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laura giddey: preaching as performance

I have only preached once at my own church this year. I decided to take a risk and focus on my presentation and memorisation of the text. I aim to eventually move away from using full notes in the pulpit. With time on my side I had finished the written sermon with space to practice. I headed into church and (as my pastor does weekly!) spoke my sermon out loud to an empty auditorium. It was quite a bizarre feeling, even with my background in theatre. But I managed to practice a few times and work on moving away from the pulpit, particularly during my illustrations.

It came to the Sunday and I preached at the morning service. I had practiced a few more times the day before, really trying to learn certain sections off by heart. I felt comfortable during the preaching and enjoyed the bits where I was speaking to the congregation directly, with no paper between me and them.

After I preached the following Sunday I got some feedback from my pastor. He described how alive I seemed when I was free from my notes; how I seemed more like myself and how I lost this when I moved back to behind the pulpit. I had felt the same way in my delivery. I was engaging more with the people when I was note-free.

It has got me thinking about the importance of preaching as performance. Not performance in a fake, ‘acting’ sense but performance as the art of effective delivery and communication. I try hard to be transparent and genuine in all areas of my life. I want to be the same at youth group as I am with my group of friends. It is important to me to be a witness in any of these settings. I do not want to try hard at this transparency and then lose it in one expression of my calling – my preaching. When I am note-bound I feel like my sentences are well crafted and my ideas are being clearly communicated. I feel like I have a structure and concise points with a good flow. I firmly believe God is present during my sermon preparation. But when I am free from notes I feel like the Holy Spirit can work through me in my natural speech and storytelling. Again, I firmly believe God is present during my sermon presentation. As with many things, there is a tension here. I’m sure this will continue to work itself out as I get more confident away from my notes but it is interesting to see both sides.

As well as working hard on our theology and structure, should we not work hard on our delivery? Perhaps we are scared to do this? We think if we move away from our notes we will forget our points, our reasons for the message. If focussing on our delivery leads to focussing on our relationship with Jesus Christ so that we can be more genuine, then surely this is a good thing?

What do you think about performance as preaching? How do you balance remembering well crafted points and also being conversational and relaxed away from notes? Can anyone identify? Does it get easier?!

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Laura Giddey is a pastor in training and is in her final year at Carey Baptist College.

5 Comments

  1. I’d just like to give a hearty AMEN! to what you are suggesting. Preaching is so often dull and insipid because the peformance of it amounts to the reading of an essay, the message, however inspiring, is lost in the tedious delivery. What I want from the preacher is to know that they are excited about the text they are expounding or the truth they are describing. I can never understand preaching which sounds like the reading of a bus timetable. And yes the way to do it is to practice the actual delivery not just write an essay on the subject. Back in the day, I used to practice in front of a mirror, vanity? perhaps, but it helped me to focus on looking people in the eye. preaching to myself was better practice than not preaching at all until it was delivery time. 🙂

    1. Todd Smith says:

      Hey Jonathan

      I used to do the ‘preach to myself in the mirror’ thing too(!) even before Michael Jackson wrote a song similar to this- I even responded to my own altar call once :-). In the early years I was studying at a bible college in a rural setting and I used to go down to the paddock and preach to the cows- one time I counted at least 4 hooves (but wasn’t sure if it was four cows or one cow who was really convicted).

  2. Myk Habets says:

    I think there is a balance here that we all want to achieve. ‘Young’ preachers often have the effect of a good public speech, something that would score well at a 6th form (yes I am showing my age) speech contest: good delivery, good pace, good points, good structure etc – but fake, fake, fake.

    On the other hand extempore preaching can be dynamic and natural and lively etc, but it can also have the affect of taking out all the detail in the talk. I have seen this numerous times and can think immediately of a number of preachers I know to whom this has happened. In their desire to be free and natural and spontaneous, their sermons have become shallow, biblically stunted, and they lack the thought provoking, soul enlarging capacity that could be there otherwise. Balance – so needed and so hard to find. Sounds like you are finding yours just right Laura!

  3. Mark Maffey says:

    Hi Laura

    Content and Delivery should be co-equal in my view. Without content we have nothing to say, without delivery we have nothing to engage our audience. Preaching needs to incorporate good public speaking tools, sincerity,a well constructed introduction, body and conclusion, use of pause, vocal variety, and gestures and use of humour where appropriate. I was involved in Toastmasters for many years and found the foundations in speechmaking they provide to be very useful.

    The more we can step away from notes, and I admit to using them and powerpoint too much the better. The more we practice the better a sermon will come across. May God continue to guide you in your journey.

  4. Todd Smith says:

    If we are not excited about the stuff we are conveying to others, do you think they will be?
    How can our message move others if it has not moved us first?

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