Few of our evangelists speak regularly to crowds numbering more than a thousand people. Those who do are generally qualified to handle their subjects well. Returning to hear the speaker Sunday after Sunday, the audience is convinced that he knows what he is talking about, and has the ability to put over his message. Successful evangelists often use the slogan, "If you don't come once, that's your fault; if you don't come twice, that's our fault." They know that to hold the crowd they must be qualified to preach God's truth in a convincing manner, and see to it that the people return. Some radio evangelists address tens of thousands of people weekly, and sense to an even greater degree than the platform evangelist the importance of having something to say and putting it across to the audience.
Although it is true that the evangelists should be well prepared to speak to even a small crowd, the fact remains that a large crowd always challenges him to do his best. The editor of THE MINISTRY has requested me to prepare material touching the subject of the radio sermon from the experiences and lessons gained during three years' association with the Voice of Prophecy. There is much that could be written, but seven distinct features that may be helpful to our ministers may be cited relative to the radio sermon. These practical items might well be considered exhaustively, but they are dealt with here in a brief manner.
1. Titles.—The Bible contains the best collection of titles obtainable. Read it with a view to obtaining sermon titles. Check the margin of the verses containing these sermon titles with the letters "ST," and soon your Bible will be full of notations. Psalms 88:12 suggests a fascinatinc, title for a radio sermon on the state of the dead. See if you can find it. This subject is not handled too often over the air, but there comes a time when it is presented, and the title suggested in this verse is God's own idea for a talk on this theme.
Psalms 96:9 has a beautiful caption for a radio talk on sanctification, and Psalms 105 :39 suggests the title "Light in the Night" as a glowing sermon subject relative to the oft-presented theme, "Why God Permits Suffering." Why not use the title "Light in the Night" instead? If the world's great novelists and writers can choose titles from the Bible for their books, many of which are best sellers, why cannot Seventh-day Adventist preachers do the same? Surely it is too often true that the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light.
2. Preaching the Gospel.—We are Commissioned to preach the third angel's message. By this we mean more than the third angel's message. We mean the second and first as well. Actually, the radio evangelist does not and cannot preach the third angel's message so directly as the platform evangelist. He cannot touch upon the second angel's message to any great extent because of the prohibitions of radio broadcasting. He must confine himself largely to the proclamation of the first angel's message, and leave the work of presenting the second and third angel's message to the radio Bible school.
This should not be disappointing to the radio preacher. What more glorious theme for a sermon can be found than in the impressive announcement that the "hour of His judgment is come," and the glorious call to "worship Him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters" ? Rev. 14:7. Preaching Christ and building our themes about the gospel as the center is first, last, and always the very heart and substance of successful radio preaching.
3. Originality.—We must all confess that we are trite. What a pity it is that we permit ourselves to be so busy or lazy that we must "beg, borrow, or steal" another minister's sermon, outline, or illustration. We can understand that it is necessary for men who are on the air every day to do this occasionally, but when the radio evangelist has but one program a week he should have ample time to study for himself. The next two items that we shall consider are especially associated with the element of originality, and will prove illustrative of this point.
4. Illustrations.—What better means can the preacher find to make the truth plain than the stories of the Bible? Especially do Scripture illustrations explain the gospel. No minister who reads the Bible through every year will be at a loss to pick out of the precious cluster of sacred stories choice and suitable illustrations for his radio sermon.
To vary the selections, historical incidents may be dug up from the past and used to glorify the theme of the hour. The lives and stories of men whg were living during the childhood of some of the aged listeners will furnish thrilling anecdotes and experiences. Lincoln, Grant, and Theodore Roosevelt served their government as colorful leaders during a time of war and adventure. Wilson and Pershing, who lived during World War I, and other personalities more recent, will supply potential illustrative themes that will charge the radio talk with human interest and familiar lines of thought that will captivate the minds of many of the listeners. H. M. S. Richards does this very successfully, as we all know, and much can be learned from his methods. New and interesting books of sermon illustrations are offered in the Protestant press and current religious magazines. These should be obtained and used.
5. Ministerial Bias.—That is what we call the awareness of preachers to see in nearly every act and experience of life a theme or illustration for a sermon. Life is a great teacher. The home is a classroom. Our children are constantly instructing us. Our associates influence us by what they say or do. Nature is a school in which we learn the lessons of life. The sky is a canvas upon which the Master Artist has painted a million different scenes both night and day—the trees, the flowers, the mountains and the sea, the rivers and the plains. Here, there, everywhere, God speaks to us. If we are alert, we will capture the inspiration and the lesson of the moment. File it away in the filing cabinet of memory, or better still jot it down in a little notebook kept especially for the purpose. How easy it is to go to this source to find material when we need it for a good radio sermon.
6. Voice.—It is possible to improve the voice. And even a good voice should be improved. It is doubtful whether a man should be on the air unless he has a good radio voice, although we will all admit that certain radio preachers are heard from coast to coast who obviously do not have what is considered a good speaking voice, yet have gathered a wide following. The personality, radio message, or music provided by these men compensated for their lack so far as radio voice is concerned. But we are, generally speaking, average men. We should, therefore, have voices above the average to compensate.
It would be well to read the book Ministry of the Voice by Ellen G. White (a compilation by M. E. Cady) and to secure a reliable technical volume on voice culture in order to acquire the most help available in voice training. Large radio stations maintain classes for announcers and artists. Something worthwhile may be learned in these classes. However, we must be careful in learning from the world not to put the stamp of secular radio technique upon our gospel service. There is an advantage in being different if we can be good gospel broadcasters at the same time.
7. Conversational.—Who can deny that one of the great factors in Franklin D. Roosevelt's popularity was the frequent radio Fireside Chats heard on coast-to-coast radio networks ? He spoke as it were to one man, and thought of the microphone as a human ear. How much better than to speak in a tense, high-pitched voice as though he were speaking to a mass of people.
The radio preacher must get close to his listener, and think of his audience as singular instead of plural. At least he must be conversational to the point where he speaks as though he were addressing a group by the fireside in a home. He can be vital, interesting, intelligent, and forceful without losing the conversational element in his address. Jesus was that way when he spoke to the people. "What man of you," He would frequently say to the crowd, singling out an individual while appealing to the whole.
Our listeners must not feel that the speaker is not addressing them. Like Nathan, we must in spirit if not in word say, "Thou art the man." The radio preacher who comes to the microphone with this concept of radio style will find that this is the correct mental attitude to assume, and experience a subsequent relaxation that will loosen his throat and save him from embarrassment.
It is difficult to ask the question, "Why be nervous?" We must admit that we are all nervous to a certain extent, at least before we get started. But we need not hinder our effectiveness by fear and unbelief. We may speak as men having authority from God. Let us not speak like the scribes and Pharisees, who were dictatorial, hard, and cold in their approach to the people. Let us be conversational, brethren, and warm the hearts of our listeners with the bright and hopeful message of God. See if this does not improve the radio sermon. It will, if we try.