Pastors and Public Speaking

One of the more prominent figures in a church is that of the pastor. The pastor is essentially the chairman of the board of directors, where the church elders make up the remaining members. Regardless of how a particular church has formed its government, the pastor is the public face of the organization. One of the reasons (besides Biblical) the pastor is at the fore-front is because week-in and week-out, the pastor has to get in front of hundreds of people and preach a sermon.

There’s a widely held belief that the number one fear or any particular individual is that of public speaking. A church pastor has to perform public speaking at least once a week. Talk about bravery!

As brave as it is for pastors to get in front of a lot of people, I have several problems with regards to their approach on public speaking. I’ve attended many churches, and the style of preaching is more-or-less the same. The arena of public speaking is to capture the audience’s attention and lead them to a logical conclusion. Pastors and public speaking, however, tend to break a lot of the rules when it comes to giving a speech.

In a typical formulaic speech, the first thing the speaker must establish is credibility. If the speaker has no credibility, then there is no reason for the person to continue to speak. The next thing the speaker must establish is emotional appeal. The speaker must grab everyone’s attention and lead them to a conclusion. The last thing the speaker must establish is a logical flow. The speech should be structured so that the audience will be led to the conclusion logically.

Listed below is a rough outline of a typical speech:

  1. Introduction (Establish credibility).
  2. Tell the audience what the speech is about and what you intend to tell them.
  3. Go over all of the points in a logical order.
  4. Conclusion. Remind the audience of what you have told them.

A pastor’s speech (from my own experience) goes a little like this:

  1. Introduction. No establishment of credibility is needed because of the pastor status.
  2. Introduce the context of the Bible verses.
  3. Read the Bible verses.
  4. Start going through each Bible verse one-by-one.
  5. Talk about each Bible verse individually and give a brief story.
  6. Re-read the Bible verses and give another brief story.
  7. Start the close of the sermon.
  8. Read the Bible verses again. Reiterate the overall point.
  9. Tell another brief story.
  10. Read one last verse.
  11. Tell another brief story.
  12. Tell the audience how everything was relevant.
  13. Quote an established Christian author.
  14. Read one more verse.
  15. Conclusion.

If you have observed the above points, you will note that the conclusion started somewhere in the middle of the speech. I have nothing wrong with a pastor going over the allocated time, or even if a sermon seems to drag on and on. However, when a pastor states, “I will close with this”, the audience is about ready to go. When the sermon then drags on for twenty more minutes, I can imagine why the audience is a little peeved.

If a pastor ever reads this, here is my advice. Never use the words “close”, “conclude”, “end with”, “finally”, or “in conclusion” unless you are two minutes from wrapping up. The worst thing an audience member can hear is, “After these four points, I will conclude.”

It amazes me that pastors can make somebody feel guilty for being bored when the pastor himself is a poor public speaker. Being a pastor is not a golden ticket for being a boring public speaker. Sometimes when I’m sitting in church, I can hear the “Monty Python” characters saying, “Get on with it!” There’s no real reason to drag on a point. There’s also no reason to lie to your audience. If the pastor is going to conclude, then the pastor should conclude — period.

As a disclaimer, this is in no way targeted towards any particular pastor (including the one I currently have). I happen to like my current pastor. Thanks for reading.

5 thoughts on “Pastors and Public Speaking”

  1. What was the point of this? If the pastor isn't a good speaker move on.. quit crying.. There is no set guideline as to how someone should give a speech.. And you don't calculate the variables such as charisma and humor that help someone who is a good public speaker… And it doesn't take bravery to speak publicly.. Those who do it.. such as teachers, politicians, pastors… get used to it.. When your not used to speaking in public of course it's scary.. but once you do it for awhile your fine.. I remember playing sports and being in drama in high school.. I was soo scared the first couple of games or plays.. but after a while you settle down..

  2. Jacob,

    You of all people know how hard it is to find a church. The post just goes over one little peeve I have with pastors and their tendency to not conclude when they say they will conclude.

    I think it takes a gifted speaker to get over being "scared." I've found that speaking — even in an environment where I know and am comfortable with everybody involved — is still a little unnerving.

  3. Contrary to what Jacob said, public speaking is an extraordinary skill to have.

    Making a point is not equivalent to crying.

    Neither is wishing for a situation to be better.

    Neither is making constructive suggestion to go on in line with your wish.

    I have come across good speakers and standardized ones. But there is one observation i made – good speakers do not neccessary make good pastors.

    But it is also good for pastors to speak well.

    Then the audience will remember the pastor’s words for a longer period of time.

  4. Hey,

    I’m about to graduate and be placed as a pastor. I really appreciated what you had to say here and thought it was funny and accurate. I agree, communication is such a crucial aspect of any job and especially for a pastor.


  5. Well said. And as I am beginning to wrestle with videotaping myself and doing up to two hours of talking at one time, i am extremely aware of your excellent points. My problem is… I always hate my videotapes. I lack energy and funny stories. I come off as reading. (I read my sermons… and am afraid of just jotting down points… don’t won’t to miss important details.)

    So… I have tried to stand up and give more energy… and it sounds forced and I overload the microphone. Nevertheless… I am still captivated by what I say… even in watching my own sermons again and again. I give allowance that they are not Hollywood quality, nor are they really entertaining… but there is an invisible interest in them I have… even though i am the one delivering them. I cannot explain why I enjoy hearing them again and again. And every time I listen, I wish I had the gift of superstar disc jockey radio personalities, top rated male actors on sitcoms, and golden voices whose mere talking makes people sit forward in their chairs… James Earl Jones, John Wayne, and a multitude of voice over stars who grace the commercials on TV. Dan Ingram and Cousin Brucey were the superstar jocks of the twentieth century. And Jerry Seinfeld, and numerous other superstars have unique voices that we cannot tear our ears away from when we hear them… but they ain’t me.

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