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THE PASTORS' SECTION
THE ORAL SIDE OF PULPIT WORK
By Rev. Ernest M. Halliday, Brooklyn, N. Y. OME people attach little importance to the publicly spoken word. To
them the man of the platform or forum is something of an anachro
nism, comparatively harmless—unless he be a Bolshevik-but not to be taken very seriously. The printing-press is looked upon as the supplanter of the orator. As Old Dobbin has been pictured standing in sad contemplation of the automobile's successful invasion of the field of his activities, so the public speaker has been thought of as looking with sorrowful eyes upon the inrushing tide of print, and shaking his head dolefully as he remembers the good old days, gone never to return.
There is reason for this view, although it may be that there is not reason enough. When one reflects upon the multitude of books upon the market, the magnitude of our daily newspapers, the hosts of periodicals of every conceivable sort, it is clear that the man who talks is bound to divide honors with the man who writes. Moreover, when it is remembered how easy it is to read, and how comparatively difficult to go where one can listen, it is evident that if public speaking is to survive, it will be because, despite competition and despite handicap, it is still possessed of a worth peculiarly its own. Has it such especial value, and if so, in what does that value consist ?
Public speaking has the distinction, first of all, that it conveys a twofold impression. We are not only recipients of a man's ideas, we see the man himself. This, it must be confessed, is not always an advantage. There be many whose letters are weighty and powerful, but whose bodily presence is weak and their speech contemptible. Yet in general people find it helpful to know the man as well as what he says. He who reads a speech or sermon is inclined to read as if he himself were speaking, but he who listens comes more nearly into the speaker's own consciousness; and there is, besides, the oppor tunity to estimate the speaker's words in the light of his personality.
Another characteristic which distinguishes the spoken from the writter word is the ease with which the former lends itself to emotional appeal. This has, of course, been one reason why it has been frowned upon in this predominatingly scientific age of ours. Everywhere men have been looking for facts. “We have no time for ‘estimates' and 'appreciations' and all the emotional twaddle connected with oratory and literature. We want to know the facts. They are the only things that count.” That is the way multitudes have been feeling for a generation or so. But it is easy to see that none of us lives in a world of cold intellectualism, but rather in one which is warm with appreciation and desire. It is a sense of the worth of things and the determination to secure what appears to be good that keeps all mankind going. Surely then, he is in error who assumes that the things of the head are of greater importance than those of the heart, and is but applying that assumption to a specific instance when he discounts the appeal of the publicly spoken word because it deals to a great extent not with facts in and of themselves, but instead with that larger world of values, where facts are important because of the sense of appreciation and worth which they awaken. Life is always broader than the facts of life, and it is precisely when the public speaker deals with life in this broad sense that his services are of greatest worth to living men. All this exaltation of fact above value reminds one of the attitude of the chemist, a strictly scientific person, who is said to have remarked to his weeping spouse, “Mary, I refuse absolutely to be moved by your tears. I have analyzed tears and I know perfectly well that they are composed principally of NaC 1 and H 2 0.”
It is the emotional color of spoken language that constitutes its greatest importance. How often one hears it said, "It wasn't the words he used, but the tone in which he spoke that hurt.” And it is here, therefore, that the superiority of the spoken over the written word becomes evident, even though they are both directed at the heart. Here public speech is akin to music. It calls into consciousness, if rightly used, all those vague yearnings and longings, all that “divine despair” and swelling hope, and high courage which people often feel when listening to symphony or opera. No doubt many have laughed at the old lady's appreciation of Whitefield and his "blessed word, Mesopotamia," but there may well be more blessedness in that or any other word when pronounced by a man on fire with real emotion than in a far more intellectual word upon the printed page. In Dr. J. M. Buckley's “Extemporaneous Oratory, an instance is cited of a meaningless poem, a mere nonsense jumble of melodious words, being so beautifully rendered once in public, that not only was the lack of connected thought not detected, but a distinctly pleasurable mood stimulated in the listeners. Thus, while no one would wish to encourage the substitution of vague, emotional appeal for thought, it is well that the minister should remember that the human voice is an instrument capable of running the whole gamut of human passion. It is the key which properly used will unlock the iron door of many a nature to which a printed appeal would never gain admittance. As surely as moonlight is paler than sunlight, so surely to the average man in the broad field of human interest," is the appeal of the printed page paler than that of the speaking voice. This is a second reason why the printing-press will never supersede the pulpit and the rostrum.
