(Photo: Hachette Book Group)
I am a preacher. I'm involved in many other things, but, mainly, I preach. And I love it!
As a child, I never would have imagined myself saying that. The last place I wanted to be was standing in front of other people to speak. While I was raised around churches and had gotten to know a few preachers fairly well, the thought never entered my head that I would one day stand and deliver.
Not only was I not interested, I lived with a major struggle: I stuttered. Who knows why? All I can tell you is it only got worse during my early teenage years. By the time I entered high school, speaking in front of a group was my least favorite place to be. Obvi¬ously, God's plans aren't hindered by our fears or limitations. For reasons I will never understand, He decided a hopelessly tongue tied stutterer would someday devote his life to preparing and then delivering a fresh message from His Word at least forty times each year (often more). That in addition to fulfilling the role of shepherd.
The journey from stuttering to "saying it well" took a lot of time. It was neither easy nor quick. The process required the help of others who saw potential in me that I could not. My journey carried me halfway around the world and back before I would even consider any kind of role involving public speaking. This journey also required years of formal education, and several more under a series of mentors, each with something specific to offer that I really needed. Finally, I had to endure a few turbulent years of flying solo before I began to feel comfortable fulfilling my calling: preaching.
After all these years (soon to be five decades) of speaking, teach¬ing, and preaching, I feel that I'm finally ready to put into print much of what now works for me. I'd like to communicate every¬thing, but that's unrealistic. Some things-let's face it-can't be put into words on a page; they must come naturally from within. Each of us has an inimitable "style" that is ours and ours alone. God has gifted each person like no one else. It is essential that you discover your own "put together," as my dad would say. Once you find out what that consists of, you need to cultivate being YOU. I'll be careful to keep that in mind as I write this book. The last thing you need to be is another me. One is certainly enough! But there are some things I will mention that might be of value to you; I hope so.
Before we go any further, let's go back to what I called "essential" ...your being YOU. I want to pass along three simple yet extremely significant insights that I've mentioned to individuals and groups over the years. These three, if remembered and cultivated, will not only enable you to keep being YOU, they will make a world of difference in your verbal communication skills when you stand and speak to others.
• Know who you are.
• Accept who you are.
• Be who you are.
Not only is each one essential, the order is important. At first glance they may seem so elementary you want to yawn. But wait. Look again. In order for you to stand and deliver with any measure of confidence and ease, discovering and applying each one is invaluable.
Know who you are. Truth be told, most folks I meet have never made a study of themselves. Therefore, they do not know themselves-not deeply. For whatever reason, the lack of in depth self awareness is widespread. Most do not know their giftedness and skills, their unique temperament and personality, their strengths and weaknesses, or how they come across when they are with others. I'm underscoring this because knowing ourselves is basic to delivering a clear message to others. The better we know who we are, the greater will be our effectiveness and ease of delivery . . . and the less we'll attempt to be someone we're not. That, by the way, is a major plague among preachers.
Accept who you are. As we discover who we are, the next all important decision is to accept the truth of that discovery. The by product is wonderfully relieving-you become free. Remember, it's the truth that sets us free. Rather than acting otherwise, the one who accepts himself or herself, lives in the wonderful world of reality, not make believe fantasyland. This doesn't mean, however, that we like everything about ourselves; it only means we understand our makeup. We are aware of our identity, we are willing to live with it, and we won't attempt to act otherwise. Good communicators don't fake it. This leads us to the third and crowning realization.
Be who you are. I know of nothing more valuable, when it comes to the all‑important virtue of authenticity, than simply being who you are. When you become comfortable inside your own skin, you'll experience a natural flow from your lips. Furthermore, you will have far less difficulty arriving at two invaluable accomplishments: "finding your voice" and "becoming the message." Unfortunately, this "being who you are" doesn't come as naturally as you might think, it's not something you can sit down and decide-although it begins with a decision-and you don't suddenly arrive. It's a process of growing in which you willingly allow God to make you increasingly more YOU, in life first, and then on your two feet before an audience.
I'll write much more about that in the course of this book because it is so crucial to "saying it well." Unfortunately, in trying to explain how one "finds his or her voice" and "becomes the message" quickly becomes either too esoteric to be practical or too pedantic to be interesting. So, I decided to use my own journey as an example of how the Lord accomplished that in my own life. I rarely prefer to talk about myself, but it's easier to show the transformation in my own life than to tell about it in the lives of others.
That is, after all, the method used by the Bible. Think about various people featured in the pages of God's Word. Most were effective in their communication because they acknowledged the truth about themselves, came to terms with that truth, allowed the Lord to do His work in and through them, and then-finally- spoke with a voice of authenticity. To name only a few, consider these fourteen individuals:
• Moses, by age eighty, couldn't speak with ease and he admitted it.
• Amos was a rough, unsophisticated prophet and he didn't hide it.
• Jeremiah was so brokenhearted his tears frequently flowed.
