IN DEALING with this topic we are not concerned with the arrangement, style, and content of the message but rather with the conduct, style, and manner of the messenger.
I shall not confine my remarks solely to what others have said and written about this vital subject but of what I have observed in my own preaching and the preaching of my fellow workers. Now don't be uneasy! This is not personal. But I hope we can all profit by our own and others' mistakes.
First, let me quote from the wonderful counsels of God's Spirit:
The minister must remember that favorable or unfavorable impressions are made upon his hearers by his deportment in the pulpit, his attitude, his manner of speaking, his dress. He should cultivate courtesy and refinement of manner, and should carry himself with a quiet dignity becoming to his high calling. . . . Ministers have no license to behave in the desk like theatrical performers, assuming attitudes and making expressions merely for effect. . . . Undignified, boisterous actions lend no force to the truth uttered; on the contrary, they disgust men and women of calm judgment and right views.—Gospel Workers, p. 172.
Lest we think the only thing that matters is dignity, note this:
A pompous minister, all dignity, is not needed for this . . . work. But decorum is necessary in the desk.—Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 648.
A clergyman once said: "No public speaker has a right to inflict upon his hearers offensive mannerisms, and the minister, of all men, needs to be free from them." Let us deal with a number of specific things:
But don't try to be yourself at any cost, especially if you are too noticeably odd for your own good and for the edification of your audience. On the other hand, don't try to imitate someone else to the extent that you may be even more peculiar. Be yourself, but be sure that yourself is the type whose pulpit manners are elevating and uplifting, in keeping with the high calling of the gospel minister.
Generally you find more in your audience who are looking to see how you perform than those who are listening to what you say. The worse your mannerisms, the more your audience sees and the less they hear. The more dignified your manner, provided it is not unnaturally stiff, the less they see and the more they hear. We want our audience to hear; that is the reason we preach the Word.
When you get up to preach, stand still! Pause for a bit, and thereafter remember that you are in church and not on a race track or in a boxing arena. Avoid all useless nervous movements. They are annoying.
Did you ever see a speaker play with his watch? Pull at his collar? Twist his coat buttons? Vigorously search through his pockets? Stroke his hair? Scratch his nose? Lick and smack his lips? Pull his coat and trousers into place? If a speaker wants his audience to think calmly, then he himself must be calm and composed.
The voice plays an important part in this question of pulpit manners. Did you ever listen to a monotone-voiced preacher on high, intermediate, or low pitch? There is only one thing worse, and that is a speaker who thinks he should carry on in all three pitches at the same time.
Then there is the shouting preacher. No matter how small the room and audience he just must be heard, even though not understood. And there is the speaker who has no conception as to when to lower and when to raise his voice. When he should come down he goes up, and when he should go up he comes down. That was the trouble with a certain preacher who quoted Revelation 14:6. With a loud voice he started, "I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven," and so on, "saying with a loud voice," et cetera. And then instead of giving the angel's message in a louder tone, he fairly went into a whisper as he continued: "Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come."
We all enjoy listening to the speaker who makes us feel comfortable and at ease by his easy modulation, his pleasing articulation, his intelligible enunciation, and his dignified bearing.
Use gestures—not too many, not too few! Don't stand like a marble statue, or go on a wild rampage. Gestures are for emphasis and not for exercise. Remember that you are in the sacred desk and not in a gymnasium. Wild purposeless gestures destroy rather than help emphasize the message. However, a gesture if it becomes a habit ceases to be a gesture for emphasis and becomes a bad mannerism. Sometimes there are those who apparently are conscious of their solemn responsibility to the point where they overwork solemnity, piety, and humility. They try to impress by self-repression. There is no smile, no look of victory and triumph on their face, no sparkle in their eyes, no challenge in their walk or preaching, no punch behind what they say. Perhaps it is due to some erroneous idea that a minister must be humble, pious, and meek to the point where it is forced. Do they not know that "true humility" and "genuine piety" when brought on exhibition cease to be humility and piety and that they then assume the role of self-glory? As ministers, we should be humble and pious in a natural way, but let us not overwork these divine graces into affected mannerisms.
