I’ll do better next time.

Last Monday morning, as I was reading the bible and journaling, I jotted down a few reflections about Sunday morning. I preach twice each Sunday morning and one sermon always goes a little better than the other. Sometimes it’s the first one, sometimes the second. Anyway, I noted that I left out an illustration the second time around, one that really helped me connect with that morning’s text. Of course, no one knew this but me. I’m the only person who heard the sermon twice that morning.

So I started pondering what I could do to do better next time. Should I have reviewed the sermon between Sunday School and the second worship service? Should I have practiced more the week before?

And then I paused and mused to myself, “After all these years, I am still trying to do better next time.” If I include some of my seminary field work and my vicarage, I’ve been preaching for over thirty-five years. One might assume I’ve got it down by now. But weekly a little voice in my mind suggests, “You can do better than that!”

I like to read articles, books and blogs, and watch videos about speaking effectively. I love to watch TED talks as much to learn as speaking as about the topic. My radar is always on when it comes to techniques that get people’s attention, how connect with listeners, the power of storytelling, and what people remember. I rarely learn anything new, for there is still nothing new under the sun. But it never hurts to reinforce what I’ve learned and remember what’s effective.

At the end of my journal entry, I wrote, “Don’t worry. If you forgot to mention something, it probably wan’t that important anyway. I’ll do better next time.” And I will.

Can we be better speakers and listeners?

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Photo by The Climate Reality Project on Unsplash

So I am sitting at a conference, watching the other attendees, fascinated at all the other activity going on. Yes, there are a few people sitting, listening and taking noted. But there are many more people who have come well-equipped to do other things. A few still bring books and newspapers, but many more do their reading on a phone, tablet or laptop. One person is preparing slides for a presentation. Another is catching up on email. Of course, some are scrolling through their Facebook newsfeed. Some have brought their breakfast with them. There is plenty of texting going on. Me? I admit, I was doodling on the back of the conference agenda as I listened.

It’s tough to listen. It’s tough to just it there and listen. It is hard, hard work. Which puzzles me a little. I have two ears that hear naturally, involuntarily receiving lots of sounds. But it is still hard to listen.

That got me thinking, when I was supposed to be listening, about those who listen to me preach each week. I can’t see everything everyone is doing, but I know there’s a lot going on. There are people on their phones, and I know they aren’t all using their Bible apps to follow along with the sermon text. I see a few of the weekly church newsletters in people’s hands — well, at least they will know about upcoming events. The congregation always includes a few note-takers, snackers, dozers, draw-ers, sneezers, whisperers, and nose-blowers. Some need to visit the bathroom, a few need a drink, a couple have to go back to the car to get their glasses, and who can help but watch the babies?

I know it’s different. I only have to keep their attention and they only have to keep their focus for fifteen to twenty minutes. But whether it’s a scheduled hour-long presentation or a blessedly-brief twelve minute homily, I believe there is a shared burden by both speaker and listener for effective communication.

For the speaker at the conference (or in church):

  • Do not read your powerpoint slides to me. I can read them myself, thank you very much.
  • Tell me stories, get me to laugh, paint some word pictures and engage my attention before you get to the weightier part of your presentation.
  • Make sure you haves a point. At some moment, give me something that will stick in my mind. It can be a phrase, a 140 character summary, a slogan, something to take with me.

For the listeners at a conference (or in church):

  • Don’t bring a diversion. Instead, come prepared to listen.
  • Take notes. Write down a few words, a phrase, a summary, something you can take with you.
  • Visit the facilities before the speaker begins.
  • Commit to giving the speaker some kind of useful feedback. By useful, I mean beyond the generic, “Thanks, I enjoyed that.”

I do not offer the above advice as an expert speaker or listener, just as someone who wants to learn to do both better.

 

 

Breaking up with “And,” “But,” and “So”

thomas-lefebvre-3950A few weeks ago, I wrote out a sermon for the first time. I usually just put powerpoint slide together for my own use in remembering each part of my sermon rather than writing out a manuscript. But for the “Love” sermon in the series paths of grace, I changed it up and wrote it out. I like the writing process, but it did make it harder to remember, so I probably won’t do it that often.

Once it was written, though, I thought, “Well, why not just post it on WordPress. That way I won’t have to write anything else for that day.” Done.

The next week, the thought came to me, “Maybe people would like to see all my sermons.” (Ha! I’m such an optimist.) I already record them and publish the podcast and get a few listeners each week. But maybe someone would like to read it. So I listened to my audio, transcribed the sermon and published it. It took me about half an hour.

The process was worth the effort. As I listened, I realized how often I start a sentence with the words “And,” “But,” and “So.” I don’t write that way, but I was speaking that way. Not a deal breaker, but sloppy. I can do better. I’m trying to be more conscious of the way I begin my sentences. I’m breaking up with “And,” “But,” and “So!”

I’ve been preaching weekly for over thirty-one years. You would think I’d be able to coast by now. I actually work harder now on my sermons that ever. I take more time to produce content, tie in application and speak clearly.

A colleague of mine shared with me that he knew a pastor who served a congregation for thirty or thirty-five years. The pastor wrote fifty-two sermons at the beginning of his career, and used those fifty-two sermons every year for the rest of his career. I’m not sure how he got away with that. I don’t like to recycle my past sermons. I don’t find them palatable so I don’t imagine my hearers would either. I need to produce something fresh for me as well as my audience. Only when the sermon resonates with me do I really have something to say.

I enjoy the process of creating and presenting content. It’s good for me, and hopefully it’s a blessing for others, too.