[I wrote this several months back and never got around to posting it. I thought of it again when I had a similar nightmare about preaching two nights ago.]
I had my first nightmare about preaching recently. It was funny to me because I get nervous about public speaking, but not as much as it seems to bother most people. It’s hardly a nightmare-worthy topic for me in general.
In my dream, I was a guest speaker somewhere, perhaps a retreat (since it was pretty late at night). I spoke once and before I got up to speak a second time, I realized I didn’t know what I was going to say. I waffled between two passages until it was time to get up and speak. When I got up, I noticed that there were only a handful of people left from the first session; most of them had already left. Then I woke up in a cold sweat.
When I woke up, I realized that my dream was in response to a message I heard a few weeks back. A pastor gave a sermon that was simply opening up the Bible and explaining how what it said applied to us. He used illustrations to draw out the meaning, but his message relied heavily on simply reading what the Bible said and telling people, “This is about you. This is what you’re seeing in your life. This is what you have to look forward to.”
Amazingly enough, it was one of the most moving messages I have heard in a long time.
In my dream, I anxiously told myself that choosing a passage would be enough because it had been enough for the message I heard in real life. Clearly, some part of me doesn’t believe this. Some part of me believes that in order to bring to word of God to his people, I need bells and whistles to grab their attention. I need to be funny, clever, and to prove that I’m worth listening to.
The more I reflect on speaking (and speakers) for my current preaching class and my own growth, the more I realize that truly great speakers do two things.
1) Great speakers are captivated by their message. In preaching, this means they are captivated by the God they endeavor to introduce to others. Great speakers believe the message they bring is critical. They clearly have continued to ponder it, chew on it, meditate on it, and can’t get over it! They are learning even as they teach and invite others along for the journey.
2) Great speakers are captivated by their audience. The bottom line is that great speakers love their audience. They recognize that public speaking is a conversation and they listen for the responses, verbal and nonverbal. They understand the questions people are asking, even if they don’t know every individual.
It’s not that great speakers are captivating, but that they’re captivated.