“Do not let us speak of darker days: let us speak rather of sterner days. These are not dark days; these are great days – the greatest days our country has ever lived; and we must all thank God that we have been allowed, each of us according to our stations, to play a part in making these days memorable in the history of our race..” – Winston Churchill
The above quote comes from a historic speech given by the incredible orator, Winston Churchill. What is it that made his speeches as well as others such as Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, Mandela’s speech of inauguration, or “I have a dream” by Martin Luther King Jr. stand out among the myriads of others? Surely it had something to do with how they eloquently crafted together words; and part of it must be credited to their powerful and exceptional ability to engage and touch their audiences. However, these two components alone would not have resulted in speeches of historic proportions and results. These orators’ power flowed not just from their words, but out of their deep beliefs in issues of great consequence. Almost always, they were an outcry against injustice, and a demand for action. These men stand as testimony to the power of the spoken word, and exemplify how effective the art of public speaking can be. Conversely though, there are much more sinister examples of the power of an effective orator. Adolf Hitler exemplifies this. Coupled with his incredible skill of convincing speech was a cry for action of a different sort; yet still it was rooted on a cause and belief no matter how twisted those might have been. Another component that helps complete the breakdown of facets involved in being an effective speaker is when the audience not only hears the call to action, but also sees the messenger himself participating in his own exhortation. Understanding the power of public speaking, and what components are involved leads into the discussion on what this means for the Christian orator. Biblically, what should the art of public speaking look like for the believer?
Jesus himself was the greatest example of a powerful and effective orator. Crowds would hang on his words (Matt. 5ff). His speaking would result in reactions ranging from joy to repentance to emotions of anger (Luke 19.1-10; 11.37ff). His was a message and cause greater than any other. He would communicate it through proclaiming it passionately to crowds, gently through parables, and even through rebuking in the temples (Matt. 13; Mark 11.15). He was a master at reading and reacting to his audience. This meant that at times his message was sharp and cutting; yet in other situations it was quiet and compassionate. Finally, Christ not only preached the Gospel, he was the Gospel. He did not just teach redemption, He brought it about. Through miracles and actions, He embodied His message (Mark 7.33ff etc.).
As a believer and steward of the Gospel, what does emulating this example set by Christ look like? Does this mean that Christians should only be involved in public speaking engagements that are specifically propagating the Gospel message? The great commission given by Jesus in Matthew 28.18-20 clearly shows that as disciples we are to obey and be a part of this commission; however, sometimes the church forgets that the whole world is God’s world, and that something does not have to be labeled Christian or specifically be the Gospel message for it to be from Him, to Him, and through Him (Rom. 11.36). Anything good, anything righteous, belongs to Him and is to His glory. Therefore, speaking as an advocate for issues of social justice, and passionately engaging culture through speech on issues of morality and freedom are not wrong. In fact, they are inherently a reflection of His character. Working to redeem culture in and through the realm of public advocacy is a beautiful expression of who God is, and what His Gospel promotes.
Quentin Schultz exemplifies how believers can be using public speaking for God’s glory when he explains that as believers, we are speakers who should become servants. He defines a servant speaker as one who seeks to be not only an effective communicator, but also a person of virtue. He fleshes this out by showing how a servant speaker should embody the fruit of the Spirit, and his discussion on peace is especially thought provoking. He explains the concept of peace as seen in the Old Testament word “Shalom,” which he defines as relational harmony. Servant speakers who are committed to practicing and spreading shalom use their art of public address to bring about reconciliation. This type of orator “internally adopts, externally lives, and mildly speaks the peace of Christ, even when the consequences could be personally grave” (Schultze 88). Finally he explains that relational harmony can involve shalom among people, between God and humanity, between people and the physical creation, and also within an individual’s personal life. Schultz idea of servant speaking can also be seen throughout the life and ministry of Christ as the greatest servant speaker of all. In John 13, Jesus even washes the feet of His disciples, living out what He was teaching. In this way He taught those who were to be the orators that would follow Him, that humility would be essential in their leadership. “A servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him” (John 13.16).
It is His example that must be the baseline for believers involved in public speaking. They must be passionate orators using their God given gift of words and persuasion as speakers who are first and foremost concerned with the glory of their Master, and the selfless serving of others. Just as the analysis of great men from history, believers must be actively and personally involved in what they are advocating for. And while not all messages will be directly the message of the Gospel, it is essential that the causes or the people they are representing are righteous and good; grounded in the deep truth of who God is. Let the church be filled with a rising number of advocates and orators who are ready to cry out for the injustices of this fallen world. Let these public speakers challenge culture and bring about redeeming change. And may they be careful stewards of the power given them as they seek to spread the shalom of Christ.
Bible, ESV Study. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008.
Schultze, Quentin. An Essential Guide to Public Speaking: Serving Your Audience with Faith, Skill, and Virtue. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006.