For an Informed Love of God
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Preaching and Toastmasters
When we moved to Washougal a few months ago, my wife and I had to start the somewhat painful experience of making new friends. We were committed to having friends outside of a local church so that all of our friends are not Christians. That task is easier said than done.
Robin, my wife, is a good speaker and enjoys conferences with other women; so she wondered if she should take the new time she has and develop those gifts. Toastmasters, here she comes.
Toastmasters is an interesting organization (www.toastmasters.org). It is designed to help people, especially people in business, learn to verbally communicate, a skill that all people in business require. The different groups gather weekly, and the different members give speeches and are encouraged and critiqued.
I have found my wife’s experience with Toastmasters a more positive and encouraging experience than anything I have ever witnessed in a church, and I find myself wondering if every preaching pastor should not aggressively make Toastmaster part of his or her weekly experience. They would learn a lot about preaching, and they would foster positive relationships with non-believers. Where is the problem in this picture?
1. Toastmasters is positive. If you do a poor job in a speech, you will be told; but you will be told in such a way that you are encouraged to become better. The reviews come from all the people who listen to you, they tell you what you did right, and in positive, encouraging terms they tell you what you should work on.
2. Toastmasters is welcoming. They were glad to see Robin, personally invited her to come in, made a place for her to sit, and struck up a conversation with her. This attitude was a natural expression of who they are and what they are doing; they did not need a “Greeting Time” to artificially welcome people.
3. Toastmasters is based on mentor relationships. As soon as Robin decided to make Toastmasters part of her weekly schedule, she was assigned a mentor. She looks for Robin and is her primary critiquer. Robin sends her mentor Taran her speeches before she gives them. Taran looks over the speech and makes suggestions and comments, and after the speech is quick to respond. Two are definitely better than one; I read that somewhere ;-)
4. Toastmasters cares about you. This is why their constructive criticism is, well, constructive. They see that there are no failure, only opportunities to learn, which is how friends treat friends.
5. Toastmasters knows the lessons of the seven minut manager; specifically, they know to get you involved, but not overly involved. As soon as you commit to coming, you are assigned small tasks. You are the time keeper for the speeches (some preachers could learn about crafting a sermon so that it does not go on, and on, and on …). You are assigned the job of grammarian (they have a list of expressions and grammatical errors that you count, like saying “hum” and “so”). And you give a short speech rather quickly about yourself. This gives people the opportunity to get to know you, and so that they can see where you are in your overall ability to publicly communicate.
Robin’s experience may not be universal, but I believe it is the normative Toastmaster’s experience.
If you haven’t detected it, there is a lot of “stuff” (Toastmasters probably wouldn’t like that word) going on between the lines in this blog.
1. Preachers should go to Toastmasters. It gives then a wonderful opportunity to learn how to speak publicly, to establish relationships with nonbelievers and learn things about the world that lie outside the four walls of their church community. Robin has learned much about leadership, resolving conflict, snow caves, preventing accidents on the job, and autism.
2. Elders should go to Toastmasters. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a pastor’s main support structure could actually do for him what Toastmasters is doing for Robin? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they were capable of positive, constructive, informed criticism? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if elders knew they too needed to be involved in people’s lives? (Some do; I believe most don’t.)
3. Perhaps the entire church should go to Toastmasters and learn what it is to communicate in healthy, positive, encouraging ways, and in the process get to know non-believers. I am struck by the statistic that the average Christian, five years after conversion, does not have a single non-Christian friend. And gossip and critical speech would never be tolerated in Toastmasters.
4. Perhaps I need to go to Toastmasters, since I have no non-Christian friends.
While I am sure there are many good Christian communities out there, I wonder what would happen if we all acted more like Toastmasters, encouraging, positive, involved, loving. You may think I am a bit jaded, and perhaps I am. But sometimes the bumps in life are needed to wake you up and see how bad things really are, and how easy it is to become complacent in the midst of what is normal and customary.
I would like to attend a church that shared more in common with Toastmasters than it does with traditional church life. I would like to have Taran as one of my elders.