Saturday, February 11, 2006

We Need Preachers

Mega-Churches thrive. What is it about going to church in a stadium that gets people so motivated to attend? I think the answer is that they like to hear a good sermon. They like the preacher. (The fact that they don't have a lot of responsibilities is probably a nice bonus in a busy world.)

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we don't make much use of professional preachers. We have conference twice each year where we hear from our full-time church leaders. The rest of the time we are led and taught by amateurs. As my inclusion of the previous link will attest, I don't think amateurism is a bad thing necessarily. But some people have struggled with the three-hour block of church presented by people who aren't great orators. Even those who, perhaps like me, don't struggle with boredom at church have noticed the problem.

Clark Goble, in a comment at Millennial Star said, "I do think that the biggest issue the Church faces right now are lessons and even its Sacrament service. I'm not sure it is recognized as such. But I think a lack of interest by most members makes church more of a chore than it should be. Of course I honestly can't think of a whole lot that can be done significantly to improve the issue given the structural requirements we face."

Perhaps one of the most influential Conference talks I can remember for me personally was Elder Jeffrey R. Holland's talk, A Teacher Come From God. In that talk, he says, "Now, at a time when our prophet is calling for more faith through hearing the word of God, we must revitalize and reenthrone superior teaching in the Church—at home, from the pulpit, in our administrative meetings, and surely in the classroom. Inspired teaching must never become a lost art in the Church, and we must make certain our quest for it does not become a lost tradition."

I have one college roommate who believed that we ought to have a calling in the church of "Sacrament Meeting Speaker." This would be someone in the ward (if such could be found in every ward) that was an engaging speaker that would be called to speak regularly in sacrament meeting. In each sacrament meeting we would hear a talk from one of these expert speakers. They would be called for their existing ability for speaking, not as a tool to nuture them in their growth in the church.

I think a proposal like this has merits. While we surely need opportunities for everyone to learn and stretch in teaching callings in the church, we need to be sure that no three hour block goes by without at least 20 minutes of high quality instruction.


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  • Amen!

    We had a speaker today that read the entire talk. This wouldn't have been so bad if she could actually read. There were probably 25 words in her 'own' talk that she could not make out. Several sentences were read many times to try and figure out why they were so akward.

    There are many solid members in our ward who are great speakers who have not spoken for years. And we are a small ward. Our current bishop seems to think giving a talk is a reactivation tool.

    I also was reminded of an investigator we brought to see general conference when I was serving a mission. His comment was something like, 'well, you can tell that your leaders were not chosen for their charisma'. This was a comment about our general authorities! The church must be true.

    By Blogger Eric Nielson, at 2/12/2006 1:50 PM  

  • Today I gave possibly the worst talk I've ever given. Poor preparation pure and simple. Worst thing is I'm the teacher development instructor. Bad personal effort AND bad example to boot. My only excuse is that I thought church would be cancelled 'cause of the snowstorm. Pretty lame excuse given I was asked to speak Tuesday evening and should have prepared more before yesterday's snows began.

    I agree that better teaching helps. We've had some pretty good teaching in the wards I've been in of late.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2/12/2006 1:56 PM  

  • I don't think we need preachers as much as a better attitude. Today's talks I listened to today in Church about talents were really good. The speakers seemed personally interested in the topics. I wrote about this issue in one of my blogs where you can get more of my thoughts on the subject.

    By Blogger Jettboy, at 2/12/2006 3:25 PM  

  • Eric, I've seen the same thing. Your heart can really go out to such a speaker since you know they want to do well but don't have the skills. I want to be clear that I don't advocate stopping such people from giving talks, but rather making sure that we try to have a talented speaker on the program each week as well.

    LisaB, I'm sorry about your talk. I'm a trainer by profession and I've certainly fallen on my face a few times. It is the pits--for everyone involved.

    JettBoy, I enjoyed your post. Here is a link to the post mentioned for others who'd like to read it.

