A Baptist Minister
Richard has been a minister for eleven years. This is his second church, but it is also the church he grew up in. There are a sprinkling of his family among the congregation as well as a number of other people who have known him since he was born, including during his rather rebellious teens.
He is a fairly short man, about 5 feet 5 and is slightly built. He dresses in what is known as smart casual i.e. clean, but casual clothes – an open necked, short sleeved shirt and slacks. Often he wears a tie, but not today. Only for such formal occasions as a funeral does he wear a jacket. His hair is cut in a short, spiky modern style and he has a small moustache. At first glance one might mistake him for a stand up comedian, especially as he has a rather cheeky grin. Some would see this as rather too casual, but I feel that this relaxed mode is an attempt to engage with a modern audience over a wide range of ages and experiences.
The occasion is Sunday morning at a smallish inner city church. There are some 80 people present. They include a full range of ages over about 15, the children having left for their own class. Included are a number of people for whom English is not their first language Earlier there was a young people‘s story, which explained at least the main idea behind the sermon in a very light-hearted way. It is the second in a series of three on the subject of Pentecost. These have been advertised on small posters on the churches front windows for the past two weeks. I remember when Richard applied for the job and he described his style as modern multi-media in style, and that is what we get. His previous church was only about half an hour away and so many of the congregation were already familiar with his style, which is in total contrast to that of the previous pastor, who had a much more academic, formal and measured approach.
The series is divided into the points – the event, the explanation and the experience of Pentecost. Before the service started there was a power point presentation which included the main points of the previous week’s sermon.
He begins by once more going quickly over the main points of last week’s sermon in order to bring the congregation up to the subject of this week’s sermon and , even more briefly, tells us what next week’s topic is. The sermon has three main points which are illustrated by power point cartoons which are clearly captioned in easily memorised words. One of the positive things about Richards’s preaching is that one can come away remembering each of the main points, because they are repeated, and emphasised in both audio and visual ways. So he tells us what he is about to say, says it, in more than one way, and then tells us what he has told us.
Because there is a power point presentation, Richard tends to stand at an angle to the audience, despite the fact that he has a monitor immediately in front of him. For a small number this means that he has his back to them for much of the time. Because of the power point even two quite deaf people are able to follow what is going on. The audience switch their attention between him and the screen. This means that eye contact is erratic. He wears a chest mike which gives him more freedom of movement than if he remained behind the pulpit. He has notes, but is well prepared and so rarely more than glances at them. His body language and gestures are positive inclusive ones, e.g. he opens his arms wide to include everyone at certain points. He points to the screen to emphasise the points he is making. He uses humor, but doesn’t over use it. This comes as usual at the beginning of the sermon so that he can be more serious when necessary. His voice is used at different volumes and tones as the sermon proceeds. His enunciation is clear and the accent used one that his congregation are familiar with. The language used is easily understandable. On the rare occasions that an unfamiliar word is used it is carefully explained, without any condescension. Every now and again there is interaction with the audience as when he asks questions to which he expects the audience to provide answers.
How effective is his sermon? Well the congregation is growing slowly. Some of those who only came occasionally before now attend on a much more regular basis. I feel that Richard’s method of preaching in series and advertising these ahead of time contributes to this. His style is simple. We have a number of people with slow mental reactions and also those with a lack of facility in English, so his style suits them. Those who prefer a more intellectual approach can get this is the weekly house groups or by going to Bible studies and we understand the need to help everyone understand.
I feel perhaps there is some lack of telling people what to do about the knowledge they have gained i.e. it is rare for there to be an appeal for people to make a spiritual commitment. They seem supposed to do that for themselves. However there is a strong core of people within the church who can follow up the service in chats later at coffee time.
From watching Richard I can see that being thoroughly familiar with both material and equipment is important in allowing this relaxed style of preaching.
I see too a need for more follow up to what is said. Thirdly I can learn that though not a great orator, Richard is able to get his message across clearly to a wide audience simply because h e breaks it down into a few small pieces that can be understood and remembered. John Henry Newman was considered a great theologian, but one of his sermons might have 36 points and a conclusion. I t would have suited an intellectual minority, but Richard gets his message across to everyone and those who want to study more deeply have opportunity to do so later. His style is effective because it is part of a total package of church life. Questions can be asked and answered in a relaxed atmosphere later. Because his headings are memorable everyone can keep them in mind. His style is not everyone’s , but it is effective for this congregation at this time.