The eyes have it

Eye contact is the preacher’s Holy Grail. Especially if you listen to people who are anti full text. I’m not so sure. Eye contact is good, especially for new people, but I think the longer I’m sitting under faithful preaching the less I care if the preacher is meeting my gaze regularly. Eye contact is how we accommodate fussy listeners. It’s pandering. I’d say almost 30% of the feedback I’ve received for preaching is on delivery, and that’s evenly split between pacing (which is very important) and eye contact (which is not).

Non verbal communication theoretically accounts for 80% or more of our spoken communication, this is (if I remember correctly) mostly to do with tone, followed by movement and expression (what you lose from communication from in person dialogue to a phone call is less than what you lose from a phone call to reading text). Eye contact is a small part of the picture – but it is by no means the most important part. It’s fools gold.

In journalism we’re taught that eye contact is intimidating. And anybody who has ever spent a conversation talking to someone who stares intently into their eyes knows that it can be both creepy and off putting. Newsreaders are trained to blink, while journalists will almost always ask the subject they interview to not look down the barrel of the camera.

In public speaking (and particularly rhetoric) making direct eye contact is a sign of confidence in one’s self, and one’s message. I think we’ve taken this model of communication and applied it to the pulpit. If someone looks down we assume they’re not confident, as a preacher my confidence is in the Bible and my preparation, not in my ability to deliver something dynamic and persuasive.

When I’m listening to a sermon the only time I really want to make eye contact with a preacher is if they’re a first timer and I want to give them a reassuring nod, or if they’ve nailed me with an application and I want to look nonchalant. Otherwise I’ll be staring down at my Bible or blankly into space, or writing notes. Good listeners aren’t really looking at the preacher (in my experience).

In the best sermons I’ve heard I’ve hardly looked up at all – I’ve been so busy trying to write down all the bits and pieces I want to take home. The most entertaining sermons I’ve heard have been from people with no notes and lots of eye contact – but I can’t say I remember a whole lot of what they said.

I reckon eye contact is the bastion of people with either mediocre content or limited preparation. Everything is more listenable with eye contact – but not necessarily better. And I think we should be putting more effort into getting people to write the way they talk so they speak naturally and at an understandable pace.

From now on if somebody tells me I didn’t look up enough I’m going to tell them they weren’t looking down enough. I want people I’m preaching to to be following along in the passage and taking notes. Not staring me down pretending that I haven’t just mentioned their favourite sin.

Why do we think eye contact is important? Its place in the preaching armoury seems assumed rather than demonstrated.

61 Comments The eyes have it

  1. al bain

    Nathan. Thought provoking. And I'm enjoying your blog (even though I appear to be the serial sniper. I hope I'm balancing it out a bit.)

    I actually dissuade people from taking notes. I want them to keep up with what I'm saying, not scribble stuff down. I expect them to be transformed on the spot, not later when they go over their notes. I'll tell them when to look at their Bible. I certainly want them to be making sure I'm not getting things wrong (I did last week and was corrected afterwards). But I try to look them in the eye as much as I can. And I see the communication as 2 way so I want them to look at me too. Just as I would hope that when/if I meet you we'll look each other in the eye. It's about being in relationship. If everyone is looking down or staring blankly then I feel like no-one's listening (which may or may not be true).

    Probably as a preacher/listener I need people to bounce off. And maybe as a listener/preacher you don't need that.

    I reckon eye contact is the bastion of people with either mediocre content. why?

    And I think we should be putting more effort into getting people to write the way they talk so they speak naturally and at an understandable pace. I absolutely agree. But there are some who don't use notes. Or only use points. Where should they look?

    I would say that eye contact is the natural thing to strive for in preaching just as it is when talking to anyone. It's part of the way that we as humans connect. And God has given humans the job of preaching the word to each other through speech. I've just had a quick look in Mark's gospel and in 6 places Mark tells us that Jesus looks at people before speaking to them (3:5; 3:34; 8:33; 10:21; 10:23; 10:27). That might help us in feeling OK about the eye contact assumption.

    1. Nathan

      I expect them to be transformed on the spot, not later when they go over their notes.

      Why? Don't the dreaded "learning styles" come in to this? I haven't checked yet for specifics, but I seem to recall there being an implied delay between some of Jesus' teaching and the penny dropping for both disciples and crowds which would suggest that transformation can come after reflection – I think it's almost dangerous to expect that people will immediately be transformed by our preaching – precisely because we sometimes get things wrong. Unless you're suggesting that such transformation only happens through the Spirit so will only happen if you get things right? I don't think I've ever immediately been transformed by a talk.

      "I reckon eye contact is the bastion of people with either mediocre content. why? "

      I accidentally left this thought unqualified/unfinished. I was in a Greek class and was distracted by actually having to contribute to the discussion. I've now edited the post to finish that thought.

      But there are some who don't use notes. Or only use points. Where should they look?

      They should use notes.

      I'm from the Phil Campbell school of preaching (how could I not be?) – I think people who preach without notes are occasionally exceptional but prone to rambling and playing to audience responses.

      If I was performing I would be all for eye contact. I could get up with no preparation and be more dynamic and engaging than getting up well prepared and with a script. I'd just be much less useful. I think I would be a distraction from the word of God at that point – this is one slight problem I have with Driscoll. We end up impressed with how well he speaks – and it obfuscates what he's actually talking about. I think his quality delivery disguise often shoddy treatment of the Bible.

      I've just had a quick look in Mark's gospel and in 6 places Mark tells us that Jesus looks at people before speaking to them (3:5; 3:34; 8:33; 10:21; 10:23; 10:27). That might help us in feeling OK about the eye contact assumption.

      Jesus also turned water into wine. I'm not sure the question we should be asking is "how did Jesus preach" but rather "how can I preach Jesus" – Jesus had the advantage of being God's word – not just teaching it. I'm sure he didn't use any notes, and I'm certain that everything he said was divinely inspired.

      I am not sold on this – but I don't think eye contact is the be all and end all, or a cure all for preaching.

      Conversationally I find continuous eye contact off-putting – some eye contact is good, too much is overwhelming. But I'm not sure that I completely see preaching as a conversation. I'm sure it's a useful analogy – but they are not equals.
      My recent post They eyes have it

  2. simone r

    You know what I think.

    If you don't look I won't be fully engaged. I'll listen if you have good stuff to say, but I'll listen better if you look at me when you are speaking. And when I'm speaking myself, I need to engage with you or I'm bored.

  3. queen stuss

    I hate to tell you this, but I don't take notes during sermons, and struggle to follow on in my Bible. In fact, I haven't taken notes in 3 1/2 years, because I've either been nursing a baby, or said baby has grown bigger and he would rather he be taking the notes for me and wanting to know where 'be strong and courageous' is in my Bible.
    I used to take notes if a preacher wasn't particularly engaging so I could concentrate more on what he was saying, and I need to have the visual of the preacher engaging with the congregation in order to listen well. I guess it's those dreaded learning styles.
    But I do agree about your confidence being in the Bible, not in your ability to present the message, and about the importance of notes. At a previous church, most of the men who would speak never used notes and they just rambled. (Sometimes, I'm not sure they used their Bible either, but that's a whole other issue!)

  4. Izaac

    I agree with you, Nathan. On most of what you posted.

    Though I also kind of lean towards what I heard Keller say once – if they're still writing notes at the end of the sermon you havn't got them.
    My recent post Lost and found

  5. Gav

    Hey Nath, for someone who doesn't get any comments, this post really did the job.