• The Baptizer refused to waste his time trying to be the Messiah.
• David never forgot the humble roots of his early years.
• Paul saw himself as "chief of sinners" and "a wretched man."
• Joseph forgave his brothers, but never denied their wrong¬doing.
• Esther knew that what she said to the king was a huge risk.
• Luke was a physician and his scholarly vocabulary shows it.
• Once the Virgin Mary understood her role, she accepted it with humility.
• When Elijah fell into a depression, he acknowledged it.
• Nehemiah refused to let Sanballat intimidate him.
• Job openly expressed his grief and confessed his confusion.
• John wrote of his own fear in witnessing the future judgments.
Even Jesus, though not hindered by sin or personal issues, had to grow into His identity as the Messiah. He grew from infancy into a full knowledge of His deity, and then at age thirty‑three identified Himself as "the way, the truth, and the life."
Each one of these individuals delivered messages that were meaningful and influential. Though they lived centuries ago, what they said (and in some cases, wrote) continues to reach deep into hearts and touch lives. It's still going on. When we analyze each one, we realize how different those people were, but each person's inimitable "style" penetrated the minds of those who heard them. In some cases, life was never the same as a result of what they communicated. A major reason for their effectiveness was their self‑awareness, their willingness to accept reality, and their determination to be who they were.
I wanted to cover these bases early on, lest anyone who picks up this book thinks that by reading what I've written you can escape the reality of who you are. On the contrary! It is who you are that will play a major role in your proclaiming your message with passion and effectiveness. Because God gave you your makeup and superintended every moment of your past, including all the hardship, pain, and struggles, He wants to use your words in a unique manner. No one else can speak through your vocal cords, and, equally important, no one else has your story. When all of that is blended into a message He wants proclaimed, it is nothing short of remarkable. Perhaps you're not ready to believe that right now-as I wasn't able to see past my own stuttering-and so I would ask that you simply "take it by faith" for now. It will take a while for you to get everything into focus. It took me decades.
For the sake of clarification, let me assure you that what follows is not a slick set of techniques that will turn you overnight into an outstanding communicator. While I will do my best to explain the things I've learned which have become invaluable to me, please don't think that when you put them into action, you'll have the persuasive ability of Winston Churchill or the colorful eloquence of Charles Haddon Spurgeon or the commanding presence and voice of the late President Ronald Reagan. That's not only impossible, it's nonsense. Instead, view them as tips from a fellow traveler, one who has already made most of the wrong turns and stumbled over the hazards that lie before you. No amount of technique will ever replace authenticity, but when you speak from a place of authenticity, the techniques will enhance your message.
I hope through this book to encourage you to know and then accept and then become the real YOU, warts and all. As you get more comfortable with that, you will have less interest in trying to be (or sound like) somebody else. Since God made you YOU, He expects the message that you communicate to flow out of YOU and no one else. The only thing you and I have in common with every other individual is humanity. Whatever we speak flows through similar human vocal cords that every other human being possesses. Other than that anatomical fact, we're absolutely distinct individuals.
It is that which makes our message compelling and our delivery unique-our own individuality. Let's never forget that. From this point on, it's important that you release yourself from the straitjacket of others' expectations. Furthermore, you must determine to overcome your fear of not sounding like some other person you admire. You can certainly learn from them...but don't waste your time trying to be them-or acting a little like them. That's phony. Until you free yourself from that trap, you'll not find your own voice. I repeat: you are YOU and none other. From here on out, seek to glean whatever you can use from this book, never forgetting that each insight or principle or suggestion must be fitted into YOUR style and YOUR way of expressing yourself when YOU speak or preach.
How I wish someone in my formal education had told me these things! Because no one did, I spent far too much time trying to look like or sound like someone I wasn't. Thankfully, all that is behind me-and I hope the same will someday be true of you.
It is appropriate for me to pause long enough to express my gratitude for several individuals who have encouraged me in the writing of this book. My faithful publishing friends, Rolf Zettersten and Joey Paul of FaithWords, not only believed in this project, they urged me to write it after they published my previous work, The Church Awakening. Their excitement has motivated me to stay at it and to keep "saying it well." My longtime personal friend, Sealy Yates, has remained an excellent sounding board for me as we have talked at length about the value of and need for this book. His excellent assistance as my literary agent has been invaluable. And, of course, my editor, Mark Gaither, has provided outstanding ideas and suggestions along the way. Being my son‑in‑law along with being so creative and talented with his pen has led to hours of meaningful interaction together. How often we spanned the extremes in our numerous dialogues-from quiet and deeply serious discussions to outbursts of hilarious fun and loud laughter. Without Mark, I simply could not have written my words so clearly or expressed them so well.
That's enough to get us started. In the pages that follow, I want to take you through a process that's like a flow chart of my own life as a public speaker and preacher. To help me focus on one important segment after another, I've given a one‑word title to each section.
Because everything began with what I often refer to as my "calling," that's the best place to start.