Sometimes the style of speech takes the form of dialogue. Nicodemus, the woman at the well and the Philippian jailor were apparently influenced in the course of dialogue. Many others, however, trusted Christ as a result of a public proclamation of the Gospel. This Crossfire article is concerned with the latter ministry, and is a subject in which Christian service officers, who in their professional life often have to speak on sensitive subjects on public occasions, should have an obvious interest. It is a ministry which the New Testament invests with particular dignity and importance (Rom.10:12-15).
Some years ago a retired officer produced the following jingle which
focuses attention on the three key elements of Christian public speaking:
"Manner matters much, Matter matters more, Man matters most".
The hearer will value a voice which is firm with conviction, and yet not pitched too low, mingled if possible with a gentleness which can be heard without effort. If those sitting at the back of a room can hear clearly, then so can everyone. If the delivery is to be clear, the speaker's notes must be clear. Clarity and simplicity are of paramount importance. It has been said of one Christian man who has had a remarkable ministry among undergraduates and boys that on a human level the secret of his success as a speaker lay in the fact that he sought for "clarity not cleverness, utterance not eloquence". So too did the apostle Paul. "My speech and my message were not in plausible words of (man's) wisdom, but in the demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God" (1 Cor. 2:4-5).
The speaker will adjust his manner to the circumstances prevailing. He will need to have a sense of occasion. In a drawing room he will pay more attention to observing the social conventions and blend with them, whereas in the pulpit his manner will conform to that setting. He will want to identify himself with the people to whom he is speaking. Like Paul he will want to so act that he can say to the Jews "I became a Jew that I might gain Jews ..." (1 Cor. 9:20). He will be careful to ask the Lord to keep him especially humble when he speaks to his military colleagues, superiors or subordinates. He will want to use `we', `us' and `ours' rather than `you', as well as eliminating anything which could be interpreted as being critical of military authority or a personal attack. Conviction of sin is the Holy Spirit's prerogative alone (John 16:7-10) although the speaker must be submissive to God's will to declare the Gospel faithfully.
The officer will wish to be circumspect in his dress and appearance, and in his stance and posture he will want to be natural and unostentatious, standing still for the most part and moving his hands only - and that wisely - to make gestures. The Bible he holds in his hand will be of a size which is in keeping with the occasion and into which his notes fit easily. Manner matters much, but matter matters more ...
The speaker must not be afraid of hard work. If he is to speak simply, he must think deeply. Paul's pastoral epistles are conspicuous for the presence of such words as Work - Labour - Study. "Whatever a man sows, that he will also reap" (Gal.6:7). The matter the speaker places before his hearers must interest them. It must be relevant so that their attention is won, their bodies still, their eyes fixed. Memorable and apposite illustrations can be invaluable provided they are consistent with the aim. Someone has assessed that 55% of the Lord Jesus Christ's teaching in Matthew's Gospel consists of illustrations. If a good picture is worth 1000 words, a good illustration is worth several hundred!
The speaker's matter must also instruct his hearers. Thus he must engage their mind using words which convey obvious meaning. He will be mindful that the Saxon derivative is often more winsome that the Latin one. Those who have read Field Marshal Slim's books, written in a similar manner to which he spoke, will find a use of words which convey meaning in a manner which is especially attractive to a military audience. The instruction must be faithful to the aim of the talk and factually accurate. It must also give the same meaning, context, balance and emphasis to the subject as is given in Scripture. Many speakers - especially in their early experience - find that an outline of a talk which has an introduction, three main points and a brief conclusion helps to give the talk integrity and symmetry. Thirdly the matter or content of the talk must inspire. Not only must eyes and minds be focused on the subject, but there must be a movement of the will to act. In this respect the talk must be given to the Holy Spirit to inspire action. "That was an interesting sermon" commented the principal of a theological college to a younger Christian at the end of an Easter morning service where they sat in the congregation, having heard a sermon on the Resurrection. "It was Christ- centered, historical, evidential and scriptural", he added - and then pointed out the deficiency. "It was not applied". Nor had it been! Where there is no application, it is doubtful if there will be any inspiration to act, and the aim of the talk will not be fulfilled; for the Holy Spirit will have had less room to move in. Manner matters much, matter matters more but man matters most!
William Wilberforce, famous for his work in achieving the abolition of slavery in Britain, was so brilliant an orator that he was described as "the nightingale of the House of Commons". However his memorial in Westminster Abbey contains a more glowing tribute: "He left behind him the abiding eloquence of a Christian life". The apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians chapter 2 reveals a superlative picture of the Christian speaker who loves God and his fellow men:
"For our appeal does not spring from error or uncleanness, nor is it made with guile; but just as we have been approved of God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please men but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never used either words of flattery, as you know, or a cloak of greed, as God is witness; nor did we seek glory from men, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse taking care of her children. So being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the Gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. You are our witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our behaviour to you believers; for you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each of you and encouraged you to lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the work of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God which is at work in you believers".(1 Thess.2:3-8,10-13).
"When telling Thy salvation free Let all absorbing thoughts of Thee My heart and soul engross. And when all hearts are bowed and stirred Beneath the influence of Thy Word, Hide me beneath the influence of Thy Cross".
For further reading:
"The Preachers Portrait" by J.R.W. Stott Tyndale Press "50 Key words of the Bible" by J.W. Charley Lutterworth PressClick here to go back to the previous page.