    I don't agree mate. I think eye contact is crucial, it not that you are eyeballing every person in th joint, but when you are looking up and out people are engaged with you, whne you look down, especially too loing, people can lose attention. Part of your job is to engage your congregation and keeping eye contact helps do that,a s well as the prep you've done on the actual words.

    I ama full notes man, but try to knwo it well enough that I spend most of my time looking up at people.

    Anyway, note taking is OK in Churches where most people have tertiary education, or maybe upper high school. Don't expect this in country congregations.

    Good on you for thinking hard about your preaching and delivery mate.
    Gav

  6. Andrew R

    I reckon this post is just because you had second thoughts about your offer to spend Saturday night helping me improve my eye contact.

    More seriously, I think that you've proven that eye contact isn't important for everyone in the congregation, and that it could be used as an excuse for poor preparation. But, as hopefully you realise, that doesn't exactly prove that good content with eye-contact isn't better than good content with no eye contact.

    As someone who in 7 years of full time preaching ministry has never preached without a full text (except the Christmas day I left my sermon at home – and strangely enough no one in the congregation realised), I think that eye contact would add another dimension to my communication, which is why I want to work on it without sacrificing the many positives that come from my carefully crafted full texts.

  7. Nathan

    But, as hopefully you realise, that doesn't exactly prove that good content with eye-contact isn't better than good content with no eye contact.

    Indeed. I even say "eye contact is good"in the fifth sentence, and point out that this is my personal opinion in the fourth sentence (and the end of the fifth).

    I'm not saying ditch eye contact – what I'm saying is that if it's a choice between eye contact and full text I'm going with full text…

    I think parishioners should be expecting their preacher to handle the word diligently and should be judging them on that basis. Not on whether or not they make eye contact.

    Does eye contact make for more dynamic preaching? Sure. Is this the goal of preaching? Dynamic is good, but the goal must be to preach the word faithfully. Mustn't it?

    1. Kutz (Peter Kutuzov)

      The question then becomes whether or not dynamic preaching inherently lessens faithfulness. Of course if one must make a choice then that choice is obvious. But why must one make the choice?

      I'd say different things to different preachers with respect to their eye contact, were I to give advice.
      My recent post Competitiveness and Scripture

    2. AndrewFinden

      You should just have your full text on a powerpoint and have everybody copy it down word for word.

      I think parishioners should be expecting their preacher to handle the word diligently and should be judging them on that basis. Not on whether or not they make eye contact.

      I don't think parishoners should be 'judging' their preachers (that's perhaps a common pastime of the notebook-wielding YARs (young, angry and reformed), they should be listening to them, and listen is enabled by good communication, and good communication is hindered by someone who never looks up from their notes.

      If you'll allow me to use a singing analogy – there are some singers who have wonderful stage presence and present very well, but who's technical proficiency is lacking, and there are some who have wonderful technique but are dead boring with no presenting skills – the great singers, the ones who communicate with people are those who have a solid technique and communication skills. If you like, the technique of a preacher is the content.

      Or imagine that you decide to read a Shakespeare sonnet to your wife – we can assume that the content in this case is solid – if you read it head down, is that going to have the same impact as if you look up at her occasionally?

      See, it really is a false dichotomy to say

      if it's a choice between eye contact and full text I'm going with full text…

      because that's not a choice one should be forced to make.

  8. andrew r

    Surely the question is not about 'dynamic' but about communication. I think being a faithful preacher involves communicating the best you can. Eye contact alone doesn't make good communication. But eye contact helps to communicate, especially with some people. Therefore if you're aiming to be faithful, you should be aiming at eye contact.

    Interestingly on Sunday morning, I think a fairly average full text sermon was considerably improved communication wise by my efforts at eye contact. Obviously I dispute that it is either full text or eye contact. You can possible memorise the full text, or else write the full text and reduce to notes (a-la David Cook and John Chapman) and then you get the best of both worlds.

    I'm definitely with you on one thing though – in 95% of cases people should have a full text somewhere in their preparation

  9. Nathan

    I don't think the premise necessarily leads to that question. I think you're seeing dichotomies where I'm seeing a Venn Diagram. I think there is a relationship between eye contact and being dynamic. And I think there is a relationship between faithfulness and using a script (relying on your preparation rather than your personality). And a further relationship between being faithful and being engaging.

    I think eye contact is window dressing. You should do it, but only once you get the product right…

    I'd say different things to different preachers with respect to their eye contact, were I to give advice.

    And that's pretty much exactly what I'm saying. Though I'd also say "less eye contact" to many people. I don't think we should necessarily be aiming for 100% eye contact.
    My recent post They eyes have it

  10. andrew r

    I'm not seeing dichotomies at all, except in your post! your statement 'I reckon eye contact is the bastion of people with either mediocre content or limited preparation.' strongly suggests a dichotomy between good well prepared content and eye contact.

    Surely the eye-contact thing gets raised in our context because no one who preaches at our church (at least no-one I have any control over!) preaches without a full text, but many of us are not that great with eye contact.

    And on top of that, when has anyone ever suggested that eye-contact is an unblinking stare for 100% of your sermon. That is a straw man if ever I saw one.
    When I think eye contact I'm simply thinking that you're looking up and around your congregation rather than just having your head down in your notes for 100% of your sermon?

    1. Nathan

      'I reckon eye contact is the bastion of people with either mediocre content or limited preparation.' strongly suggests a dichotomy between good well prepared content and eye contact.

      Not at all. That statement says nothing about well prepared people and eye contact. It says that poorly prepared people rely on eye contact. You are implying something that the statement does not suggest, and certainly isn't enforced by the context.

      I was commenting on how eye contact covers a multitude of sins, not suggesting that eye contact in itself is a sin.

      And on top of that, when has anyone ever suggested that eye-contact is an unblinking stare for 100% of your sermon. That is a straw man if ever I saw one.

      Can you show me where I have suggested that it is? This is a straw man.

      My recent post They eyes have it

      1. Andrew R

        Not at all. That statement says nothing about well prepared people and eye contact. It says that poorly prepared people rely on eye contact. You are implying something that the statement does not suggest, and certainly isn't enforced by the context.

        Don't know how you do that neat quote thing. But you said 'eye contact IS the bastion of poorly prepared people' Implying a direct relationship between poor preparation and eye contact. If you said 'eye contact CAN BE the bastion of poorly prepared people' then I would not have accused you of promoting a dichotomy.

        1. Nathan

          you put blockquote in angle brackets around what you want to say… and in the second one you put a /…

          So "<" blockquote ">" what you want to quote "<" "/" blockquote ">" without the "s and the spaces.

          Implying a direct relationship between poor preparation and eye contact. If you said 'eye contact CAN BE the bastion of poorly prepared people' then I would not have accused you of promoting a dichotomy.

          And I stand by that – what I don't comment on is the relationship between eye contact and being well prepared – eye contact is not the "fortress chosen to make a defence" for well prepared people, or people with good content to fight their communication battles. But it is for (some) poorly prepared people, or people with bad content.

          If I say "I prioritise eye contact in my preaching so that I can communicate better" it is likely that my content is poor or that I am underprepared.
          My recent post They eyes have it

  11. Nathan

    Obviously I dispute that it is either full text or eye contact.

