Preaching is risky business. Every week those of us who heed the call to open the Bible and share what we are learning have fifteen to thirty minutes to make absolute fools of ourselves. We have those unscripted moments when we say things and in our heads we hit “pastor rewind” and think, “did I actually just say that?” Something comes out that sounded awesome in the study that sounds awful in front of a congregation. Here are a few insights from a champion mistake maker…
There are three parts of the proclamation you have to understand. What you mean to say; what you actually say; and what they hear. “What you mean to say” is the intention of the communication. This is the core idea you seek to convey. “What you actually say” are the actual words that come out while you speak. “What they hear” is the entire communication package, verbal and non-verbal, that makes up the message they perceive.
“What you think you say” is what is planned while you hammer away at your computer, exegete the scripture, and carefully craft the central thought of the message. Andy Stanley has taught me that the message you deliver needs to be able to be stated clearly in one, simple sentence. In our culture of forty-character communication, the clearer and cleaner the idea, the greater chance it has to stick. Now as highly educated, over researched parsers of the original language sometimes what we think is clear, is actually so complicated that we aren’t even sure what we said. As one preacher said, “if it’s a mist in the study it will be a fog in the pew.”
“What you actually say” are the words, sentences, and paragraphs that make up the message, sermon, or presentation. Here is where it gets tricky because in the “preaching moment” when words are flying, thoughts are compiling, and adrenalin is pumping occasionally what we actually say is no where near what you thought you were saying. This is when the ice gets thin and the opportunity to have “preacher rewind” becomes an ever-present reality.
If the first two were tough, realizing “what they hear” is nearly impossible. No matter how close you are to the people you communicate with, no matter how well you understand their lives and situations you really have no idea what filter they are bringing to worship with them. What seems like a simple challenge to you can seem insulting to them. What seems like an exhortation becomes a condemnation. My preacher professor, Dr. Bill Turner, used to say this is why you need to be in prayer before, during, and after each message, that God would intercept and interpret what the people hear in order to meet them where they live.”
Next time I will share what I do to try to be faithful to this “risky business.”