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fast preaching – mark keown

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In recent years the demography of our church has shifted radically. It is no longer primarily European as it once was, but praise God it is now a rich blend of Europeans with non-European peoples who have come to NZ to settle. While some of these people have good English, a large number struggle with English and have difficulty understanding the preaching. Not only has our church changed, but our suburb has shifted markedly. About half of the people living in it are Asians, many of whom find English a challenge. Our mission field has shifted. As such, our approach to preaching the gospel needs to adapt.

As a result of this shift, I have realised in recent times that I need to make a radical change to my preaching style. I am a naturally fast speaker—very fast in fact. I have developed a style being a child of my generation in which people tend to speak quickly. We see this in the media which is full of people who speak very quickly. Such speaking full of one liners and repartee that Kiwis get and adds dynamism and interest. Such people that come to mind are Mike Hosking, Paul Henry, Martin Devlin and others. In fact, it is astonishing how quickly the popular media presentations speak.

Until recently I have resisted the odd comment here and there about my speaking too fast thinking that my style especially suited attracting younger people of ‘my culture’. I was of the view it added dynamism and personality. That may be so, but I have to acknowledge that ‘my culture’ is now not the dominant culture which I encounter each week. The seismic shift in the demography of our church leads me to seriously begin working on changing my approach to a more methodical, simple, slower, and clearer style of proclamation (this applies at Laidlaw as well). This doesn’t come natural to me as I am a fast communicator, who throws in a whole range of kiwi humour without much thought.

One thing I am considering is how fast then should I preach? Not surprisingly, I found a whole range of material on the net about this. One analysis of six minute Ted Talks found that the range of speakers was 133-188 with an average of 163. The analyst notes that she speaks around 145–160 words a minute, while the average American English speaker speaks 110–150 wpm. Audio book publishers recommend 150–160 wpm. Auctioneers are up in the 250–400 word range. Across the discussions I found on the net, around 160 words per minute seemed normative. Considering that many in our churches in cities like Auckland are second language speakers, 160 would seem a maximum speed.

So, with this in mind I analysed six minutes of my own speech from a recent sermon on our churches sermon audio blogs. In these minutes I averaged 180 words per minute with one minute including 190 words. So, as I suspected, I speak too fast—and especially so as the demography of our church changes.

I am now committed to make a radical shift in my approach. I am determined to slow down, working on pause and emphasis to add dynamism. Such changes are critical if the gospel is to be contextualised to our shifting culture. What is appropriate in your context?

One Comment

  1. I wonder if we don;t start calling you machine gun mark…mark. I think you are onto something here in terms of the challenge of cross cultural communication in our preaching. Tempo and pace are one element… vocabulary is another. It is interesting it wasn’t until I got invited to speak at Chinese and Korean churches that I realised how kiwified my speech was… That I use a lot of phrases that pakeha new Zealanders take for granted and people for whom English and new Zealand English and slang is a second language… When I went through Bible College back in the 1980’s we were fortunate to have Also n Palmer present the findings of a research paper on lecturing to a multi cultural group. I have found her findings very helpful… she said it was important to have a visual representation of the structure you were using… It helped people for whom English was a second language follow you and know where you were going. a slide with the main point is very useful. I use an image with nearly every point/paragraph of my sermons and I have had many for whom English is a second language say thank you for that as it gives them another way of reflecting on what is being said. They particularly appreciate it when there is a simple word or phrase that sums up the point.

    But your article is very helpful because it reminds us as preachers to indeed slow down… both in our delivery… (and I have found variance of pace a very helpful tool in making points and adding emphasis…. but as I speed up I am aware I need to cut back content… short pithy sentences…) and in our preparation. To take the time to consider our hearers and how we can effectively communicate with them. It is easy to focus on the preacher and the preaching not on those who God is wanting to speak to through our exposition of scripture…

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