    I'm not sure where I've said that it is. I'm struggling to find where people think I suggested we should make no eye contact our default position? It seems everybody reads a dichotomy into my position where none existed. Here are all the things I said about eye contact in my post and in my comments:

  12. Eye contact is the preacher’s Holy Grail.
  13. Eye contact is good, especially for new people
  14. Eye contact is how we accommodate fussy listeners.
  15. I’d say almost 30% of the feedback I’ve received for preaching is on delivery, and that’s evenly split between pacing (which is very important) and eye contact (which is not)
  16. In journalism we’re taught that eye contact is intimidating.
  17. In public speaking (and particularly rhetoric) making direct eye contact is a sign of confidence in one’s self, and one’s message.
  18. The most entertaining sermons I’ve heard have been from people with no notes and lots of eye contact – but I can’t say I remember a whole lot of what they said
  19. I reckon eye contact is the bastion of people with either mediocre content or limited preparation.
  20. Everything is more listenable with eye contact – but not necessarily better.
  21. Its place in the preaching armoury seems assumed rather than demonstrated.
  22. If I was performing I would be all for eye contact. I could get up with no preparation and be more dynamic and engaging than getting up well prepared and with a script. I'd just be much less useful.
  23. I am not sold on this – but I don't think eye contact is the be all and end all, or a cure all for preaching.
  24. Conversationally I find continuous eye contact off-putting – some eye contact is good, too much is overwhelming.
  25. Does eye contact make for more dynamic preaching? Sure. Is this the goal of preaching? Dynamic is good, but the goal must be to preach the word faithfully
  26. I'm not saying ditch eye contact
  27. Does eye contact make for more dynamic preaching? Sure. Is this the goal of preaching? Dynamic is good, but the goal must be to preach the word faithfully.
  28. I think eye contact is window dressing. You should do it, but only once you get the product right.
  29. My recent post They eyes have it

  30. Nathan

    But I think the dynamic bit should come mostly through content and not delivery – despite modern communication gurus suggesting that communication is 80% non verbal – I think we need to be subverting that paradigm and saying that the content is actually more important than the delivery (though both are important).
    My recent post They eyes have it

    1. AndrewFinden

      Maybe you should just put the full text of your sermon on the projector and have everyone copy it down?

      Seriously though, it does appear that your arguing against the mode of communication having any value. Andrew R seems to have you pretty well nailed on this issue I must say. I don't think anyone is disagreeing that content is crucially important, and that having notes is important, but it does seem you're suggesting that things that engender good communication of that content is not important, and perhaps should even be jettisoned (even though here you say 'both are important'). It seems you create a false dichotomy when you say

      what I'm saying is that if it's a choice between eye contact and full text I'm going with full text…

      A preacher who simply reads a text without looking up at those he's speaking to is a poor communicator, and the message, no matter how good, is going to be hindered by that poor communication.

      Imagine if I take a Shakespeare sonnet and read it word-for-word faithfully to my wife, but don't look up at her even once, will the text have the same impact as if I were to occasionally look at her?

  31. Nathan

    I did deal with examples (in the comments) of people who do look up 100% of the time – like Driscoll. I think looking up 100% of the time sends the wrong message about where our confidence is.

    But I think you're arguing with me as though I'm suggesting you should never look up when this is clearly not what I've been arguing for.
    My recent post They eyes have it

  32. Andrew R

    Mmm, the point is, some of those statements you list, which sound positive about eye contact such as ' Eye contact is the preacher’s Holy Grail.' are actually statements your post is disputing. Surely you're not going to argue that your post is overall arguing that most people make eye contact too important in preaching. I'm saying this is not the case in teh circles I move in.

    # I think eye contact is window dressing. You should do it, but only once you get the product right.

    I agree. But surely the same could be said for illustrations and many other communication techniques. Which is why I don't think I agree with your statement

    # I did deal with examples (in the comments) of people who do look up 100% of the time – like Driscoll. I think looking up 100% of the time sends the wrong message about where our confidence is.

    I think it's the quality of your preparation and your faithfulness in handeling the Bible that shows where your confidence is. I think this is the case whether or not you look up 100% of the time. If I can learn my full script off by heart – I think I'd like to be able to look up 100% of the time (not of course staring at people in an off putting way). But of course there is a cost benefit analysis of whether the time spent doing that is worth the communication pay off, and at this stage it is not for me.

    1. Nathan

      I think looking down is actually a reminder that we're teachers of the word who place our confidence in the word and our study of it, not in our rhetorical ability.

  33. Andrew R

    You don't think carrying a nice large floppy Bible and reading from it occasionally communicates the same thing?

  34. Kutz (Peter Kutuzov)

    Nath, you're pretty insistent that in your thinking you're not drawing a dichotomy between good eye contact and good content, but I think Andrew R pretty respectfully and clearly demonstrated that your words did imply that, though your clarification seems to imply that's not what you mean.

    If I say "I prioritise eye contact in my preaching so that I can communicate better" it is likely that my content is poor or that I am underprepared.

    I think the burden of proof for this one is on you, buddy. What makes you say that this is true?

    I think looking down is actually a reminder that we're teachers of the word who place our confidence in the word and our study of it, not in our rhetorical ability.

    Hmmm. There are certain demonstrations of personality that would make me agree with this statement, but plenty where I would say it doesn't apply. It's certainly not a blanket truth and I'd say that primarily it's actually our content that demonstrates this.
    My recent post Competitiveness and Scripture

  35. Nathan

    What makes you say that this is true?

    The key word in my sentence is "prioritise"… How can you suggest that eye contact should be our priority in preaching? It's a part of preaching, but not the priority.

    Nobody thinks eye contact is the most important part of communication. If you broke communication down into its components there is no way "eye contact" would be the biggest slice of the pie.

    Do you people not know English? Or, in the case of bastion, French?

    I'm sick of being forced to defend extremes that I don't hold on the basis of poor reading of what I wrote or blatant and flagrant strawmanning. I have never argued that it's "one or the other" – what I have suggested is that eye contact is the last thing to work on, not the first, when it comes to preaching.
    My recent post They eyes have it

  36. Nathan

    From the dictionary:

    Main Entry: bas·tion
    Pronunciation: \\ˈbas-chən\\
    Function: noun
    Etymology: Middle French, from Old Italian bastione, augmentative of bastia fortress, derivative from dial. form of bastire to build, of Germanic origin; akin to Old High German besten to patch
    Date: 1562

    1 : a projecting part of a fortification
    2 : a fortified area or position
    3 : stronghold 2 <the last bastion of academic standards — American Scientist>

    — bas·tioned \\-chənd\\ adjective

    Excuse the "z"

    prioritize /praɪ'ɒrɪtaɪz/ listen /-'ɔːr-/ US listen
    prioritizes 3rd person present listen ; prioritizing present participle listen ; prioritized past tense, past participle listen

    If you prioritize something, you treat it as more important than other things. VERB

    The government is prioritising the service sector, rather than investing in industry and production. V n

    If you prioritize the tasks that you have to do, you decide which are the most important and do them first. VERB

    Make lists of what to do and prioritize your tasks. V n Also V

    My recent post They eyes have it

  37. gjware

    My friend Stefan Slucki (Seacliff SA) has this one covered.
    He's always got his head up, so we can see his charming and expressive face; and all the while his fingers read his braille manuscript. It's the best of both worlds.
    Apparently he always got positive feedback about his eye contact on his evaluated sermons.

