Stop Preaching and Start Communicating by Tony Gentilucci
“The day of the preacher is over; the day of the communicator is here.”
I remember I couldn’t write that phrase down fast enough when I first heard it, afraid that I would not write it out exactly as Haddon Robinson said it. Ever been there? That phrase so gripped me because I so believed it to be true that it became the basis for the title of my book, Stop Preaching & Start Communicating.
I’m often asked what I mean by “stop preaching and start communicating.” Isn’t preaching communicating? The short answer is no, it’s not. The answer Haddon gave me to his quote may help you understand what I mean by my book title. Haddon put it this way, “When I make that comparison, it’s not a put-down. There are people who preach within their tradition, and they do very well. I think the communicator is somebody who is aware of the wider audience and the wider culture, and so therefore he doesn’t really think of himself as preaching a message as much as communicating a message. It’s an attitude as well as a style. I think that communicators are the ones that are needed today to bridge the gap to a secular society.” Not sure how you feel about that answer, but I fully agree with Haddon 100%.
Today’s audiences have absolutely nothing in common with yesterdays. If you think they do, then you may want to take a closer look at what’s going on around you. The fact is it’s a completely different world. If you’re sort of an old-style preacher, the old-fashioned way, that approaches the platform or your pulpit with your famous three points and a poem, if your structures sound like, “My first point is … my second point is … the first reason to do so and so is … the second reason is,” those structures sound like a preacher talking and in this highly technical iPhone carrying, YouTube watching, hyper-texting digital generation that’s not what people are used to. More importantly, it’s not what they’re looking for. They’re driven by a wide variety of social and conventional media. And today’s media doesn’t sound like a preacher talking.
Consider for a moment people’s love affair with their television sets. Having worked in the world of television my entire career, and continuing to do so to this day, it’s no surprise to me that statistics show that the average person watches almost 5 hours of television per day – that’s more than 1,700 hours a year. It’s obvious from these statistics that television is doing something right for people to be tuned in for that amount of time. That’s why my book has nothing to do with television’s content. Instead, it has everything to do with examining television as an effective communications medium, and how public speakers can learn from it.
Rick Warren said it best, “What is irrelevant in my opinion, is our style of communicating the Bible. We tend to still use the style from 50 years back, which doesn’t match who we’re trying to reach today.” I love that quote because I can remember that’s exactly how I felt when I first started attending church. I couldn’t understand a word the guy on the platform read or said. In fact, in the many conversations I’ve had with folks on this topic, when many of them think of preaching or preachers, they think of someone talking in a stained-glass tone of voice saying things that don’t matter as if they do. Others may see an overweight man gasping for breath and hollering at people as though they were deaf. Let’s be honest, today’s audiences are not big fans of preachers and don’t necessarily like sermons. Sermons use a strange language that only the initiated that know the code can understand. For many folks preachers ask questions no one ever asks or solve problems that have never arisen and they provide answers relatively few listeners take seriously.
Now I know some of you may be thinking that I’m being a bit extreme. And perhaps I am. But the truth is it’s not far off from the picture people in the pew or people on the pavement have of those who deliver sermons. In their minds the hour from eleven to twelve on Sunday morning ranks as the most boring hour of the week. The truth is Jesus Christ is the most fascinating person in the universe, but somehow the way He is introduced each week betrays His greatness. Therefore maybe, just maybe, preachers might get more across if instead of preaching a sermon they thought of themselves as communicating a message. How do you do that? The short answer is to be yourself and speak in a language that everyday folks can understand. And always remembering what Andy Stanley said so well, “Church is not for church people. Church is for everyone.” That’s how we stop preaching and start communicating.