Why Public Speaking Skills Make a Difference for the Gospel

She pulled my husband aside and said, “We want him to let more missionaries speak during the service, so don’t screw this up!” The woman didn’t bother whispering despite the referenced person being well within earshot. As a former medical missionary and long-time supporter of ours, she was unashamed and undeterred in her mission to put missionaries in the pulpit when they visited the church during furlough. 

We were scheduled to speak during the Sunday morning service and had been given the full sermon time to share about our ministry in Kenya – a rarity under the current pastor. Despite the church’s long history of faithfully supporting missions and enthusiastically listening to missionaries speak when they came through, this particular pastor wasn’t keen on giving missionaries the spotlight.

His rationale? After decades of pastoring, he’d heard far too many terrible missionary presentations, which vastly outnumbered the compelling ones.

The church – as missions-minded as they come – had been trying to convince him that missionaries should get the pulpit and the full sermon time, as they used to when previous pastors had been in charge, but he routinely pushed back, saying they could have a Q&A afterward and take all the time they needed when the service was done.

The pastor wasn’t opposed to missionaries sharing about their ministries around the world. He was opposed to giving them a microphone and too much time on the stage.

The woman’s comment to my husband was a charge to prove that missionaries can speak in churches and not make everyone in the congregation regret giving them the pulpit.

Despite my own zeal for the opposite measure – giving missionaries the chance to speak when the most people are apt to hear them, i.e. during the Sunday morning service – I can’t say I blame anyone for viewing such an occasion as high-risk.

Public speaking isn’t exactly the kind of job skill listed on most missionaries’ resumes. We tend to do well with people in less-formal settings, doing things like Bible studies, community health development projects, discipleship, and children’s ministries. We equip ourselves with skills like translating, evangelism, mentorship, organizational leadership, and, in the case of my husband, medical work.

All of this means that most missionaries aren’t gifted in public speaking. Most of the population doesn’t have the gift either, and many people in Western cultures even fear it. Glossophobia, the fear of public speaking, is very real. Even missionaries who do have a God-given skill in the art of rhetoric probably didn’t become a missionary because they thought, “I’m good at public speaking! I guess I should become a missionary!”

In reality, the vast majority of missionaries felt called to missions first and only later resigned themselves to the public speaking part of the job. And it is a part of the job, not only because supporting churches have a right (and hopefully a genuine interest) in hearing about the ministry they’re financially and prayerfully supporting, but because it’s biblical.

The apostle Paul left on his first missionary journey after the church in Syrian Antioch commissioned him and Barnabas and sent them off. After traveling around Asia Minor, preaching the Gospel and ministering to the churches, Paul and Barnabas “sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles” (Acts 14:26-27, NIV).

I have no doubt that Paul and Barnabas shared a myriad of stories. They talked about intense struggles they faced along the way (including a stoning so severe that Paul was left for dead), but I imagine they focused mostly on sharing stories of people who heard the Good News of Jesus.

Paul and Barnabas knew the importance of testifying to what God was doing around the world. They knew it was vital to report back to those who had sent them, not only for accountability and responsibility’s sake, but for the encouragement of God’s people. They all – we all – need reminders that God is on the move, all around the world, all the time.

The question then becomes: When we as missionaries have the opportunity to return to our sending churches and report “all that God had done,” how do we speak without botching it? Paul and Barnabas were in the minority – they were gifted speakers and were even in the preacher category. Speaking was not a resigned part of the job for them. It was the job.

In fact, in Iconium they “spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Greeks believed” (Acts 14:1b). Returning to Antioch and speaking to the believers about what had happened was just one more time they spoke in front of a group of people.

But what about the majority of missionaries, the non-preachers, the I-would-gladly-do-anything-but-speak folks? How do missionaries speak without making pastors and congregants cringe as they sit in the pews? It’s a question we need to take seriously because, of all the responsibilities in our care, testifying to what God is doing around the world is of utmost importance.

We’ve probably all heard stories of bad missionary presentations – when a missionary was boring or long-winded at best – and hoped we wouldn’t be the next person to further cement the impression that missionaries are terrible public speakers.

The only way to combat this is to actually improve in this area, to train ourselves to be presenters and speakers whether we’re only given a few minutes on stage to introduce ourselves or are actually allowed to speak at length. We want our opportunities to talk about what God is doing around the world to be memorable – for all the right reasons.

I have often joked that the tagline of missions should be: “If you’re here, you’re the right person for the job.” Missionaries spend countless time and energy learning skills they never imagined needing, yet we do it for the sake of ministry. We learn to fundraise, learn languages, write grants, oversee renovation projects, plan events, homeschool, and so on. Public speaking is no different. It’s a part of the job, and it’s something we should train ourselves to do no matter how uncomfortable it makes us feel.

Whatever it takes – reading books, watching YouTube videos and TED Talks, practicing in front of a mirror or a trusted friend – we should care about improving our public speaking skills. The goal is not to become the next Paul and Barnabas. The goal is to be welcomed to share “all that God had done” when visiting a sending church because we can be trusted to testify well to the work of God around the world.

Before that Sunday morning when my husband and I were graciously given the full sermon time to speak, we prepared by discussing not only what we wanted to say, but how we wanted to say it. We discussed transitions, tones of voice, pacing of speech, and movements on stage. We were eager to share stories of how God is moving in Kenya, but also hopeful that the presentation of those stories would have an impact.

