Charles R. Swindoll
FaithWords, 2012. Hardover, 288 pp., $23.99
Chuck Swindoll is one of the most engaging communicators among today’s church leaders, and in his new book, Saying It Well: Touching Others with Your Words (FaithWords), he offers valuable insights to help preachers and other Christian leaders enhance their own communication skills. Not surprisingly, the lessons he shares are not limited to speaking.
Although the book is aimed at anyone who speaks God’s Word, Swindoll has a particular affinity for his fellow pastors. The stories he tells primarily emerge from his own years of pastoral ministry and will resonate with preachers. In many ways, it is as much a book about pastoral ministry as about speaking.
The chapters cover the waterfront of speaking themes: Calling, Preparing, Going, Digging, Building, Praying, Illustrating, Laughing, Applying and Ending. He also includes a powerful postscript with a story from his own family’s life that permanently impacted his own approach to preaching.
At the beginning of the book, Swindoll emphasizes three keys that are essential to effective Christian communication:
• Know who you are
• Accept who you are
• Be who you are
“These three,” he asserts, “if remembered and cultivated, will not only enable you to keep being YOU, they will make a world of difference in your verbal communication skills when you stand and speak to others.”
It is appropriate that his first chapter deals with the issue of calling, as the call to ministry is foundational to the work of those who proclaim God’s Word. Swindoll shares an extended story about how God worked in his life to call him to ministry and describes several factors relating to the call, including the support of one’s spouse; the affirmation of peers; a realistic acceptance of the challenges involved; a willingness to move forward without specifics; and a deep, settled assurance that “you know what you should be doing and you know that you can find no satisfaction in any other pursuit.”
Swindoll emphasizes the importance of preparation. I appreciated this comment: “I didn’t go to seminary to learn how to preach; I committed myself to training so I’d have something to say.” He shares the importance of academic study and learning from mentors in ministry, as well as makes it clear that preparation for preaching is a life-long process.
In his chapter on “Going,” Chuck tells the story of his own journey in ministry and how God moved him from place to place. For ministers who struggle with knowing when it is an appropriate time to look for a new place of service, this will be a helpful and encouraging discussion. Among the “telltale signs of God’s leading” that he lists:
• Unexplained restlessness despite good circumstances
• An opportunity to exercise trust in God in following a certain course of action
• The encouragement of wise, impartial friends to accept a challenge
• A realization that your current role or circumstance doesn’t fit you and it never will
• Internal turmoil over your present course
• Lack of excitement and enthusiasm over remaining where you are.
The importance of research and study is the focus of the chapter on “Digging.” He uses the term for several reasons, including to emphasize the necessity of hard work if one is going to be an effective speaker. Part of the digging also includes getting to know the audience to whom you will be speaking. Swindoll discusses the importance of planning and summarizes his own weekly planning process as he moves toward Sunday.
The chapter on “Building” deals with the mechanics of developing the various components of a sermon. One helpful insight he offers is the necessity of omitting much of the material that has been uncovered during your digging. He writes: “For the sake of time and clarity, I have to omit much of what I learn while digging. That can be painful because I want everyone to benefit from all that I discovered. But if I’m not careful, I can include unimportant or incidental information, force fitting nonessentials into the message. So, rather than unpack every term in every verse, giving the history and culture behind every person, place or thing, I ask myself, ‘Does this congregation need this specific information to understand the author’s meaning or to personally connect with the passage?'”
Swindoll emphasizes the importance of prayer in the life of the preacher, then discusses the value of illustration in effective communication. (An excerpt from the chapter on communication appeared in the March-April 2012 issue of Preaching.) Those who have heard Chuck preach will enjoy his chapter on “Laughing,” as his own natural humor is an important element of his style. He reminds us, “Laughter should come easily to a place characterized by joy. While we shouldn’t try to manufacture humor, neither should we overlook things that are naturally funny.” Of course, he also reminds us there are times to avoid humor.
Application is a critical element of preaching, Swindoll believes. He observes, “Why would a preacher or a public speaker spend all that time digging, building, praying and illustrating only to quit before telling his or her audience how to put what they have heard into action?” He describes the nature and role of application in the message and offers helpful guidance in doing it well. As with the entire book, this chapter is peppered with stories and experiences from Chuck’s own life and ministry.
There is a helpful chapter on conclusions (“Ending”), which he says is vital: “The last few moments you spend with an audience can, literally, make or break the whole message.” Included in the practical guidance in this section are some helpful observations about using transitions to move the message forward.
Saying It Well is part preaching text and part memoir, and both parts will be valued by preachers and other church leaders who draw on this valuable book in becoming more effective communicators of biblical truth.