    Nathan, if it came to a choice between looking at people and communicating my desired message during preaching, I would not choose looking at people.
    My recent post Melbourne Storm NRL Team Stripped Of Premierships

  38. Pingback: Using Written Prayers « mgpcpastor’s blog

  39. andrew r

    Look, Truth be told I don't think I disagree with you much at all in practice. But I do dispute a number of statements that you make including the statement that eye contact is the bastion of people with either mediocre content or limited preparation. This is not a statement about eye contact and it strongly connects eye contact with poor preparation. It means that if I say that eye contact is important I am immediately under suspicion of being poorly prepared. And I dispute that this should be the case. It's similar to the statement Eye contact is how we accommodate fussy listeners. It’s pandering. Again this is a blanket statement which I dispute.

    The reason you're having to defend yourself is not because of the poor comprehension of your readers, it's because of the provocative generalisations of your writing. I understand that they make for an interesting post. But don't be surprised to get called on them from time to time.

  40. Nathan

    Including the statement that eye contact is the bastion of people with either mediocre content or limited preparation. This is not a statement about eye contact and it strongly connects eye contact with poor preparation.

    Yes, but not both ways. It says nothing about people who are prepared and have good contact. It says that those who aren't rely on eye contact to cover up the fact that they're not prepared. And I'm pretty sure my comments have demonstrated that this was my intention with that statement. Your interpretation of my intention is rendered irrelevant by the fact that I have explained numerous times that this is what I meant. This is a blog, it is not an exercise in post modern textual criticism.

    I clarified my statement a number of times. That you (and possibly others) still choose to interpret it in a manner that you find offensive (or disagreeable) suggests a continuing lack of comprehension. There is no real grounds to extend my statement into some sort of syllogistic framework that makes a claim about people with good preparation who make eye contact.

    It means that if I say that eye contact is important I am immediately under suspicion of being poorly prepared. And I dispute that this should be the case.

    Not at all. I think I've demonstrated this in the above. To clarify – while my post (and thoughts on eye contact) have been prompted by your pursuit of eye contact – the comments therein are not directly related to that pursuit. I think it's right to pander to people. I think I make the point (in the post) about eye contact being great for new people. But I also make the point that the more I mature as a listener the less important eye contact is.

    It's similar to the statement Eye contact is how we accommodate fussy listeners. It’s pandering. Again this is a blanket statement which I dispute.

    I find it hard to see how you can dispute this statement. Firstly, while the word pandering contains a slight pejorative tone, I don't say it's wrong to pander. I just point out that it is pandering. At no point do I say "don't try to make your preaching more interesting by making eye contact" – instead I say "don't make eye contact more important than it is"…

    I don't think the "ideal" listener worries about how much you look up when you preach, but rather what you say when you preach. And at that point anything we bring in to our preaching to dress up our message to make it more palatable is pandering. The same way that I pander to my wife by buying her flowers. I do it because I know she likes it, and it communicates that I love her, not because it means I love her any more or less.

    I think it's dangerous to jump to your own interpretations of anything written online (or anywhere) while ignoring authorial intent. And I think we both know that everyone who has commented in this thread is interested in seeing the gospel proclaimed clearly and in an engaging manner. I just think that's the order it comes in (priority wise).
    My recent post Godwin&#8217;s Storm

  41. AndrewFinden

    In fairness, Nathan, I think it's a bit rich to suggest that when everyone reading this has understood it a particular – a way which you say is not what you meant – that the problems is their comprehension skills, and not your lack of clarity. You do seem to be trying to hold two conflicting positions on this.

    The key word in my sentence is "prioritise"… How can you suggest that eye contact should be our priority in preaching? It's a part of preaching, but not the priority.

    I think that's far too binary a way of understanding it – one can have more than one priority. Several things can be important – and if communication is important, then surely it is a priority to communicate effectively? And if we agree that the content is also a top priority (I would argue you need both content and communication, if one suffers, both suffer) then we might assume that the good preacher has already prepared the content – thus, during a sermon, effective communication of that message is a priority. In that sense we are talking about the verb – the action of preaching, and so there is certainly no reason why a preacher cannot prioritise eye-contact in order to effectively communicate the message they've prepared.

  42. Nathan

    I think it’s a bit rich to suggest that when everyone reading this has understood it a particular – a way which you say is not what you meant – that the problems is their comprehension skills, and not your lack of clarity.

    I think it’s a bit rich to suggest that everyone who read this understood it a particular way. Less than 7% of the people who read this post commented, two commenters suggested they agreed with me, and a further two privately agreed to see how much they could stir the pot on this thread…

    I think that’s far too binary a way of understanding it – one can have more than one priority. Several things can be important – and if communication is important, then surely it is a priority to communicate effectively? And if we agree that the content is also a top priority (I would argue you need both content and communication, if one suffers, both suffer) then we might assume that the good preacher has already prepared the content – thus, during a sermon, effective communication of that message is a priority.

    The antithesis to your argument is the modern preacher who preaches in an extermporary manner – which is really what I’m arguing against. Because when we start measuring the performance of preachers against a good improv comic, a politician, or any other unscripted performer we’re doing the preacher a disservice. If less eye contact is the price we pay for well prepared, faithful preaching then I think we should pay it.

    1. AndrewFinden

      I think it's a bit rich to suggest that everyone who read this understood it a particular way.

      Ok, so 'everyone' was hyperbolic (are you the only one allowed to make sweeping generalisations?), but clearly a significant enough group of responders understood it in a way that made you exasperated, as you wrote (and apologies for not being privy to your stats or private conversations):

      Do you people not know English? Or, in the case of bastion, French?

      I'm sick of being forced to defend extremes that I don't hold on the basis of poor reading of what I wrote or blatant and flagrant strawmanning. I have never argued that it's "one or the other" – what I have suggested is that eye contact is the last thing to work on, not the first, when it comes to preaching.

      I can only agree with Andrew R:

      The reason you're having to defend yourself is not because of the poor comprehension of your readers, it's because of the provocative generalisations of your writing. I understand that they make for an interesting post. But don't be surprised to get called on them from time to time.

      You say that you've argued that eye-contact is the last thing to work on – and I agree, the communication of a message comes after the preparation of that message – but I can't see that you have argued this, as you continually talk about getting rid of eye-contact.

      you wrote:

      The antithesis to your argument is the modern preacher who preaches in an extermporary manner – which is really what I'm arguing against. Because when we start measuring the performance of preachers against a good improv comic, a politician, or any other unscripted performer we're doing the preacher a disservice.

      I don't see how that's an antithesis to my argument, as, thus far, I agree with that (and I've essentially been pointing out that this was not what you appeared to be arguing in the first place). But where I start to disagree (and where the previous indications about rejecting eye-contact come back into play is from where you continue:

      If less eye contact is the price we pay for well prepared, faithful preaching then I think we should pay it.

      That's a loaded statement – a big 'if.' I disagree that it is a price we have to pay – I don't think anyone here is arguing for less preparation, but you appear to be arguing for less effective communication. Why should the price for better preparation and content be less effective communication? Why should we rather not call for both better preparation and better communication?

      Reading back over the OP I noticed:

      In public speaking (and particularly rhetoric) making direct eye contact is a sign of confidence in one’s self, and one’s message. I think we’ve taken this model of communication and applied it to the pulpit. If someone looks down we assume they’re not confident, as a preacher my confidence is in the Bible and my preparation, not in my ability to deliver something dynamic and persuasive.

      If eye contact is confidence in one's message, then surely a preacher of the gospel of Jesus would want to be and appear confident in that message? If the preacher's confidence is in the Word of God, why would you suggest that they should not be interested in non-verbally communicating that confidence to the congregation?

