many educators make the mistake of feeling “they” own the subjects that they teach. They treat their learners like empty vessels ready for them (the teachers) to fill with their vast resources of knowledge.  Okay, we are educated people, and have a wealth of experience and knowledge.  This does not mean our students have nothing to offer, however.  They bring with them insights, and perspectives that can help each of us to gain from.

Here is where challenge comes in.  Everyone believes something.  The art is to tease out the reasons for such beliefs, to build on the foundations, and to expand the horizons.  My department head and I were recently uplifted by the comments of one of our administrators. It seems that he had been at the exams venue at the close of last years’ tests.  He asked one of our students how it had gone.  The response was one of confidence.  When asked why so confident, it was explained that the student felt more challenged by the expectations of our department than that of the examining agency.  We had called on our students to become our fellow theologians, not just “apprentices.”

So as educators what can we do?  Nurture and challenge!  As people of faith what can we learn? Be true to our calling, and not water down the truth.  As preachers, pastors, and religious teachers how do we proceed?  The answer was once phrased this way, “sermonettes make Christianettes.”  Or more simply, lift your congregation up, don’t dumb it down.


Listen Carefully

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One of the catchphrases of the comedy programme “Allo, Allo” was “listen very carefully for I will only say this once.”  The Gospel on the other hand calls on us to listen carefully, and to aid us on our way repeats its message over and over.

Hebrews 2 reads in part, “We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.  For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment,  how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.  God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will (v 1-4).”

This message of “the good news,” of the coming of a savior, not only appears in four different accounts in the Gospels, but in various letters and testimonies as well.

Let us first look at the Gospels.  The Hebrews writer remarks that “God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles.”  John’s gospel in particular focuses on these with a structure based around seven key miracles.  From water into wine, to the raising of the dead, God’s power through Jesus is manifest. In fact, John concludes his account thus, “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:30-31).”

Later the power of the gospel was shown in Acts 2.  As Hebrews cites, “God also testified . . . . by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.”  Acts reads, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.  Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.  When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: ‘Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans?  Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!’ (Acts 2: 4-11).”

These gifts kick-started the fledgling church.  Uneducated fishermen, and tax collectors from the backwaters of Galilee changed the world. Their message (in whatever tongue) was simple, “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”

Listen carefully,  we have been proclaiming it for 2000 years.


Connect, Don’t Offend!

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One of the (in my opinion) sad commentaries on our society is the free disregard of conventions of politeness used in comedy.  Many leading stand-up acts are filled with the gratuitous use of profanity.  Sexual swear words abound, and while they elicit a laugh, in many cases this comes from the shock value, and often it is more a nervous laughter than a joyful one.

Even Billy Connolly, whose act include such quips as “I felt as welcome as a fart in a spacesuit,” has noted, “I’ve always been fascinated by the difference between the jokes you can tell your friends but you can’t tell to an audience. There’s a fine line you have to tread because you don’t know who is out there in the auditorium. A lot of people are too easily offended.”

Speakers (including comedians) are in the business of entertainment.  If you are offending, you have limited your entertaining.  This is even more pronounced for informational and business communications.  “To inform and entertain” should be the watchwords.

Many have observed that audiences generally only retain three or four points from a presentation.  Do you want that to be an off-coloured joke, or a main selling point of your proposal or product line? Israelmore Ayivor has said, “Be polite in your speeches. Good information rudely communicated will make no positive difference.” How correct he is!

I am not saying you shouldn’t use humour, nor am I saying you need to present yourself as some sort of mid-Victorian prude.  What I am saying is show respect.  Know your audience. Value them, and they will value your message.


[A side note: While my public speaking posts are focused on oratory (including preaching and business presentations), many of the principles apply to the written word as well.]


The Magic of Words

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Humans are endowed with imagination, and this has aided us in the symbolic medium of language.  We can communicate beyond the easily apparent.  We can describe a far-off land, or even better – abstract concepts.