But there is still another reason. The book or newspaper finds men as individuals; the public address encounters them as a social unit. Psychologists say that when people get together in crowds they are peculiarly susceptible to suggestion. Here is at once a great opportunity for the public speaker, and a great danger; an opportunity to lift men up to higher planes of thought and feeling than they could otherwise be brought to; a danger that their lower rather than their higher emotions may be stirred, or that emotion shall come to be enjoyed for its own sake and not carried on into action. In any case it will be recognized that there is a great difference between the individual audience of the book or the newspaper and the social group open to the public speaker-a difference which the printed page can never overcome.
So much then for the sufficiency of the appeal which the minister, in company with all other public speakers, is permitted to make. He may aspire to be numbered among the supreme artists. What other artists attempt with paint and canvas, with marble or bronze, or pen and ink, or flute or violin, he aims to accomplish with an instrument far more complex, far more wonderful; and his effort is not simply to make an impression goodly to the eye, or pleasing to the ear, but to stir the soul to higher aspiration and the will to nobler endeavor.
But while it is true that the preacher has a remarkable opportunity for effective artistry, it is also true that he cannot do his best unless the instru
ment with which he chiefly works, the human voice, is brought to an effective standard of efficiency. Any man can do much for himself in this respect if he will start with the fact that he already knows how to express all the emotions when he truly feels them, and so will direct his attention at first, not to his voice at all, but to the cultivation of a power of imagination which shall enable him to feel keenly. A set of every-day sentences expressive of joy, sorrow, anxiety, anger—what not—and practiced with somebody present to guess the emotion whose expression is being attempted, will prove both salutary and humbling. These sentences may later be paralleled with quotations from the Scriptures. The important thing is actually to feel the emotion before attempting to express it. Without emotional depth a speaker will either appear as he really is—cold and frozen—or he will be tempted to simulate that which he is not, and will be detected in the process. Reading aloud to the children, particularly the reading of fairy tales and poetry, will give occasion for the development of a great variety of emotions. And no one can tell more quickly than a child whether or not the expression rings true.
The question of how to take an expression of feeling which is quite acceptable to the little group in the library, and make it big enough and strong enough for a large auditorium, and still have it retain its naturalness, is one which concerns the more or less mechanical matters of breathing, articulation, pause, etc., and the limits of this article do not permit its being dealt with. The prime necessity is an attitude of constant watchfulness for that which proves effective, and the courageous elimination of all habits which one recognizes as bad. A tactful wife can be of untold assistance in helping toward this end.
But now let us hasten to a brief discussion of the three things which go to make up the minister's part in public worship, the sermon, the prayer and the reading of the Scriptures.
Which is better, to read one's sermon, to deliver it from memory, or to speak extemporaneously? No one can answer that question categorically. Every man must experiment until he has found the method best suited to himself and to his audience. Certainly there is much to be said in favor of the carefully prepared manuscript. It bears on its face the evidence of adequate preparation; it enables the speaker to determine beforehand the exact form his words shall take. Yet a manuscript is likely to interpose something of a barrier between the preacher and his congregation, and from a physiological standpoint, reading is likely to prove more taxing to the voice than either of the other methods. Memorizing undoubtedly has its advantages also. Not only are the paragraphs of the discourse polished in advance, but they can be given with all the vigor which the security of knowing what is coming next inspires. The greatest danger here is a certain artificiality of expression which may arise if the speaker does not hold himself to a strict recreation of the thought as he delivers the words. Then, too, in the case of one who memorizes with difficulty, it seems a pity to subject oneself to the barren task of committing to memory one's own production when there are so many better things which others have written waiting to be enjoyed. But he who would extemporize must beware of prolixity and of carelessness in the arrangement of his thought. He should endeavor by all possible means to cultivate a wide vocabulary and should compel himself to think out his address in some detail without actually forming the sentences to be employed. This done, the oral side of pulpit work will perhaps have a better chance with the extemporizer than with either the reader or the memorizer, for he is likely to be more spontaneous in expression and more adaptable to the requirements and opportunities of the hour.
With regard to the public prayer a word will suffice. That it should be loud enough to be heard easily by everybody in the house is self-evident; that it should not be exceedingly loud, thus giving the impression that the Lord is a great way off and must be shouted at, is likewise a truism. In general, it is hard to see why a prayer, aside from the tone of reverence which should pervade communication with the Heavenly Father, should differ in manner of rendition from an address to an earthly friend. Yet there are ministers who make a practice of addressing themselves to God in a tone which they would immediately recognize as stilted and artificial if employed in any other connection. Simplicity, modesty, real devotion, should mark every public prayer.
