Preaching With A Baby!
Every weekend that I have offered messages on a Sunday morning, for the past 16 years now (gulp, that's a long time), I have always made to sure to take some time to practice my Sunday message, the day before, on Saturday. I don't "practice" delivery technique, the way that, for example, Rev. Dr. Lloyd Ogilvie might have in a previous era. Mostly, I work on memorizing the message and hearing with my own ears how a message ebbs and flows. Speaking a sermon out-loud helps me to hear how the congregation hears the message on a Sunday morning. Often, content that I think is just fantastic on paper, ends up not being not so great when it is spoken. Ideas that I think seem like logical linkages don't link when I actually hear them in my ear. So, I have taken each Saturday, for 16 years now, to stand in my office, or sanctuary, or garage and practice my message.
This past Saturday, during the time that I normally practice, I was on baby duty. Not only was I on baby duty, but Ewan (our 6 week old) was crying more than usual. He was very fussy. How was I going to calm a baby down and practice my sermon at the same time? The answer was, very carefully!
Rather than preaching my sermon in the usual fashion of sort of a "preaching voice, guy from the front style", I had to modify to be much more baby friendly. I had to deliver my message with a simple softness, a quiet calming baby voice, a soothing comforting voice of solace and tranquillity. "Good morning," I said, as I rocked Ewan in my arms and held a bottle to his lips, "We are on the third week of our series called, Rio: Embracing God's Rivers Of Mercy" - (waaaaaa!!!!!). "Ok, ok, hush little baby don't say a word, mama's gonna buy you a...ok that's good, sweet baby..." (Much quieter this time, and in a sing song voice), "Gooood morning....We are on the third week of our storrrry called, RIIIOOO." Presto, Ewan was asleep.
So, how did,
Preaching With A Baby
change the way I preached my sermon last week? I hasten to add that I did not bring Ewan up front with me as I preached my actual message before the congregation. And you will have to ask my congregation if the message that I preached was more or less effective. but here's a few ideas that came to me:
It's Different Actually Being In the Presence of A Fragile Little Living Thing
To hold a baby in your arms is to hold a very fragile little life form in your arms. You sense how vulnerable a child is, and how each little movement has to be done with very careful delicacy. Preaching to "adult people" is also an act of preaching to people who are fragile. Preaching to real people, is an activity which must be undergone with tenderness and delicacy. All people's souls are fragile, and speaking to them must be done with the sense that the souls that are listening are doing so from a place of sometimes being injured and tender and raw. We must be careful when we preach to not do any harm to the people who are listening.
No Quick Jerky Motions and Transitions
Moving quickly or speaking in an abrupt way which goes from one idea to the next quickly woke up my son, Ewan. But if an idea flowed and was consistent and clear and was seamless, he stayed calm and asleep. Jerky transitions were jarring, smooth movement was comforting. I once asked the great preacher John Ortberg what his main key to great preaching was. He said, "transitions," and recommended a book called, "Homiletics: How It Moves And Transitions". The problem with most sermons is not that they have too few ideas, but that they have too many, that are underdeveloped and move in a jerky transitional way.
Lose the Preaching Voice
I have tried for a long time not to ever have a "preaching voice" that is different than a normal speaking voice. And yet, a "preaching voice", though I don't want it to, just sometimes creeps in. You think you are speaking in a normal voice up front, when all of a sudden you say something like, "And thus the problem is that we tarry a little too much along the way..." and you have adopted a preaching voice, and lost the congregation. When I spoke my sermon in a calm voice Ewan stayed calm, when I preached it in a "preachy voice" he woke up and cried.
Preaching in the midst of children of all ages changes the entire tone and content of a message. Jesus loved having children around when he preached, which means that he must have preached in a kind, warm, soft, soothing way. When others told Jesus to send the children away, so that he could speak just to the adults (presumably in a preaching voice), Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and don't stop them. For the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are like these children." Matthew 19:14.
Next week, I will continue this theme in my next blog post, and some thoughts on the connection between taking an offering while changing a diaper...
All For Now,