I’m working on a book idea on Christian communication. Last week I put together some of the framework and last night on a whim, I wrote the introduction and began working on the metaphor. I need to be careful because I’ve got one book I’m trying to finish and have only about 3 chapters to go, but this came to me yesterday so I decided to put it on paper. It’s just an introduction to some of the ideas I’m going to talk about. I’ll share parts of this as they get developed as a series called Oranges to Apples: Communication for the 21st Century Preacher.
I remember the day so well. It made such an impression on me that I can almost visualize the email I received. Before I get there, let me tell you the back-story.
In a 1990 marketing class at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, our group was to give a marketing presentation for a pool fountain that someone had developed. The problem was, they were not marketers and needed a marketing strategy for the product. Who else to help but an introductory marketing class?
On the day of the presentation, I had sat with the information I was to present for a while. I did not memorize it; rather, I just processed it over and over in my mind, allowing it to become part of me in some small way. I do not have any recollection of what I said. After our presentation, our class took a break, and I left. I had done my job and felt I done it well. Besides, there were friends to see and fun to have.
On the day of the final, I finished and was walking out of the class. My professor followed me out. When we got outside of the class he told me that my classmates loved my presentation and thought I would be a great salesman. Since I had scooted at the break, I was not around to hear that, but the professor wanted to make sure I knew the perception of my classmates.
In 1992, I graduated from college with a degree in Computer Information Systems. I enjoyed the degree because of the mixture of business and technology. I¢â‚¬â„¢m not a detailed person by nature; it is something at which I have to work very hard. So I tolerated that part because I thought it would give me a heads up in the workforce if I needed it. But what I really enjoyed was the business part. I enjoyed talking and presenting, and those business projects gave me an avenue to do so.
Seminary, however, was to be my destination and after the first semester I decided that I would concentrate in the area of preaching. I took every class I could and read doctoral-prescribed books for the fun of it.
In 1995, I graduated from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. I not only graduated, but I had been accepted into the PhD program in Preaching. I was going to do work in apologetic preaching and my doctoral adviser was already in place and helping me think through ideas. Unfortunately, however, a church called me as pastor, and I never started in the degree.
A few years later I had gotten out of the ministry short-term and was using the technology degree I really did not want to use. I had been infused again with the desire to do ministry of some type, or at least continue my education in the PhD in Preaching program as we waited for God to place us where we could be most useful for Him. So I emailed my former professor about the possibility of coming back and working on a PhD.
And that is when the stunning (to me) email arrived. It said the following which I am paraphrasing:
David, don¢â‚¬â„¢t do it. We are teaching guys to prepare sermons but we are not teaching them to communicate the truths of the Gospel. My suggestion to you is to go to a state school and get a PhD in Communications. In fact, I¢â‚¬â„¢m working on a Master¢â‚¬â„¢s in Communications myself.
A good friend in the church we were attending was a communications professor at the University of South Florida. I asked him for his insights and suggestions. He recommended that I take some classes as a non-degree student in communications. There would be admission requirements and they could eventually be part of my degree work if I got into a program. So at the end of the year, I signed up to take a PhD class in Organizational Communication for the winter term. I also signed up for the GRE. Again.
I loved that class. I loved what I was learning. I loved it so much that when I was offered two ministry roles and my wife her own role just three months later, we sensed God allowing us to accept the offer extended to my wife. It was close enough to the University of Alabama that I could continue in my communication studies there. I took classes again as a non-degree student, applied for admittance in the PhD program, and was accepted. They even offered to pay for my education and pay me to work in the department 20 hours per week. Sadly, I did not start because God moved us again.
In taking those classes as a non-degree student, I was fascinated by what little I knew about communication theory. If the role of a pastor was to stand before people and communicate the message of the scriptures in a way that people could understand, why had I not learned any communication theory in seminary? I learned the basics of sermon structure, but nothing about communication theory. In fact, in a sermon delivery class, I actually used a parable to explain a parable (and I thought I did quite well actually), driving home the single point at the end. However, I was criticized both by my professor and classmates because I did not use the appropriate alliterative structures or points. However that was the point: parables don’t use points.
Is this what we have reduced preaching to? Alliterative structures? Simple rhymes? Sermons constructed for fill-in-the blank handouts and PowerPoint presentations? Is that what we call good communication?
What I learned in those communication classes told me that how we communicate is as important as what we communicate.
I have been teaching and preaching in church settings since I was fifteen. As I sit and write this, I¢â‚¬â„¢m forty-one. I have done really badly in communicating during those twenty-six years and I have also knocked it out of the park! I would like to think I get better with experience and with adopting what I learned from my informal doctoral work and later in the doctoral I actually completed.
I hope you receive it well. I also hope you will apply the principles and adapt your communication of the Gospel so that you can share it in a way that best enables people to receive it, realizing all along that it is the Spirit who is the greatest teacher of all.