An experiment I try with every first year class is to ask them to show me “one.”  I am then usually presented with an assortment of single fingers, pens, and books.  To which I respond, that is a finger, pen, etc. Some then turn to writing the figure “1,” to which I respond, “Then show me five.”  To this I am offered a “5.”  I in turn say, “There is only one symbol there.”  The end comes with the realisation that one or five are merely concepts.  You can see “one.”  One pencil, yes; “one,” no.

So it is that our language captures the concepts and constructions of our imaginations.  It is indeed a kind of magic.  I can tell you of a peaceful lagoon, with waters that glisten with the lustre of crumpled foil, that has been smoothed out.  The blue is that of a robin’s egg, and the sand a coral white.  Many of you will be able to share this invisible image with me.

There is the wizardry.  We as adepts in our own tongues can create “reality” from nothing!

How absolutely powerful is the creation account of the Judeo-Christian scriptures?  For we in our use of language are “in the image of God.”  God said in Genesis “Let there be . . .” and it was so.  In John’s gospel we similarly see, “In the beginning was The Word . . .” and nothing that was made was made without Him.  God created with words, and so do we.  [Don’t get me wrong, and think I am equating creation with “magic,” I am merely illustrating the power of words, and any verbal creation of ours must by necessity pale to true physical creation].

We then, as agents of this verbal power should create with good intention.  The words we use to paint a sunset, can also be used to bring darkness on the soul of the one we criticise.  With great power verbal magicians, comes great responsibility.



Sell Attention!

Throughout our school careers and beyond, many of us have been exhorted to “pay attention.” As leaders and speakers, however, it is our task to “sell attention.” Your audiences’ time and concentration needs to be earned, not just assumed.

So how do we “sell attention?”

One way to draw your hearers’ attention is by using mini or micro changes to our presentation. This can easily be done by the use of silence (as we have noted in previous posts) as they capture the idea that “something is happening,” or is about to.
Mixing up delivery style is also an attention grabber. Throwing in a short story or anecdote to illustrate a point, not only enriches your content, but it works as a hook to people’s interest, as we are “wired” to respond to stories.

You can also break up the “monotony” (figuratively speaking) of a longer presentation by not only sectioning it into bite sized subtopics, but by making the subtopics clear. This can be done by flagging the transitions. Remember in doing this, however, that markers such as “firstly,” “secondly,” etc. can become boring as well. More imaginative approaches include illustrative examples, “Gandhi’s approach to this was . . . . “Followed by “And then there was the time when John Kennedy . . . .”

The use of visual aids or short videos can also add a spark, and even a short clip, or a single prop can draw a hearer back to your main message.

So when selling attention, go for the little changes in pace, style, and inflection. Mix this up with clear transitions, and enhancing examples, and they will be clamouring to “pay attention.”



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Speaking From The Heart

Mohandas Gandhi (1869 -1948), better known as the Mahatma (Great Soul), was one of the most inspiring orators of the 20th Century. He is a classic example, however, that great speakers are made. His first public address in London (circa 1890) was a complete disaster. He was meant to give an address on the merits of a vegetarian lifestyle. He read the first line of his speech but nerves got the better of him and couldn’t go on. A friend read the rest of the speech for him.

Gandhi learned from this experience and found a positive in it. “My hesitancy in speech, which was once an annoyance, is now a pleasure. Its greatest benefit has been that it has taught me the economy of words,” he once said.

This economy of words, as he called it, is a valuable point to remember in day to day communications. As he put it, “Speak only if it improves upon the silence.” He believed listening was the better part of conversation. He took this attitude into his public addresses as well. He was against what we would call “spin,” but focused on the straight forward, honest message. He spoke from the heart to the heart, with respect for those who listened.

He had learned to speak only what he thought was important. When he spoke, it was with passion. It was the core of the message that mattered, not his ego when he addressed an audience. A great example of his mature speaking style (and one that sums it up as well) was his reflection that, “Many people, especially ignorant people, want to punish you for speaking the truth, for being correct, for being you. Never apologize for being correct, or for being years ahead of your time. If you’re right and you know it, speak your mind. Speak your mind. Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is still the truth.”

So what can we learn from the Mahatma? Firstly, good speaking takes work. Secondly, don’t waste your time and that of your audience with the unnecessary. Finally, speak from the heart!



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