But how about the reading of the responsive service and the other Scripture lesson! Shall I adopt the theory that the words do not matter much, but that the atmosphere is everything! That these parts of the service constitute a sort of vocal stained-glass window whose general effect should be religious, but whose individuality is unimportant? Or shall I proceed upon the assumption that the words of Scripture have a message for the edification of the congregation, and see to it that my readings are selected and delivered with due regard for their meaning and for their connection with the rest of the service? Carried to the extreme, the former attitude is that of the Roman Catholic church with its chanting in an unknown tongue. Not carried so far, it is the reading in monotone to be heard in many Protestant churches. But such a method is calculated to discourage intelligent interest in the Bible. The impression conveyed is that the Scriptures are all alike, all good, and all equally insipid. Such treatment is a perversion of the Bible's real purpuse. People who have heard the Bible read in public from childhood up will ordinarily be unable to recall many instances that have impressed them sufficiently to be remembered. One such time occurred when at a little meeting in a village church the minister read a chapter from one of Paul's epistles. The sermon has been forgotten, but for at least one listener that chapter still stands out as one of the bright spots in the New Testament. And all because it was read so that it meant what Paul intended it to mean. Here is a neglected opportunity. Let us render the Scripture lessons as we would interpret any other literature and see whether our people are not aroused to a new appro*ciation of the Bible's message.
The preacher needs to distinguish carefully between his work and that of the actor. It is the latter's calling to impersonate men of varying character and characteristics. It is the preacher's work to stand before his people as a prophet of God. The actor who succeeds in a realistic depiction of a character not his own merits applause. The preacher who, knowing himself no prophet, still attempts the prophet's role, merits condemnation. Unlike the actor who can in good conscience throw himself heartily into his part, the preacher who attempts to appear to be what he is not will, if he be not wholly abandoned, suffer so much from the consciousness of his insincerity that his voice and manner will be sure to be unnatural. Always, then, he must aim at the expression of his true self. Let him uncover his very soul if he have the grace to do it; but let him not pretend so to uncover when in reality he is displaying only painted feelings and manufactured emotions. The preacher, far from being an impersonator, is himself a real man, living a real life, a part of his life being that which he leads before his people in the pulpit. If he compels himself to be as sincere there as he is in private conversation with his most intimate friends, the greatest impediment to effective oral work in his pulpit will have been removed.
THE CONGREGATIONAL COMMISSION ON EVANGELISM
ORGANIZING OUR SPIRITUAL RESOURCES
By Rev. Frederick L. Fagley HE Congregational churches are assigning to themselves a great Evan
gelistic task. It is the object of these churches so to present Christ to
the world that many who do not now acknowledge Him as Lord and Saviour shall be led to make this confession. To accomplish their purpose, they realize that first of all there must be a deepening of the spiritual life itself in the hearts of those now connected with the church, and also that the spiritual resources of all must be brought together in order to meet the needs of the world. This renewing of life and the drawing of lives together can come only through vital prayer.
Prayer is the natural activity of the soul. It is a spiritual exercise engaged in by all people everywhere. The ignorant African, and the unlearned Indian and the bewildered Chinaman all pray, in whatever manner they can, to whatever gods they believe in. And even among those who give least evidence of a belief in the reality of the spiritual, there is a deep-seated instinct to prayer, for if evil men be brought suddenly to great danger, instinctively and without conscious effort, words form themselves into petitions to the God they know so little about.
The first task which lies at hand, therefore, is to organize our resources for prayer, that all the people may be taught how best to phrase their prayers, the things for which they should pray, to whom the prayer should be directed, and "how to find and use the sources of spiritual strength available" with a conscious knowledge that 'If thou wilt, thou canst.' Power used under the compulsion of love makes Jesus to be a revelation of God, whose chief characteristics are power and love."
In order to assist the churches to give effective leadership in prayer the Commission on Evangelism has prepared “a Fellowship of Prayer” for use during the Lenten season. Last season about 150,000 copies of the leaflet were used, and it is hoped a still larger number will be in use this year. But whatever method is used, it is hoped that in these bewildered days Christian people will find inspiration, comfort and peace as they commune with the true God in faithful prayer.
To every man there openeth