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Do you feel qualified to speak?
That’s a loaded question, isn’t it? Few of us do feel qualified. We wonder if we have any right to be in the front of that room. What do we know that other people don’t? We’re nothing special! What makes us think we can do this?
Recently I received an email from a woman whom God has been leading into speaking over the last few years. She’s only been a Christian for a decade, but she has a great story to tell that others seem keen to hear. But she’s nervous because she doesn’t have much of an education. Does she need to go back to college? What should she do?
Yesterday I answered this question on my Blog Talk Radio show, Use Your Words. Listen in here. And I think you can download from that page, too, if you want to listen to it later! It’s half an hour long, and I speak every Tuesday at noon EST.
For those who don’t have time to listen, though, I’d like to share a few thoughts.
1. Credentials are Highly Overrated
In the early church, people were chosen to lead because they obviously had certain spiritual gifts. God had given them the gift of teaching, and so they taught.
We don’t do things like that anymore. I know many people who every Sunday fill the pews in the churches in my town who could give amazing sermons–but they’re not asked because they don’t have an M.Div. We don’t worry about spiritual gifting; we worry about degrees. But there is no guarantee that someone receiving an M.Div is going to actually be a good teacher. They can probably get by, because they’ve been trained in speaking and received plenty of critiques and feedback, but are they gifted?
We treat our universities as arbiters of who should speak, and I don’t think that’s the way God does it. I’ll have more to say about the benefits of Bible knowledge below, so rest assured that I’m not saying education isn’t important. I’m just saying that you do not necessarily need a university degree to speak. What you need is spiritual gifting and an attitude that embraces learning and embraces mastering a craft. If you have these things, you should be fine!
2. Knowledge of Scripture Can Never be Overrated
At the same time, we do need to know and understand Scripture. The one thing pastors have that most speakers don’t is a Bible background. They’ve taken the survey of the Old Testament courses. They’ve taken Latin and Greek.
They’ve put in the time. And ladies, if we’re going to speak from Scripture, we need to be prepared to put in the time, too. I don’t think that necessarily means Bible college; but it should mean a deep commitment to Bible study.
You can buy Bible study books on surveys of the Old Testament and New Testament. If you don’t know the chronological order of these Bible characters: David, Ezekiel, Joshua, Daniel, Moses (and I haven’t written them in order!), then you should probably do some studying.
When you speak, of course, you’re speaking from your own area of expertise. You’ll have your own Bible passage. You’re not preaching every week on something different, like your pastor, so you don’t have to have as broad and deep a knowledge of history, prophecy, etc. Read commentaries and study on the passages that you use most so that you use them inside out, but if you’re not sure who Micah was, you’re probably still okay.
But I wouldn’t settle for “still okay”. I would keep pushing myself. Sometimes I’ll have a talk or retreat all planned out, for instance, and then one morning, months later, I’ll be doing my devotions and I’ll come across a verse or a story that I’ve forgotten that fits in so beautifully! And the next time I give my talk, that’s in it. We need to keep studying and keep reading and keep learning, because as we read, our talks become deeper and better. We know more about God and we know God better. And that’s important! So get involved in a Bible study. Take a survey of the Old testament by buying some good study books or commentaries. And keep learning!
3. Keep Pursuing Your Craft
Speaking is an art. There’s a flow to it, and when you’re in that flow, it’s a marvelous experience. You’re not even concentrating on your words, per se; you’re operating deep from within, and you can feel the rhythm of how you’re supposed to deliver what you’re about to say. You can leave room for the Spirit to prompt you to tell a story you hadn’t intended to tell. You’re not nervous; you’re excited.
But you don’t get that way overnight. It takes practice and dedication and training. And so if you want qualifications to speak, I certainly would invest in some training materials. I’ve tried to supply as many as I can extremely affordably (so that you can be all set to go for less than $100!). You can find them here, but I would start with these two audio downloads first.
4. Humility is a Must
I know a man who used to run a large, Christian organization. He was wonderful in his role, but he wasn’t well liked in the wider church community because he was always telling them what they were doing wrong. He was like an Old Testament prophet (though a lot funnier), warning people that God was displeased.
Much of what he said, I think, was spot on. But he wasn’t effective at delivering that message because people did not want to hear it.
I think he took some pride in this, because he felt that the more he ticked people off, the more he proved that he was right and they were wrong; they were unwilling to listen.
However, think of the lost opportunity! He had a real message for the church, that could have made it far more effective in its outreach at the community level. But people couldn’t listen because he rubbed everyone the wrong way.
If you feel called to speak primarily to shake things up (and many of us fall in this category), be careful. Passion is a wonderful thing; but it must always be accompanied by humility. If you are embraced by a church, and they ask you to speak, and you honour the church in your talk, you can still tell stories that cut to the heart, and challenge the people in their thinking. It’s not that you have to change your message. I think you just need to make sure that your attitude and your approach are such that the Christian community would welcome you.
Sometimes we become a bit upset, and blame the Christian community for shutting us out, feeling that this reflects badly on them, because they are rejecting God’s message. But I think it also reflects badly on us. I know Jesus didn’t pull punches, but people still liked being with them. He did honour people for the faith they did have.
If our goal is to see people changed, we need to be strategic about that. So watch how you talk about churches. Watch what you put in your blog and in your internet writings. Don’t be deliberately rude or provocative. Challenge, yes. Tell interesting stories that convict, yes. But don’t gloat, or judge, or try to shock. That won’t get you hired, and then you won’t be able to be used to change others.
5. Your Personal Life Should Demonstrate Jesus
Finally, a speaker should have an exemplary personal life, in as much as it is up to you. If you’re married, work on your marriage. If you’re a parent, work on your kids. If you’re going to speak, make sure your family is behind you and that speaking does not jeopardize the family. The qualifications for church leaders in the epistles are very clear that families should be healthy. That’s not only because only those with healthy families should lead; it’s also because if your family is not healthy, it probably needs you!
What if your family goes through a crisis that isn’t your doing? What if your husband leaves you, or you have a divorce that was not your fault in your background? Be honest about it, and do reveal it on your speaker’s page, because I have seen people be “unhired” once the church learned of it, and it was ugly for everyone. But on the whole, work on family first.
And if you don’t have a family, you can still speak! Two of my favourite speakers were single women: Corrie ten Boom and Helen Roseveare. So if you aren’t married, you aren’t shut out of a speaking ministry. You just need to approach it differently. Aim to speak to broad audiences, not young moms, for instance. Find a demographic that fits, and a message that applies to everyone, and you’ll do fine!
What do you think? What qualification is most important? What have you done about your lack of schooling, or family situation? Let me know in the comments!
Filed under: Launching your Speaking Ministry, Speaking Skills, Spiritual Aspects of Speaking, Use Your Words | 5 Comments »