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Ministry in Context

Public Speech: A Reflection on Technique by Tim Coltvet

Early in my call as a Christian public leader, I was given some guidelines for public speech. Unlike my Homiletics course (which was ripe with theological and ecclesial background and frameworks), these guidelines came from more of a "technique" angle. Now, I don’t know that I have ever hit on all cylinders with respect to technique! But I do think that these precepts have kept me honest when preparing everything from a sermon to an annual meeting address to teaching Confirmation. Here they are:

  1. I will not waste your time.
  2. I know who you are.
  3. I am well-organized.
  4. I know my subject.
  5. Here is the most important point.
  6. I am finished.

As I stated earlier, these are clearly not derived from the preaching of Peter or Paul. But, the sentiment behind each of these principles is rock-solid, I think. They communicate that the messenger’s work starts well before the message is delivered and values the gathered assembly well before they ever had a thought of what might be proclaimed or stated publicly that day!

As you continue to grow in the delivery of God’s word and promises in the world, know that you do not walk alone. Many of us in this calling continue to seek wisdom and understanding as we seek to deliver the Good News of Jesus Christ in a new day. May God’s courage and abundance fill you as you seek to be faithful in bringing a transforming and life-giving Word. “I will not waste your time” reminds me that there better be a bit of passion behind what I’m about to say. If I am reading a commentary for large portions of my message, the gathered body may wish that I did so in a study carrel in the library rather than the precious few minutes we have as a gathered body. Valuing the hearers time has to do with one’s preparation, one’s delivery, and one’s earnest desire to value the ears that will hear!

Knowing and being known is one of the great fruits of Christian community. As a key leader, one has the opportunity to set the tone for the community. By being a contextual leader, one participates in and rehearses the local stories. Bringing these assets into one’s role as a public speaker will be a tremendous gift.

“I am well-organized” and “I know my subject” are messages that may sound self-serving when stated explicitly. These messages do, however, translate through one’s words and actions. Many of us have been exposed to some toe-curling sermons or speeches that made us nervous for the speaker, or even utterly frustrated with them! Lack of organization and shallow thinking a happy congregation does not make.

Taking the time to identify one’s central point can be the greatest gift of all. It is not only a gift to the congregation. It also becomes a powerful discipline for the one delivering the message. Once that central point is crystallized, new pathways emerge in the rhetorical process. I have experienced this multiple times and found that the illustrations and images that come forth bring deepening impact to the delivery of a solid message.

“I am finished.” The benefit of most messages in Christian public leadership, is that they often end with a very deliberate word, namely, “Amen.” As clear and deliberate as that word is, literally communicating “so be it, it is so….” the conclusion to a message is an opportunity to send the gathered body forward with momentum. Whether being sent into the creative and redemptive activity of God through action, through reflection, or into the mysterious pull of both, your message should let people know that you are finished with your message and creating room for a response. It won’t be an immediate response, likely, but will go with them due to the care you bring in a meaningful conclusion.

As you continue to grow in the delivery of God’s word and promises in the world, know that you do not walk alone. Many of us in this calling continue to seek wisdom and understanding as we seek to deliver the Good News of Jesus Christ in a new day. May God’s courage and abundance fill you as you seek to be faithful in bringing a transforming and life-giving Word.

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