I am not sure what provoked this memory, but over the last couple of days I have been reminded of the ‘speech training’ sessions we had when I was training to be a Minister. A lovely, patient, humour-laden, expert lady called Liz used to take us for sessions once a week to help us to be better public speakers.
I am not sure if they still do this but if you came into Spurgeon’s College when I was there you might well come across a group of students lying on the lecture room floor, breathing in and out at the ceiling. You might hear strange sounds emanating from the lecture room as we tried to enunciate our words. The sessions were always good fun, and were always practical, and helped me immensely. Simple things like standing on your feet rather than on your toes (yes, some do that) helps with being more relaxed. Projecting your voice from your diaphragm rather than amplifying in your throat means that your voice is less tired and also makes your voice louder without you shouting. It means that you don’t have to rely on a microphone to
I think that the point of the speech training sessions was two-fold: to equip us so that we could speak in public without straining our voices (which are, after all, rather important for Ministers); and to make the listening experience better for those who were listening to us (by getting us to consider tone, volume, inflexion and so on in the way that we spoke). There’s no point in having the most important message in the world if nobody can understand it, or if people are bored by the delivery.
One of the things that I remembered recently was the value of dropping your voice. That is not speaking inaudibly, or so quietly that people can’t catch what you are saying, but dropping the tone and intensity so that it is much softer. That change of tone and intensity can be more effective in emphasising than shouting is. And that has reminded me why I have been thinking about this all.
On Sunday morning I spoke about the Transfiguration in Luke 9, where Jesus was transformed on the top of a mountain and God spoke to Peter, James and John who witnessed it all. I have often thought of God’s voice as big and booming, but it struck me as I looked at the passage that I have read that into the text. All we know is that a voice spoke from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I have chosen. Listen to him.”
Perhaps this came in a gentle tone. Perhaps the inflexion emphasised the Father’s affection for Jesus and the importance of listening to him. Re-read those words imagining them being shouted, and then re-read them imagining them being spoken softly. Which is more effective in communicating to you?
Sometimes when we are seeking to hear from Jesus we want a loud booming voice. But if that was the case, why would we need to focus on listening to him? We’d hear it easily. Listening involves our concentration, attention, calmness, and, if the voice is speaking softly, for us to be quiet. For when God speaks softly we can not only hear the words by we can hear his inflexion and gain so much more from him.
How do we listen like that? It is explained in Psalm 46v10: “Be still and know that I am God. : stop your frantic activity and give God your attention. It is modelled in 1 Kings 19 when Elijah experienced God’s presence in the sound of sheer silence. Come out from where you are hiding and meet God.
Where is that space in your day, your week, your life?
Be blessed, be a blessing
One of my best friends at Spurgeon’s, Steve, wrote a very funny song about the speech training classes – a blues number – which the two of us sang at the College Christmas Concert. We both had guitars but I can’t play any chords so Steve played during the verses and chorus. But we got to the ‘instrumental break’ and Steve introduced my guitar solo. This involved me playing on one open string as fast as I could while pretending to move my fingers on the fret board and in the background Steve was playing all sorts of clever stuff. It was intended as a joke but I was delighted to hear afterwards that one person in the audience genuinely thought I was amazingly gifted! There’s a parable there I think…
When I was in my first year at secondary school we were all encouraged to participate in the school sports day at the end of the summer term. I had recently watched some athletics on the TV and had been inspired by the pole vault is so decided that I would do the pole vault. I was not daunted by the fact that I could hardly lift the pole nor by the even more daunting fact that I had never done pole vaulting before the competition. I took a chance.
“I’ve seen it on television,” I thought, “how hard can it be?”
In my naive imagination I decided that all I had to do was run as fast as I could down the runway, plant the pole in the ‘pocket’, keep running whilst allowing the pole to flex and then be catapulted high over the bar into the glory of first place.
On the appointed day I arrived at the pole vault venue to discover four other boys who had similar delusions about their inherent ability to do the pole vault. Talking with them I discovered that none of us had ever done it before but all of us assumed that it would be easy.
When it was my turn I picked up the pole and lifted it up in the manner I had seen on television. I staggered as fast as I could down the runway and managed to plant the end of the pole into the pocket. I carried on running, expecting the pole to flex, but instead came to a juddering halt as the pole steadfastly refused to bend. I was simply too small and scrawny to make any impact on the pole’s rigidity. Neither of my next 2 attempts was any more successful. I ended my pole vaulting career with a total height cleared of zero cm and 3 no jumps. My only consolation was that none of the other boys managed to pole vault properly either. The winner was the boy who planted the pole in the pocket and then instantly let go of the pole and hopped over the bar unaided as it was only about 1m high.
Reflecting now on my childish naivete it reminds me that often we are guilty in churches of expecting people simply to pick up ideas, new tasks, skills and so on without training them properly first. thankfully most of the time people are far more competent than I was at pole vaulting but why is it that we neglect to train volunteers?
I think part of the reason is that we do not want them to feel overloaded. Perhaps another reason is that we don’t want them to understand the full scope of the job too soon and be put off by it. Maybe we don’t want them to feel that we think they are not sufficiently competent. Sometimes it’s simply that we don’t get around to it because we’re too busy. Perhaps we try to justify it by believing that the Holy Spirit will give them all the gifts and talent that they need. The fallacy of the last justification is that we neglect that Jesus put the Apostles through a three-year training programme!
Perhaps people don’t ask training because of pride or they believe it is and spiritual to do so. If you are in a voluntary role in a church and realise that you are not as well prepared or equipped as you feel you could be there is nothing unspiritual about asking to be trained. There is nothing super spiritual about struggling on relying solely on intuition. If we are seeking to offer our best to God we need to accept that we will probably need help to be the best we can.