    By Blogger Bradley Ross, at 2/12/2006 7:31 PM  

  • I disagree with having semi-pro speakers in church. One of the greatest things the Lord did when He restored the Church through Joseph Smith was to make it a populist, member-run organization where we teach each other and learn from each other -- faults and all. We should not have "itching ears," but should learn humbly.

    Every teacher and every speaker should prepare well both physically and spiritually. I consider myself a good public speaker, but when I prepare to give a talk, I rehearse in front of a mirror -- several times. But when I get to the podium, I allow the Spirit to guide my presentation.

    As a person who regularly has to assign Sacrament speakers and Sunday School teachers, I work hard to physically and spiritually pay attention to their presentations. I'm amazed at what I get out of even less-than-polished presentations.

    Not everyone is equally equipped to present well, but there are a few things bishopric members can do to help. I run a database of every Sacrament program. When we sit down as a bishopric to plan meetings, we use reports from the database to get an idea of who to assign. That way we spread opportunities around as much as possible. But the database is only a tool, not a replacement for inspiration.

    When giving a speaking assignment, the bishopric member should make several things very clear: the topic (clearly describing what they hope to hear), the timeframe, the agenda for the meeting, possible resources, and who to contact for help or if a problem arises. I always ask people above all to pray and listen to the Spirit as they prepare.

    Our church meetings are not intended for entertainment, but for spiritual enlightenment. However, I must admit that I'm grateful that I didn't live in the Nauvoo days when it was not uncommon for brethren to speak for 2-3 hours at a shot. We should try to act in the congregation or as a class member the way the Savior would if he were sitting there. I think he could find a way to put up with lousy presentations and feel the Spirit anyway.

    By Blogger Scott Hinrichs, at 2/16/2006 3:54 PM  

  • Scott (Reach Upwards):

    I really appreciated your comment. It was very insightful! I have to agree that we need to not have "itching ears" when listening to those teaching us. And I'm not entirely convinced by my husband's original post. Even if we are feeling less-than-inspired by the day's talks or lessons, we should try to give ourselves an inspirational talk. Sometimes it is really difficult, though.

    However, Brad wasn't talking about being "entertained", he really was talking about spiritual inspiration. Perhaps inspiration isn't the primary point of sacrament meeting talks--maybe they really are more for personal growth in different ways.

    By Blogger Keryn, at 2/16/2006 4:34 PM  

  • Actually, I feel that inspiration should be a key point in every Sacrament meeting talk and in every lesson. However, as a community of saints, we have to realize that, though we all journey the same path, we find ourselves at different points on that path. The Beehive giving a 3-minute talk may have one of the most spiritually enlightening experiences of her life, while to those of us in the congregation it comes across as less than enlightening. Nor do we all enjoy the same spiritual gifts. We cannot expect all members of the ward to provide optimal spiritual uplift, but that does not mean that they should be excluded from speakig or teaching.

    One of the things our bishopric has tried to get people in our ward to do is to talk about actual personal experiences and feelings along with doctrine. The doctrine is important, but actual first-hand events tend to convey the Spirit better than recounting something that happened (or may have happened -- sometimes we get Mormon urban legends) to someone else.

    You can read an interesting article in Meridian Magazine about how to avoid the major pitfalls that rob the Spirit from sacrament talks here.

    I have one more suggestion for those that assign talks. I like to give the people 2-4 weeks notice (sometimes more depending on inspiration). I like to give 2-3 months notice on musical numbers. Some people experience great anxiety about public speaking, and would rather find out about an assignment just a few days before speaking. But experience shows that more advanced notice produces the best results.

    By Blogger Scott Hinrichs, at 2/17/2006 12:19 PM  

  • reach upward
    I'd like to check out your Sacrament Speaker DB. I've been struggling for several years now with a spread sheet and would love to be able to more effectively track speakers, topics, etc.

    Rick Rogers

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3/16/2006 9:02 AM  

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