      When I’m listening to a sermon the only time I really want to make eye contact with a preacher is if they’re a first timer and I want to give them a reassuring nod, or if they’ve nailed me with an application and I want to look nonchalant. Otherwise I’ll be staring down at my Bible or blankly into space, or writing notes.

      Well that's fine.. you don't need to look up at the preacher…

      Good listeners aren’t really looking at the preacher (in my experience).

      Your experience as a good listener? In general, I think the opposite is true… in my experience.

      But this is an interesting discussion, and we all like stirring the pot a little ;)

    2. AndrewFinden

      I think it's a bit rich to suggest that everyone who read this understood it a particular way.

      Ok, so 'everyone' was hyperbolic (are you the only one allowed to make sweeping generalisations?), but clearly a significant enough group of responders understood it in a way that made you exasperated, as you wrote (and apologies for not being privy to your stats or private conversations):

      Do you people not know English? Or, in the case of bastion, French?

      I'm sick of being forced to defend extremes that I don't hold on the basis of poor reading of what I wrote or blatant and flagrant strawmanning. I have never argued that it's "one or the other" – what I have suggested is that eye contact is the last thing to work on, not the first, when it comes to preaching.

      I can only agree with Andrew R:

      The reason you're having to defend yourself is not because of the poor comprehension of your readers, it's because of the provocative generalisations of your writing. I understand that they make for an interesting post. But don't be surprised to get called on them from time to time.

      You say that you've argued that eye-contact is the last thing to work on – and I agree, the communication of a message comes after the preparation of that message – but I can't see that you have argued this, as you continually talk about getting rid of eye-contact.

      you wrote:

      The antithesis to your argument is the modern preacher who preaches in an extermporary manner – which is really what I'm arguing against. Because when we start measuring the performance of preachers against a good improv comic, a politician, or any other unscripted performer we're doing the preacher a disservice.

      I don't see how that's an antithesis to my argument, as, thus far, I agree with that (and I've essentially been pointing out that this was not what you appeared to be arguing in the first place). But where I start to disagree (and where the previous indications about rejecting eye-contact come back into play is from where you continue:

      If less eye contact is the price we pay for well prepared, faithful preaching then I think we should pay it.

      That's a loaded statement – a big 'if.' I disagree that it is a price we have to pay – I don't think anyone here is arguing for less preparation, but you appear to be arguing for less effective communication. Why should the price for better preparation and content be less effective communication? Why should we rather not call for both better preparation and better communication?

      Reading back over the OP I noticed:

      In public speaking (and particularly rhetoric) making direct eye contact is a sign of confidence in one’s self, and one’s message. I think we’ve taken this model of communication and applied it to the pulpit. If someone looks down we assume they’re not confident, as a preacher my confidence is in the Bible and my preparation, not in my ability to deliver something dynamic and persuasive.

      If eye contact is confidence in one's message, then surely a preacher of the gospel of Jesus would want to be and appear confident in that message? If the preacher's confidence is in the Word of God, why would you suggest that they should not be interested in non-verbally communicating that confidence to the congregation?

      <blockkquote> When I’m listening to a sermon the only time I really want to make eye contact with a preacher is if they’re a first timer and I want to give them a reassuring nod, or if they’ve nailed me with an application and I want to look nonchalant. Otherwise I’ll be staring down at my Bible or blankly into space, or writing notes.

      Well that's fine.. you don't need to look up at the preacher…

      Good listeners aren’t really looking at the preacher (in my experience).

      Your experience as a good listener? In general, I think the opposite is true… in my experience.

      But this is an interesting discussion, and we all like stirring the pot a little ;)

      1. Nathan

        are you the only one allowed to make sweeping generalisations?

        I'm fine with sweeping generalisations – unless they're from somebody in the process of pulling me up for making sweeping generalisations…

        as you continually talk about getting rid of eye-contact.

        I have not once argued that we should get rid of eye contact – just that we should not make eye contact a priority as preachers or in critiquing preaching. It has its place – its place is just not as the first thing we comment on or aim for. It should not be the heart of our communication methodology – as I believe it is based on critiques of every sermon I've ever preached, and in critiques I have previously given.

        The trend in evangelical circles is to move away from (not towards) having a full manuscript – though an argument could be made that using a full manuscript has never been the dominant preaching paradigm.

        But where I start to disagree (and where the previous indications about rejecting eye-contact come back into play is from where you continue:
        If less eye contact is the price we pay for well prepared, faithful preaching then I think we should pay it.

        I've got to ask why you assume my starting point is where you assume it is – the only example I give in my post is the public speaking/rhetorical model (where I was thinking of politicians – and I had thought I wrote that until I just reread my post). There is nothing in my post to suggest I'm arguing against an appropriate level of eye contact.

        If eye contact is confidence in one's message, then surely a preacher of the gospel of Jesus would want to be and appear confident in that message? If the preacher's confidence is in the Word of God

        It's a very fine line between appearing confident in the message and appearing as a confident messenger – I think a lot of the "communication" stuff lends itself to unhelpfully putting the focus on the messenger – which is why I would suggest Paul was deliberately unimpressive when preaching to the Corinthians. He probably didn't make much eye contact.

        My recent post Guide to writing good fiction

        1. AndrewFinden

          I have not once argued that we should get rid of eye contact – just that we should not make eye contact a priority as preachers or in critiquing preaching. It has its place – its place is just not as the first thing we comment on or aim for. It should not be the heart of our communication methodology – as I believe it is based on critiques of every sermon I've ever preached, and in critiques I have previously given.

          I suspect you do why so many (even if not 'everyone') have understood you to be rejecting eye-contact. Sure, while you don't outright argue to get rid of it, you clearly have disparaged it's use and usefulness – you imply that it's only there as a crutch and to pander to fussy listeners. You say it shouldn't be at the heart of our 'communication methodology', yet I can't see where you've offered a better alternative.

          I've got to ask why you assume my starting point is where you assume it is – the only example I give in my post is the public speaking/rhetorical model (where I was thinking of politicians – and I had thought I wrote that until I just reread my post). There is nothing in my post to suggest I'm arguing against an appropriate level of eye contact.

          Are you trying to suggest that preaching is not a form of public speaking? And you didn't write anything about 'appropriate' levels, you just criticised it's use. What's an 'appropriate' level anyway?. Do you seriously wonder why some of us don't really believe you when you say 'Eye contact is good' when you qualify that with 'especially for new people' and then write "Eye contact is how we accommodate fussy listeners. It’s pandering. " ? It seems a little like the old 'some of best friends are….' line.

          I reckon eye contact is the bastion of people with either mediocre content or limited preparation. Everything is more listenable with eye contact – but not necessarily better.

          I think it's already been pointed out, and perhaps I've missed your response, but I reckon your first sentence there is not necessarily true. I do agree that everything is more listenable with eye contact, which is why instead of rallying against too much eye-contact, we should be calling for more and better preparation, without needing to throw the proverbial baby out and get rid of the 'listenability'.

          It's a very fine line between appearing confident in the message and appearing as a confident messenger

          I think you're perhaps drawing a line where none needs drawing. A messenger with a good message ought to be confident. Paul was confident because he was confident in his message.

          I think a lot of the "communication" stuff lends itself to unhelpfully putting the focus on the messenger – which is why I would suggest Paul was deliberately unimpressive when preaching to the Corinthians. He probably didn't make much eye contact.

