2/17/2015

Preaching Without Notes

(Answers below.)
  1. According to the quotes by Augustine, Aristotle and Quintilian, what is a crucial aspect of preaching/teaching?
  2. What does "preaching by ear" mean (preach without notes)? What is it not? Practically, what is it?
  3. What is the difference between preaching by memory and preaching by memorization?
  4. What about using notes or reading off a script?
"For no one may benefit another with that which he does not have himself." St. Augustine, On Christian Doctrine.

"...the speaker('s)...character must almost be called the most effective means of persuasion he possesses." Aristotle, Rhetoric.

"I am convinced that no one can be an orator who is not a good man, and even if anyone could, I should be unwilling that he should be." Quintilian (35-100 AD), Institutes of Oratory.
"When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice" (John 10:4, NIV).

To all preachers and Bible teachers: Beware! People have built-in baloney detectors.

Preach in the moment. (My review of an excellent book: Preaching By Ear.) Preaching by ear is speaking from personally held deep convictions in a way that enables our words to unfold in the heat of the moment by considering the actual people present with us. We are well-prepared, but we're not certain exactly how it will come out of our mouths. Instead of expecting passive receivers or recipients of the sermon, it allows people to feel a participation in the sermon.

Ultimately you preach yourself. The content of preaching should be the message of Scripture communicated through the person that you truly are--with honesty and without the pretense that can arise out of practice and performance, for it can hide our true selves. You cannot really preach something that you are not, or teach anything authentically where you have not been (Jn 10:4).

Preach on honesty, or simply be honest. Imagine a preacher exhorting the need for honesty with passion and with many quotations and citations from Scripture. Or another preacher who says very little about honesty, yet discloses a fault about himself, say his tendency toward laziness, or a lack of discipline, or a temptation to pornography. In the first case, the subject is honesty. In the second case, the sermon itself is honest. The first preacher will be perceived as stating the obvious. The second preacher will be more readily welcomed by the audience.

Orality in the OT:
  • Creation began or starts with sound not sight (Gen 1:3; Ps 33:6).
  • God spoke the Ten Commandments (Ex 20:1, 22; Dt 5:5), which Moses delivered orally. Later "Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord (Ex 24:4). The written came afterwards to preserve. [There are only a few times in the entire Bible when God wrote (Ex 31:18); Belshazzar's feast in Daniel; Jesus writing in the sand. This is consistent with the role of literacy in the ancient world where writing was used primarily to document speech.]
  • The Shema of Israel (Dt 6:4-9) is a a call from orality: "Hear," not "Read, O Israel!"
Orality in Jesus:
  • Jesus didn't write anything. Jesus' authored words were captured in text some 30 years later.
  • Mt 22:33; Lk 4:22; Jn 7:46 portray the spoken words of Jesus as significantly central to his entire ministry. Jesus quotes Mt 5:18 easily shows a high value for oral fluency without dependence on an actual scroll. The priority of the spoken word is shown in Mt 4:4, which quotes Dt 8:3. Nine times Jesus says, "He who has ears to hear..." (Mt 11:15; 13:9, 43; Mk 4:9, 23; 7:16; 8:18; Lk 8:8; 14:35).
  • In Jn 10:2-5, the sheep do not watch the shepherd and follow his example or scrutinize his appearance. Four times the listening process is described as crucial to correctly identifying the good shepherd. There is recognition of tone and texture of voice. Gk phōnē in Jn 10:3,4,5 means literally "sound" or "noise." We may misidentify a friend in darkness or disguise but almost never mistake their voice.
Orality for centuries:
  • The Bible was received orally for centuries before it was textually common. For ~ 90% of the history of God's people, there were no personal Bibles feasibly owned by common people. They had to get along in the faith without the benefit of a personal Bible or any sustained and systematic obligation to read it for themselves. Their faith was activated in the world using only the oral/aural reception of the Word of God that they heard articulated from the synagogue or parish lecture/sermon.
Answers:

1. According to the quotes by Augustine, Aristotle and Quintilian, what is a crucial aspect of preaching/teaching?
  • "For no one may benefit another with that which he does not have himself." St. Augustine.
  • "...the speaker('s)...character must almost be called the most effective means of persuasion he possesses." Aristotle.
  • "I am convinced that no one can be an orator who is not a good man, and even if anyone could, I should be unwilling that he should be." Quintilian (35-100 AD), Institutes of Oratory.
  • Make sure that we deepen as people more than as a preacher, teacher or communicator. It is far too easy to use our natural giftedness or comfort level to cover a lack of deep, prayerful connection to God. God does not require us to be flawless. But He does ask us to be honest--not claim more than we actually are.
  • We should determine to speak of nothing that we are not actually trying on for ourselves (Jn 10:4).
  • Get to the crucial, not the trivial. Speak from the heart with fear and trembling (1 Cor 2:3), not just from the head with knowledge, information, stories and commands. Quit worrying about being smooth and polished.
2. What does "preaching by ear" mean (preach without notes)? What is it not? Practically, what is it?
  • Preaching by ear is speaking from personally held deep convictions. It enables our words to unfold in the heat of the moment by considering the actual people present. We are well-prepared, but we're not certain exactly how it will come out of our mouths. Instead of expecting passive receivers or recipients of the sermon, it allows people to feel a participation in the sermon. In short, it is to preach in the moment.
  • It is NOT (1) preaching without preparation (spontaneous or impromptu); (2) It is NOT preaching by memorizing the message.
  • It is to speak to your audience and have a conversation with them, not read to them.
  • It is to trust God to give you the words to say at the moment. It is to trust your deep, prayerful preparation.
  • It is to start a sentence and let the faces of the people help you to finish it. It is to take a risk, be vulnerable. Offer something authentic and personal and maybe a bit clumsy. It is a challenge.
  • An oral style, though extemporaneous and flexible, is not random or haphazard.
  • Your sermon/preaching/teaching is the overflow of a saturated life, with Scripture internalized (Eze 3:1-3).
3. What is the difference between preaching by memory and preaching by memorization?
  •  It is memory--NOT memorization--that fuels delivery. Building the treasury of the memory is lifelong (Mt 13:52).
  • Trying to remember what you wrote rather than relying on the moment to let your words flow distracts. The task of memorization siphons off mental energy from the content and the audience.
  • Allow magic to happen in the balance of both preparation and spontaneity during your preaching/teaching.
  • Learn to craft your sentences "on the fly" (as in daily conversation). Let your audience pull words out of you.
4. What about using notes (or reading off a written or typed script)?
  • Getting away from notes is not the point. Writing should refine your speaking, not create dependence.
  • Written notes, though reassuring, are a poor substitute for the properly prepared force of an incisive memory.
  • To regain oral competence consciously rid your addiction to notes. There WILL be initial pain in withdrawal.
  • Learning to preach/teach without notes or memorization frees your eyes to make contact with your audience. Every time you look down at notes, eye contact is lost and you encourage minds to wander.
5. Consider these verses regarding orality in the Bible: * Creation (Gen 1:3; Ps 33:6). * The Ten Commandmants (Ex 22:1, 22; Dt 5:5). * The Shema of Israel (Dt 6:4-9). * The effect of Jesus' spoken words (Mt 22:33; Lk 4:22; Jn 7:46). * How sheep respond (Jn 10:2-5). * Nine times Jesus says, "ears to hear" (Mt 11:15; 13:9, 43; Mk 4:9, 23; 7:16; 8:18; Lk 8:8; 14:35).