Then there is the speaker who uses stiff, long, regular, horizontal sweeps with his arm from right to left, and left to right. This awkward gesture is repeated over and over. And another vigorously overworks the up-and-down pump-handle motion of the forearm. Still another repeatedly bends his elbows at right angles and then brings his hands together till the tips of his fingers and thumbs touch each other for just a moment. Then he suddenly releases and starts the process all over again.
All such mannerisms are bad, though perhaps no more trying to the audience than those of the speaker who works all these sets of gestures in almost regular succession. When one set comes, you may be sure that the other sets will soon follow in the same way and the same order.
A pastor of a large church in a western city describes another speaker in the following words:
He would rush to one end of the rostrum, lift his hands high above his head, clench them as if for a blow, bend his knees to about forty-five degrees, and bring his fists down violently, at the same time shouting the concluding words of a sentence often begun at the pulpit.
Some speakers have odd gestures, but the trouble does not lie with their feet and hands. An observer describes one thus:
The fault probably originated in the habit of moistening his lips with his tongue while speaking. From this it had grown into thrusting the tip of his tongue out at the right side of his mouth, doing it at times even in the midst of a sentence. By actual count that tongue came out 26 times inside of five minutes and three times in the midst of a sentence of not more than ten words.
Did you ever watch a speaker who never looked at his audience? Where did he look? Everywhere else! Why not talk to, and look at, your audience instead of to walls and ceilings. The audience likes to be seen and noticed as much as the preacher does!
We are known by what we say, by how we act, and by what we wear. We read: "The influence of the minister who is careless in his dress is displeasing to God."—Gospel Workers, p. 174. And shall we add, "also to his hearers"? The minister's clothes should be neat. Ill-fitting clothes should be avoided. Let us always endeavor to appear on the rostrum well groomed.
Counsel the Ministers Sitting Behind You
It seems strange that some seem to be entirely oblivious of where they are. What poses! What habits! What mannerisms! One fusses with his notebook, his brief case, his hymnal, his tie, his handkerchief. Another one crosses his left leg over the right, then the right over the left, after which he shifts his position. Then he places his left foot on his right knee or his right foot on his left knee. Finally he slides downward and forward on his chair, extending the soles of his shoes in billboard fashion toward the audience. What a sight! And he is absolutely unaware of it all.
Another incessantly whispers. Being inattentive, he lost out on the speaker's text and so must ask his neighbor. As soon as he finds the text, he comments on it, not always in a whistling whisper but at times in a disturbing monotone. After a brief pause something else comes to his mind and again he engages in a conversation with his neighbor. Both become enthusiastic over whatever it is and finally climax the affair with a chuckle.
Brethren, this should not be! Let us do our planning and visiting before we enter; thereafter, listen. Always be a good listener, no matter how dry the talk. Remember, the next message may be delivered by you and could be even drier.
Assume Proper Position for Prayer
There is a proper position for ministers to assume on the rostrum during prayer. The most acceptable way seems to be kneeling toward the congregation. Sometimes ministers are not aware of awkward positions in standing, sitting, or kneeling any more than they are aware of other conspicuous pulpit manners. Habits and mannerisms imperceptibly fasten themselves upon us. We are not aware of our transgressions, therefore we need to examine ourselves for such errors. How many ministers have discovered too late that their ministry has been sadly crippled, all because they have fallen into some pulpit mannerisms, often of a seemingly insignificant nature in their beginnings but growing into such faults as to be a serious offense to their hearers.
Blessed is that minister whose wife knows how to discover and how to administer advice in these matters without cramping his spirit to improve, or weakening his will to overcome, or shattering his initiative to achieve greater heights.
Paul said: "Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed" (2 Cor. 6:3).