          On the contrary, I think if the communication 'method' is inhibiting it makes the listener focus on the failings of the speaker to communicate effectively. Good communication helps the listener focus on the message. What makes you think Paul was deliberately unimpressive in Corinth (which sermon do you refer to?)
          And I would suggest that Paul's response to our friend St Eutychus demonstrates that he was looking up from him notes!

  43. Dave Bailey

    You've certainly got some responses Nathan. I've only read your post.
    The problem bro-cous, quite simply, is that you assume all listeners are journalists like you.
    Bro-cous Dave

  44. Dave Bailey

    If you don't give me eye-contact, I doubt your sincerity. Body-language 101.
    Sarah Bailey

    1. Nathan

      You Baileys need to read the comments. I'm not anti-eye-contact. I'm just arguing that eye-contact should be seen in its place as one of the last things we worry about. Not one of the first.

      One of the things this band of merry commenters has ignored is the context of this post – it's on a blog with the tag line "where being boring kills" named after a guy who was killed by a boring sermon (a boring sermon preached by an apostle). I'm all for more dynamic communication and interesting sermons. What I'm not for is being interesting and dynamic at the expense of being rigorous and faithful (Driscoll says he takes two hours to prepare a sermon).

      Extemporaneous preaching – or any preaching that draws attention to the preacher and not the message – is unhelpful. It leads to a personality cult. This was the point of my paragraph about politicians – we don't actually trust politicians more because they look us in the eye when they give speeches. There isn't a real link between body language and sincerity. We think people are sincere based on their passion and credibility.

      We should be assessing preachers on their faithfulness to the word, not how often they look up or how convincing they are. A movement towards extemporaneous (without notes) preaching is only going to be harmful in the long run – and I think this movement is gaining momentum because we're making eye contact a bigger deal than it should be.

      Why do we doubt the sincerity of people who have faithfully prepared an exposition of scripture because they look down at the text – and their notes – and not up, at us?

      The more people argue with me on this the more convinced I am of a position I didn't really hold firmly when I wrote the post.

      My recent post Guide to writing good fiction

      1. AndrewFinden

        We should be assessing preachers on their faithfulness to the word, not how often they look up or how convincing they are.

        I made this point earlier, and you didn't address it – why should we even be 'assessing' preachers? Perhaps if they were communicating effectively we could just get on with listening to what they are saying (which we hope is well prepared).

        Why do we doubt the sincerity of people who have faithfully prepared an exposition of scripture because they look down at the text – and their notes – and not up, at us?

        I don't think it has anything to do with doubting sincerity (if I see a preacher who looks at their notes the whole time, I'll generally either suspect they didn't spend enough time practising their sermon, or that they're really nervous), it's about effective communication. It's all about balance, and not the kind of dichotomies you seem to be advocating (perhaps to generate comments?)

        There isn't a real link between body language and sincerity. We think people are sincere based on their passion and credibility.

        But there is a link between body language, confidence and good communication. Passion that is directed downward to one's notes the whole time is not going to reach the congregation. Someone who's body language doesn't emit confidence in what they're saying is going to be somewhat less credible to the listener. Again, it's about balance.

        A movement towards extemporaneous (without notes) preaching is only going to be harmful in the long run – and I think this movement is gaining momentum because we're making eye contact a bigger deal than it should be.

        I don't think any of the commenters here are making it a bigger deal than it should be – rather, just pointing out that some eye-contact is necessary for effective communication. I don't see how that inevitably leads to ditching notes, nor that anyone has advocated the extemporaneous position.

        I'm not anti-eye-contact. I'm just arguing that eye-contact should be seen in its place as one of the last things we worry about. Not one of the first.

        If one needs to read your comments to properly understand what your point is, then maybe you need to edit your OP.
        Yes, it is the last thing we worry about, because by the time the preacher steps into the pulpit, the rigorous preparation has been done, and then it is at last time to worry about communicating that effectively. Your OP seems to downplay the importance of this communication at the 'last'.

        The more people argue with me on this the more convinced I am of a position I didn't really hold firmly when I wrote the post.

        The more you argue your point, the more I'm moving towards a position that thinks that someone who has done sufficient preparation shouldn't have to look down so much… in some cases, looking down the whole time could betray a rushed preparation that hasn't had enough time to 'sink in'.

  45. Nathan

    why should we even be 'assessing' preachers?

    To help them be better at pointing people to Jesus.

    It's possible that we shouldn't be – but we do, and when we do, it's often on the wrong thing. A vast majority of the feedback I receive for preaching, from within the congregation, is on delivery rather than content. I'm a young preacher, I haven't preached a huge number of sermons – why am I being assessed on delivery rather than what I've taught?

    I don't think it has anything to do with doubting sincerity

    I didn't say you did. I said Sarah said it did.

    It's all about balance, and not the kind of dichotomies you seem to be advocating

    I have not, I repeat, not, suggested no eye contact. Anywhere. I have suggested the balance needs to be in the direction of showing that your faith is in your preparation (and the Bible) rather than in your presentation.

    If one needs to read your comments to properly understand what your point is, then maybe you need to edit your OP.

    That's not something I do, nor is it something I've ever done – except to write an "update" – I could edit my post now and make all your comments look stupid by changing my emphasis so that my point is clearer, but that's not fair. The onus is on you, once you've read my comments that clarify my position, to weigh them up when commenting further.

    Your OP seems to downplay the importance of this communication at the 'last'.

    Not really, it asks a question. It's not a rhetorical question. I think people include eye contact in feedback because they've given it undue prominence and because they're assessing sermons as pieces of communication or rhetoric rather than as an opportunity to interact with God's word. This is pretty much what Paul addresses in his letters to the Corinthians – clearly you guys are all in the Apollos school of preaching. Which is fine. But if we want to compare longevity of contribution to the kingdom I think I'd rather be in Paul's school… (recognising of course the irony of this when compared to 1 Corinthians 1).
    My recent post Guide to writing good fiction

    1. AndrewFinden

      To help them be better at pointing people to Jesus.

      It's possible that we shouldn't be – but we do, and when we do, it's often on the wrong thing.

      As a generalisation, I don't think this is the job of the congregation – elders / deacons / other pastors-mentors, yeah, sure, but not the congregation. To then say 'when we do' is kind of moot, in my opinion.

      A vast majority of the feedback I receive for preaching, from within the congregation, is on delivery rather than content. I'm a young preacher, I haven't preached a huge number of sermons – why am I being assessed on delivery rather than what I've taught?

      Maybe your presentation is somewhat of a hindrance to your message being communicated? I don't know.. that's something you need to honestly ask yourself.

      I have not, I repeat, not, suggested no eye contact. Anywhere.

      True – you merely implied that a prepared speaker doesn't need to use it…

      I have suggested the balance needs to be in the direction of showing that your faith is in your preparation (and the Bible) rather than in your presentation.

      I do understand that (and I do realise you're not calling for no eye-contact, I'm just pointing out how it was implied from what you wrote, even if you didn't mean it). Even so, I disagree. I think a desire to connect with and effectively communicate with the listener speaks confidence in the message, and eye contact is an important part of that. If you're talking to me, I want to see that sometimes.

      That's not something I do, nor is it something I've ever done – except to write an "update"

      That's what I meant. I didn't expect you to delete anything.

      I think people include eye contact in feedback because they've given it undue prominence and because they're assessing sermons as pieces of communication or rhetoric rather than as an opportunity to interact with God's word.

      I'm confused, because you seem to be suggesting that God's Word, and the preaching of it, is not communication? I mean, if you were a mumbler, and the only feedback you got was to speak more clearly, would have this same reaction?

