I preached my first Sunday message to adults when I was 16 years old. My sermon was about learning to hear God’s voice using the story of Mary Magdalene and Jesus after his resurrection as my main text.
If you can believe it, I paired my message with a short monologue (talk about awkward) because it was the mid 2000s, and the human video/drama age was still alive and thriving in small and big churches alike.
I’ll forever honor the great man – my pastor for 20+ years – who instilled courage in me, saw God’s calling on my life to teach and preach, and gave me an opportunity to do so at such a young age.
Many communication lessons came with that first night in front of an attentive church – yes, with one of them being don’t do a monologue in the middle of your message. What I remember surprised me the most though is how vocal listeners were to express themselves.
From a teenager’s perspective, a common theme appeared. The church seemed more vocal at certain points in the message. Well thought out points and thoughts were received with claps, outspoken “mmhmm’s” and clear “Amen’s.” So in conjunction, one newly experienced speaker could also assume not doing such a good job would result in quietness… right?
So then and there, the measurement scale was drawn:
Loud, vocal church = good, effective preaching
Quiet church = better luck next time preaching
Watching my favorite pastors online, this measurement scale still seems to be effective.
Even today, my top speaker to listen and learn from is Steven Furtick, and from the observation of his congregation, he does an incredible job! The atmosphere is electrifying. People are hungry to hear God’s Word. They hang on his every thought and explanation. No one seems bored. The feedback is great. Church is lively and vibrant.
So if that’s the standard, my only conclusion has always been “Preach like that.”
So, I did. I practiced and critiqued. I sought out mentors and those who would offer constructive criticism. I replayed messages repeatedly to find any miscommunication pieces. If God called me to accurately and efficiently communicate the Gospel, then I was going to become the best communicator I could be. No misunderstandings. No lulls in time or space. My goal was to have those listening engaged from beginning until end.
Interestingly enough, with all my time invested – feedback during service continually became minimal at best. I’ve tried just about any technique to communicate effectively. Even still though…
Told more stories – silence
Include more humor – muffled laughter
Focus more on real, to the point moments – dead quiet
(Insert in whatever communication technique) – you could hear a pin drop
Fed up, discouraged, and seriously questioning my ministry effectiveness, I finally talked to one source I had not yet approached – someone entirely new to this Jesus thing. They were newly saved, and had just began attending the church.
While feeling vulnerable and nervous, I asked the genuine question, “When I preach, does it make sense? I get nervous because it’s so quiet and I’m not sure if people are getting it or if I’m doing a good job of explaining my thoughts.”
Remember that measurement scale I had built in my mind at 16? It all came crashing down.
“Kayla, I’m quiet – and others I know are quiet – because we’re intently listening. We’re thinking. We’re processing. You have to remember, many of us haven’t heard any of this before. You don’t have to worry if you’re doing a good job. If you weren’t, we would probably be talking.”
Searching that conversation further with others I can now confidently know – response is a culture. Vocal feedback is a culture. I was raised in one culture, and now I serve and lead in a different one.
Reflecting on our church demographic, 30 percent of those attending on a Sunday morning come from an unchurched background, are newly saved, and are around the median age of 30 or younger. They don’t know what Amen even means. They’ve never experienced a service where they can react, laugh or cry. So – they’re quiet. They’re reverent. They’re tuned in to learn more.
And now, I can embrace the silence. Because when they’re silent, God’s Spirit is moving in their hearts on what step to take next. So, Praise God if I never hear an Amen again. I think that would prove to be a successful service indeed.
As coincidence would have it, the next time I preached after that conversation it was on the life of Mary Magdalene. I gave it my all to clearly communicate about her life in relation to the transformational change Jesus gives. It was the quietest I’ve ever experienced in a service – and I was the most comfortable and confident that I had ever been.
I’ll still continue to hit up the Elevation Church podcast every week. I’ll keep up listening with my favorite speakers and Amen them from my living room. They fit they’re culture. They’re divinely placed. They’re excellent speakers who lead well. But for me and the people I serve? I’ve built a new measuring scale void of Amens. Maybe it’s one you can pick up as well.
Sincerity = effective preaching
Relying on Christ’s power and not my own = effective preaching
Adequate preparation and giving my best/excellence = effective preaching
Obedience and knowing God is pleased = effective preaching
Probability tells me that not everyone reading this blog has a desire to communicate publicly. Still, an overarching message speaks to us all today.
No matter how God has gifted us or instructed us for His great plan – can we confidently continue in the midst of silence? When we don’t hear approval or feedback, can we diligently work hard in what God has given us? Can we assuredly stay true to the coarse we’ve been put on?
The lives of history’s greatest men and women – Christ followers or not – have been marked by a resiliency to not be shaken from a clear purpose by the feedback of others. So, be strong. Be steadfast in the silence. Be courageous in the midst of roars from your peers.