Have you heard church leaders, preachers, theologians bemoan the lack of ability of congregations today to listen to a sermon?
Listening audiences are accused of having short attention spans, requiring multi-media delivery of a message, not valuing oratory. But is this true, or fair?
Should the ‘blame’ be shouldered, at least in part, by the preacher?
I suggest that we have lost the ability to communicate orally, not just to listen attentively and to hear.
Can we regain the skills of oratory, utilise tools of performance, and once more hold an audience for longer than 13 minutes (a time suggested in a book called The Prodigal Project as the ideal length for a sermon)?
Can we help listeners learn again to be attentive for longer, to hear a message and hold onto it after the blessing and the handshake at the door?
And should we even strive to achieve these goals? Should we even bother? Or do we abandon the oral communication of our sacred texts for the more culturally popular multi-media presentation?
The loss of oral communication skills, of listening skills, translates into a loss of, or at the very least a profound change to, the relationship between speaker and listener, which is especially important when the speaker is pastor to the listeners.
When we communicate orally, we don’t simply speak words – we meet people in the eye, and the communication event becomes part of the building of relationships as we encounter the sacred narrative of God’s relationship with creation, with God’s people.
This is what I propose to explore in some post-grad research. And I would like to do that through theatre and biblical storytelling. After a conversation with a friend recently, I’d also like to look at interplay – communicating through performance without words. I have mentioned before my hope that it might be possible to develop a performance hermeneutic – a tool for making meaning from a text for our context through performance. I’ll keep thinking about it, and I have heard that there are others beginning to embark on this line of thinking too, so it’s exciting to be joining a new development in our understanding of the Sacred Story. Stay tuned …
Update: Further thoughts in the following article, including detailed tips to improve your public speaking. ‘Ill-treated traditions. Two lecterns lament, then offer hope to their speakers’.