Tension in the Pulpit

BETTER SPEECH AND DICTION: Tension in the Pulpit

"Let us not confuse tension with power, haste with efficiency, or loudness with righteousness."

M.D. Takoma Hospital, Greeneville, Tennessee

Those who heard the late Dr. Percy T. Magan speak from the pulpit or in the class room will know that it is not necessary for a speaker to be highly emotional or physically tense in order to be effective. He spoke with only moderate volume and very slowly, yet he had enthusiasm, and developed a high degree of interest and suspense on the part of his audience. This- is in harmony with the following counsel to speakers:

"Let the strain come on the muscles of the abdomen, rather than on those of the throat. . . . Careful attention should be given to securing distinct articulation, smooth, well-modulated tones, and a not-too-rapid de livery."—Education, p. 199.

Enthusiasm and loudness are not synonymous. Many listeners associate loudness with anger, harshness, or upbraiding, and even with a mental state which lacks wisdom. Harshness is not Christlikeness. In these days of good hearing aids, public-address systems, and plenty of vacant seats, it is a waste of energy and is discourteous to the main portion of the audience to speak as though there were a person on the back row who is hard of hearing. Some listeners, especially allergic people, have a condition called hyperacuity, in which the ordinary voice seems too loud, and loudness seems unbearable.

If a speaker will completely relax all those muscles which he does not actually need to use, and only tense those he is using as little as necessary, he will be in a state of differential re laxation. When the voluntary muscles are properly relaxed the speaker will personally enjoy speaking, because in this state no mood disturbances or discouraging thoughts are possible. This strong relationship between body and mind is borne out in the following words:

"It rests with us individually to decide whether our lives _ shall be controlled by the mind or by the body." —Ibid., p. 202.

"The influence of the mind on the body, as well as of the body on the mind, should be emphasized."— Ibid., p. 197.

As one who has occasionally occupied the pulpit, I sympathize with ministers because of the strain on the speaker in giving a sincere sermon. Yet I believe that as workers we need more relaxation in the pulpit. Excessive tension of muscles wastes energy, causes undue fatigue, and may produce functional illness of internal organs, as well as nervousness and mental disturbances.

"The youth in the freshness and vigor of life, little realize the value of their abounding energy. A treasure more precious than gold, more essential to advancement than learning or rank or riches,—how lightly it is held! how rashly squandered!"—Ibid., p. 195.

The basic principles of how to relax and the management of energy problems are explained in a small book entitled Abounding Energy, published by the Review and Herald. Tension is caused by too much haste. "These workers can never attain the highest success until they learn the secret of strength. They must give themselves time to think, to pray, to wait upon God for a renewal of physical, mental, and spiritual power."—Abounding Energy, pp. 260, 261. (Italics supplied.)

The only way a listener can learn and become converted is through the action of the Holy Spirit, yet the majority of our pastors and evangelists seem to overlook this, and appear to rely on an emotional appeal to convince the audience rather than on the power of the truth. The main object of a sermon should not be "a tear in every eye and a lump in every throat." Inspired counsel states:

"We must move solemnly, prudently, and not make use of extravagant expressions, or allow our feelings to become overwrought. We must think calmly, and work without excitement; for there will be those who become easily wrought up, who will catch up un guarded expressions and make use of extreme utterances to create excitement, and thus counteract the very work that God would do. . . . God would have all move calmly, considerately, choosing our words in harmony with the solid truth for this time, which re quires to be presented to the mind as free from that which is emotional as possible, while still bearing the intensity and solemnity that it is proper it should bear."—Testimonies to Ministers, pp. 237, 228. (Italics supplied.)

High Pressure Tactics Improper

From this statement it is evident that it is improper for a minister to use high pressure salesmanship in a sermon. The basis of all true religion is love to God. This will develop when, in the presence of the Holy Spirit, the truth is presented from the Scriptures in a calm manner. A certain Brother D had trouble with his emotions and was told:

"By steadfastly keeping the will on the Lord's side, every emotion will be brought into captivity to the will of Jesus. You will then find your feet on solid rock. It will take, at times, every particle of will-power which you possess, but it is God that is working for you, and you will come forth from the molding process a vessel unto honor."—Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 514. (Italics supplied.)

"It is no evidence that a man has zeal for God because he works himself up into a frenzy of excitement and gesticulation. 'Bodily exercise,' says the apostle, profiteth little.' "—Ibid. vol. 4, p. 405.

"The work that is not wrought in God comes to naught as soon as the excitement is over. . . . The progress and perfection of the work of grace in the heart are not dependent upon excitement or extravagant demonstration."—Ibid., vol. 5, p. 647.

Let us not confuse tension with power, haste with efficiency, or loudness with righteousness.



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M.D. Takoma Hospital, Greeneville, Tennessee

March 1950

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