Later, the pastor who was so reluctant to give us the pulpit expressed that in nearly 50 years of ministry he’d never heard a more effective missionary presentation.

Thank God we didn’t screw it up.

More to the point, thank God that He is truly at work all around the world, including in the hearts and minds of missionaries who find themselves in a position of speaking publicly about Him.

Photo by Irina L on Pixabay

4 Reasons Churches Should Visit Their Missionaries

by Beth Barthelemy

About a year ago, we had our very first visitors since arriving on South African soil (about a year before that). After months of anticipation, our pastor and friends from our U.S. church arrived to spend a week with us.

They did not come as a short term team, with a particular ministry focus. We had no projects lined up for them. They did not come to “check up” on us, to make sure we were worth their investment. They did not have a list of questions with which to assess our effectiveness or success. They came with a simple purpose: to be an encouragement to us.

Throughout their visit, both my husband and I wondered, “Why aren’t more churches doing this?” We have friends whose churches give generous financial gifts but offer little other support. After just a short stint on the field, we see our deep need for all kinds of support from sending churches. Long-term missionaries need you, beyond your monthly check and prayer. They need you to visit them.

Here are four reasons why.


1. It is a major encouragement to the missionary.

The very night they arrived, I told my husband, “I already feel so encouraged – it’s like such a lift to my spirit.” They didn’t have to actually say anything – just the act of planning the visit, making the long trip, and arriving at our door, was a gift in and of itself. They could have turned around and left and I would have been so thankful.

But then, over the course of the week, we were able to have meaningful conversations — about our family life, about how our kids were doing, about my husband’s classes and his students, about how we’ve struggled this year and how we’ve grown this year. Being able to share all of that, to hash it out with people who’ve known us and invested in us prior to the field, was huge.

 

2. It enables the church to see and experience the ministry.

Before our pastor and friends arrived, we lined up a handful of experiences which would give them insight into our ministry. They attended classes with my husband, and we hosted a dinner with students that evening. They met our coworkers at the college and from our organization. They spent hours in our home and played with our kids. They took a tour around our city. They attended our church and chatted with our pastor here.

At the end of the week, they expressed how valuable it was for them to be able to put faces to our ministry here. It’s not just numbers anymore, but peoples’ lives, stories, hopes. It’s not just a vision for ministry anymore, but a tangible experience of that ministry. And we’re not just a picture on their wall, but a family whose life and work they intimately got to be a part of for a week.


3. It reminds the missionary that the ministry isn’t just about them.

While we were fundraising in the States, we were regularly encouraged by the excitement and support people provided. It was obvious that this discipleship ministry in South Africa, this raising up of Christian leaders, wasn’t just about us or God’s leading in our lives. It was about so much more – about many individuals who were joining us in this ministry and churches who were behind this mission. We truly felt like Paul when he wrote, “I thank God in all my remembrance of you… because of your partnership in the gospel” (Phil. 1:3, 5).

After being removed from our churches and circles of partners, however, it became easier to forget that this was indeed a team project. On hard days, especially for me at home with kids most of the time, I found myself asking of the Lord – “Why am I here again? Did we make a mistake, coming to South Africa? Is all of this sacrifice really worth it?”

Over the week that our sending church visited, I was reminded in a deep and meaningful way that this ministry was never about just me. Sure, we are the face of this work, but we could not be here without our churches behind us, without our amazing base of partners, all who have affirmed God’s leading of our family in this direction and expressed desire to be a part of this ministry. Tearfully and humbly, I have thanked God multiple times for his goodness in sending our church to us so that He could remind me that it’s not all about me. I needed that reminder, and he gave it to me in a powerful way.

There is no price tag you can put on that kind of encouragement.

 

4. It’s an investment in your long-term missionaries.

You may be thinking, “Isn’t it really expensive to send people just to visit?” Yes, it is. Many churches are sending multiple short-term missions teams out every year, some with great effectiveness and others without. There may be great value in redirecting some focus onto the effectiveness of long-term missionaries. After all, they are the ones who are with locals day in and day out, for years, developing relationships, training future leaders, and have potential for a more lasting impact.

Additionally, there is great value in just “being” with people. We are prone to believe that unless there is tangible achievement or numerical results, nothing has been done and our efforts have been wasted. This is simply untrue. Sending people for the primary purpose of encouraging your missionaries is indeed doing something very valuable. It is practicing the ministry of presence. Being with people is encouraging, rejuvenating, and motivating.

In general, churches would be wise to consider their investment in their long-term missionaries — and I mean beyond the financial investment. Long-term missionaries need much more than just your money every month. We need your prayers, your emails, your intentional connection, your teaching, your accountability, your resources, your care. Sending a few key people to visit your long-term missionaries is an investment in them and in that ministry. Our church ministered to us in profound ways, by simply showing up at our home and being a part of our life for a week. And we are so thankful.

originally published here

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Beth Barthelemy is a wife, mother to three young children, and cross cultural worker. She and her husband, Ben, moved to South Africa in 2016 to be involved in teaching and discipling future Christian leaders. She has an MA in Christian Studies from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. You can find her at www.bbbarthelemy.blogspot.com and www.instagram.com/bethbarthelemy.