      This is pretty much what Paul addresses in his letters to the Corinthians – clearly you guys are all in the Apollos school of preaching. Which is fine. But if we want to compare longevity of contribution to the kingdom I think I'd rather be in Paul's school… (recognising of course the irony of this when compared to 1 Corinthians 1).

      I don't get what you mean here…

      1. Nathan

        I'm confused, because you seem to be suggesting that God's Word, and the preaching of it, is not communication?

        I'm suggesting that God's word, and the preaching of it, is not to be judged by the same standards that we judge other empty rhetoric. This is, in my opinion (and Bruce Winter's in Paul and Philo Amongst the Sophists), what Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 1-4, and the closing remarks in 2 Corinthians.

        I think there's something appropriate about a preacher looking down and preaching from the Bible and his prepared sermon, putting the focus on God, through his word – rather than being a personality cult based on one's ability to be engaging.

        you merely implied that a prepared speaker doesn't need to use it…

        I think you'll find that I implied – or rather, said directly – that an unprepared person relies on it.

        I don't know.. that's something you need to honestly ask yourself. You mentioned that you support an 'appropriate' amount of eye-contact – could it be that your perception of 'appropriate' is actually insufficient for many people?

        In a number of cases it has been "you had good eye contact" rather than bad… I just don't know why eye contact comes into it.

        I don't think this is the job of the congregation – elders / deacons / other pastors-mentors, yeah, sure, but not the congregation. To then say 'when we do' is kind of moot, in my opinion.

        And yet in many instants it is how a preacher presents that earns him a "call" from a congregation, and if someone asks a member of the congregation about their preacher mid week I guarantee that their "preaching ability" and not their content will be the thing most people comment on.
        My recent post Guide to writing good fiction

      2. Nathan

        I'm confused, because you seem to be suggesting that God's Word, and the preaching of it, is not communication?

        I'm suggesting that God's word, and the preaching of it, is not to be judged by the same standards that we judge other empty rhetoric. This is, in my opinion (and Bruce Winter's in Paul and Philo Amongst the Sophists), what Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 1-4, and the closing remarks in 2 Corinthians.

        I think there's something appropriate about a preacher looking down and preaching from the Bible and his prepared sermon, putting the focus on God, through his word – rather than being a personality cult based on one's ability to be engaging.

        you merely implied that a prepared speaker doesn't need to use it…

        I think you'll find that I implied – or rather, said directly – that an unprepared person relies on it.

        I don't know.. that's something you need to honestly ask yourself. You mentioned that you support an 'appropriate' amount of eye-contact – could it be that your perception of 'appropriate' is actually insufficient for many people?

        In a number of cases it has been "you had good eye contact" rather than bad… I just don't know why eye contact comes into it.

        I don't think this is the job of the congregation – elders / deacons / other pastors-mentors, yeah, sure, but not the congregation. To then say 'when we do' is kind of moot, in my opinion.

        And yet in many instants it is how a preacher presents that earns him a "call" from a congregation, and if someone asks a member of the congregation about their preacher mid week I guarantee that their "preaching ability" and not their content will be the thing most people comment on.
        My recent post Guide to writing good fiction

  46. AndrewFinden

    I'm suggesting that God's word, and the preaching of it, is not to be judged by the same standards that we judge other empty rhetoric. This is, in my opinion (and Bruce Winter's in Paul and Philo Amongst the Sophists), what Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 1-4, and the closing remarks in 2 Corinthians.

    I'm not even talking about 'judging' preaching, I'm talking about effective communication – the 'fullness' of the message, the preparation is something we both definitely agree on. My point is that this message deserves to be helpfully exhorted to the congregation. I don't think it's quite accurate to suggest that using eye contact is the kind of 'lofty words' that Paul is talking about. And in any case, you've said that you think 'appropriate' eye contact is good – it's just that you've never defined that, and continually talk about keeping your eyes down.

    I think there's something appropriate about a preacher looking down and preaching from the Bible and his prepared sermon, putting the focus on God, through his word – rather than being a personality cult based on one's ability to be engaging.

    I still think you're making a false dichotomy here. Yes, of course, read from the bible (and don't think I'm arguing that one cannot look down at their bible or sermon). I think it's a stretch to suggest that a good communicator simply has a personality cult.

    I think you'll find that I implied – or rather, said directly – that an unprepared person relies on it.

    I think you're just being obtuse. If eye contact is the bastion of unprepared people, then it implies that most people using eye contact are thus, unprepared. I accept that you don't mean that, but you should at least be able to see how it is entirely reasonable to take that from what you wrote (and doesn't require the assumption that we cannot read english.. or french)

    And yet in many instants it is how a preacher presents that earns him a "call" from a congregation

    In every instance of calling a pastor that my churches have done, I don't recall having heard them preach first.

    and if someone asks a member of the congregation about their preacher mid week I guarantee that their "preaching ability" and not their content will be the thing most people comment on.

    I suppose that depends on where you go to church! And indeed, perhaps it says something about the spiritual health of the people talking…

    I've sat under faithful preaching that has been 'poorly' delivered by rhetorical standards (though perhaps rated highly by yours?), and I've sat under faithful preaching that has been delivered by skilled speakers, and while both are edifying, there are less barriers to that edification with the latter. So while I whole-heartedly agree that the core of preaching is faithful exposition of the Word, I see no need to disparage and downplay the role of effective communication. Of course, preparation and content is more important than presentation, but either without the other is lacking.
    Even if people who's message's are empty rely on eye contact, that doesn't mean meaty messages, well prepared and studied (I think that the more prepared a message is, the less you'll need to rely on notes and looking down – in some cases looking down is the bastion of the unprepared, who left their sermon writing to the last minute) should necessarily have any less interaction and connection with the listeners visually. I can understand that you get frustrated with feedback like 'good eye contact' (I could give you a dozen singing-based comments of the same type and commonality in vocal classes) but I think that actually reflects more on most people's inability to give critique than anything else.

    1. Nathan

      I don't think it's quite accurate to suggest that using eye contact is the kind of 'lofty words' that Paul is talking about.

      Except that I think Paul was speaking out about bringing the art of sophistry and rhetoric into preaching. Sophists in the first century would work out, wax their bodies, and speak in an impressive and extemporaneous manner on a topic chosen by their audience. They were assessed on dynamism. Rather than content. Winter argues that Paul deliberately presents as an antisophist.

      Yes, of course, read from the bible (and don't think I'm arguing that one cannot look down at their bible or sermon)

      What I'm trying to suggest though, is that it is the preacher's responsibility to point people to Jesus, not draw attention to themselves, for myself, I feel the temptation to inject my personality into my preaching, and I don't think my presentation would suffer from doing so – but ultimately I don't think it would be helpful. I just keep thinking there's something slightly wrong with a preacher who can amass 50,000 fans on Facebook, based largely on communication ability and wearing the right theological badges.

      In every instance of calling a pastor that my churches have done, I don't recall having heard them preach first.

      Well then, clearly you're not a Presbyterian (where one must preach for a call) – and I need not trouble myself with your opinions (tongue in cheek for those following at home).

      I suppose that depends on where you go to church! And indeed, perhaps it says something about the spiritual health of the people talking…

      Or perhaps their humanity? I suspect this is common in all churches where the preaching is better than mediocre. But this is my point – if it's down to their lack of spiritual health then we're pandering. If they were healthy we wouldn't need eye contact.

