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Before a big speech, check with your audience

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At my church, our denomination has the bishop appoint pastors to the church, rather than the local congregation selecting the pastor. To that end, the pastor usually serves for four or more years before being appointed to another congregation.

The appointments all happen at the same time at the annual conference. Traditionally, the out going pastor delivers a last sermon at his or her church and the next week the new pastor delivers his or her first sermon.

Not too many years ago, the tradition was continued at my church with a humorous outcome.

The outgoing pastor gave a great sermon that was emotional and powerful. He tied his thoughts together around how Canadian geese act in the wild. The geese fly in a "V" formation to conserve energy. The leader on the point is taking the most wind resistance while the ones on the outer points of the "V" are getting the least. The leader goes as long as possible and then will peel off and take one of the outer points. The whole "V" formation will travel much farther in a day than a single goose can. And, if a goose is sick or injured, two other geese will drop out and stay with the injured one until it gets better.

What a marvelous metaphor for a pastoral sermon. As the leader of the church a pastor is at the front of the "V", but occasionally needs to drop back to one of the points and rest while the laity of the church takes leadership positions. It was a great and well remembered sermon.

The next week, a new pastor mounted the steps to the pulpit. Slightly younger than the outgoing pastor and in a bigger congregation, the pastor waded into his first sermon at his new church. It started humorously, with a short anecdote about the smaller church he had just left, and then with a deep breath, he started into his main points about his and our expectations. Amazingly, he began to use the metaphor of the Canadian geese!

You could almost hear the collective eye-roll from the congregation. Granted, he shaped the metaphor from his perspective and his assumptions as to the congregation, but it was a distractor from the message.

Distractors come in many forms and you will want to examine any of your speeches for potential distractions.

For example, if you get nervous and put your hands in your pockets and then jangle your car keys or loose change, be proactive and give your speech with your pockets empty. If you say um too much, learn to slow your cadence with silent pauses.

In this case, the distractor was the speech itself. The congregation was charitable and listened quietly, but most people were distracted by the thought that they had just heard the same message.

If the pastor had checked with either the outgoing pastor or a lay leader in the church, he would have had time to modify his sermon to present his ideas in fresh manner.

The story ends well however, the pastor stayed at the church for seven very successful years and gave many wonderful sermons.

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