      I think you're just being obtuse. If eye contact is the bastion of unprepared people, then it implies that most people using eye contact are thus, unprepared.

      That is a fallacious syllogism.
      My recent post Guide to writing good fiction

  47. AndrewFinden

    I think you're confusing effective communication with personality cults like your Driscoll example.

    But this is my point – if it's down to their lack of spiritual health then we're pandering. If they were healthy we wouldn't need eye contact.

    Or maybe if you made eye contact, they'd pay attention to your sermon and be healthier. And in any case, I didn't say requiring eye contact was a sign of sickness, I said judging preachers was. I'm arguing that good messages with good communication are better than good messages with poor communication. And yes, I'm holding to the assumption that 'sufficient' eye contact is conducive to good communication.

    That is a fallacious syllogism.

    No, it isn't. Let me translate it for you:
    If the Kaiserburg is the bastion of the people of Nürnberg, then it implies that the people inside the Kaiserburg are people of Nürnberg using it as a bastion.
    thus
    If eye contact is the bastion of unprepared people, then it implies that most people using eye contact are thus using it as a bastion and therefore unprepared…. if only you'd put the words 'can be' instead of 'is' your defence would have been ok.

  48. Nathan

    Your translation is flawed. It says nothing about the people of Frankfurt who spend time in Kaiserburg. Here's a better example.

    When comparing two Rugby League teams, one that scores lots of points, with one that concedes few – I might say "scoring tries is the bastion of the attacking team" – this says nothing about whether or not the other team scores tries. It says something about what the attacking team relies on.

    If eye contact is the bastion of unprepared people, then it implies that most people using eye contact are thus using it as a bastion and therefore unprepared…

    Not at all. All it implies is that unprepared people use it to make their sermons appealing.
    My recent post Guide to writing good fiction

  49. Nathan

    Your translation is flawed. It says nothing about the people of Frankfurt who spend time in Kaiserburg. Here's a better example.

    When comparing two Rugby League teams, one that scores lots of points, with one that concedes few – I might say "scoring tries is the bastion of the attacking team" – this says nothing about whether or not the other team scores tries. It says something about what the attacking team relies on.

    If eye contact is the bastion of unprepared people, then it implies that most people using eye contact are thus using it as a bastion and therefore unprepared…

    Not at all. All it implies is that unprepared people use it to make their sermons appealing.
    My recent post Guide to writing good fiction

  50. AndrewFinden

    Your translation is flawed. It says nothing about the people of Frankfurt who spend time in Kaiserburg.

    I think your understanding of medieval German geography is somewhat lacking. If it's a Nürnberg bastion, then it's for the Nürnbergers, not the Frankfurters. It does very much imply that only a certain group of people use that bastion.
    While you may not have meant to imply what you did, I don't think you can escape it from what you wrote. Interesting that a post against sophistry relies on so much in defence.

    When comparing two Rugby League teams, one that scores lots of points, with one that concedes few – I might say "scoring tries is the bastion of the attacking team" – this says nothing about whether or not the other team scores tries. It says something about what the attacking team relies on.

    That doesn't make any sense, unless your changing the meaning of 'bastion'?

    1. Nathan

      I think your understanding of medieval German geography and sociology is somewhat lacking.

      So why then would you choose German geography to make a point? That doesn't seem like particularly good communication.

      If eye contact is a bastion, then it implies that it is only used defensively (e.g. to cover lack of preparation as you say) as something that is a (or 'the') bastion is, by definition, a defence.

      Yes, or a stronghold.

      That doesn't make any sense, unless you're changing the meaning of 'bastion'?

      I was actually poetically mixing metaphors – attack being the best form of defence…

      My point is, that suggesting that something is a metaphorical "defence" for one group does not limit its use for another. You may wish to stretch an interpretation to that point – but to do so does no justice to context (either broad – the blog, or narrow – the post) – and certainly ignores what has been my consistent response to questions regarding the dichotomy you believe this creates. It doesn't. I did not say that eye contact was only a tool for the underprepared or those with mediocre content, I did not say that it was exclusively the bastion of the underprepared, to read a particular statement about a particular group's use of a particular piece of non verbal communication as a general statement about everybody's use of that piece of non verbal communication is a little silly.

      That's like me saying "hammers are the tools of carpenters" and you saying "but that means miners can't use them"…
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      1. AndrewFinden

        So why then would you choose German geography to make a point? That doesn't seem like particularly good communication.

        As you're the one lecturing us on bastions, I just assumed you would know something about them. But perhaps this is where I should take your advice and take the context of your blog into consideration and realise that bluster is often your bastion when you don't know what you're talking about.

        My point is, that suggesting that something is a metaphorical "defence" for one group does not limit its use for another

        Yes, but as I already pointed out, you didn't say 'a' you said 'the' which changes the meaning. Yes, pedantic semantics… (should our air-guitar band ever reunite, that should be our name I reckon). Your sentence said what it is rather than what it can be.

        With your sentence "I reckon eye contact is the bastion of people with either mediocre content or limited preparation. " it is a response to two possible questions:
        a) What is eye-contact?
        b) What is the defence of people with poor prep. / mediocre content.
        Now you tell me to take the context into consideration, and the context seems clear enough to me that eye-contact is the subject. Therefore it is entirely reasonable to assume that your statement answers question A, which does tend to limit it's usage to the poorly prepared, at the very least, cast it very negatively. Now I know you've denied that this is your meaning, and I accept that – but my issue is that instead of humbly acknowledging that such a misunderstanding is possible you decided to question our reading comprehension skills. Indeed, the context of your blog makes me somewhat cynical in thinking that your response indicates that you probably knew it could be taken this way but left enough room for you to plead innocent.. you are after all a trained spinner!

        [on a more serious note, I'm assuming that the way you respond on your blog is not indicative of how you will respond as a pastor, which does perhaps beg the question of whether there should be such a disparity? Though, I do realise that you personally know most of the responders here, and would reply like this to us in person too. In any case, just a friendly prompting to consider how your online presence might impact your ministry.]

        to read a particular statement about a particular group's use of a particular piece of non verbal communication as a general statement about everybody's use of that piece of non verbal communication is a little silly.

        This just demonstrates the problem – if we (apparently incorrectly) understood that eye-contact was the subject, and not the under-prepared as this paragraph indicates, then it explains why we would come to such an apparently 'silly' understanding.

        That's like me saying "hammers are the tools of carpenters" and you saying "but that means miners can't use them"

        No, it's more like saying "nail guns are the bastion of weak carpenters". I dare you to go to a nearby construction site and try your defence that "of course that says nothing about strong carpenters like yourself using nail-guns " and see how it works.

        Despite the appearance of the OP, you deny disparaging eye contact, and you've said that an 'appropriate' amount of eye contact is good, but you seem loathe to tell us what you consider an 'appropriate' amount. You have implied that you would be happy enough not to receive any eye contact from the preacher (again, what is 'appropriate' and how does that gel with saying it is 'good'?). That may be so, but perhaps when you're the preacher, and presumably a mature Christian, you should not allow your own preferences to be a stumbling block to those weaker Christians who need 'pandering' with normal non-verbal communication.

        In any case, your argument seems to boil down to: 'Don't let dynamic delivery cover poor preparation, and don't focus on the delivery instead of the content'. I suspect you realise that this is hardly going to generate comments let alone controversy, as I think most commenters here would agree with that, which is why you wrote much more provocatively. Again.. just taking into account the wider context of your love of stirring and wanting to have an argument (I must plead guilty there myself).

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