Preaching to Express, not Impress
Leadership's original sage on being an excellent communicator.

Fred Smith was featured in the very first issue of Leadership published in 1980. Since then the businessman, Bible teacher, and sage as written more than 37 articles, and his insights have guided thousands of pastors. Fred's definition of leadership was succinct: "A leader is not a person who can do the work better than his followers; he is the person who can get this followers to do the work better than he can." Fred Smith died in August, days before his 92nd birthday.

Fred's wisdom has been compiled into a recently released book, Breakfast with Fred (Regal, 2007). The book also contains thoughts from many other Christian leaders impacted by Fred. Below is an excerpt.

Fred's Observation

Good communication is more than presence, delivery or even content. A truly great communicator understands three important principles.

First, he or she understands that it is crucial to have the spirit of communication. The speaker should be motivated to express, not impress. My friend Dr. Jim Cain accepted an invitation to speak in front of 2,000 key executives about stress. He was preceded at the podium by a renowned cardiologist and a famous psychiatrist who got caught in the competition of impressing each other. When Dr. Cain spoke, he used a simple analogy to describe what the audience needed to know. This distinguished Mayo Clinic physician understood the spirit of communication. He expressed, not impressed.

Second, great communicators understand that they should avoid registering shock. When a person shows shock, it automatically says to the other individual that their value systems are obviously in conflict, and unpolluted communication immediately becomes impossible. Clearly, teenagers use the shock factor as a way to avoid communication entirely. Wise parents listen while keeping physical and mental control - "never let them see you sweat."

Third, good communicators display interest, not curiosity. Interest through listening and skillful questioning opens understanding. Each of us wants to feel that another is sincerely interested, but none of us wants to be the target of curiosity. I see the difference this way: Interest gives you information for the other person's benefit; curiosity is helpful simply for you. Let me give you an example. I was on the phone with a young woman who was obviously crying. A curious question would have been, "Why are you crying?" An interested question begins with asking permission, "Do you want to tell me why you are crying?" Interest, not curiosity, opens a door.

November 15, 2007

Displaying 1–7 of 7 comments


December 07, 2007  10:31am

What I have noticed over the years is that memorable sermons have come from humble, 'honest to God' Pastors. There is no place for pride in churches. "Preaching to Express, not Impress" is a very good way to put it! Please visit us here for over 350 free Sermons and Thoughts from Baptist Pastors (hopefully humble!) in Northern Ireland

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November 21, 2007  7:07am

my two cents is that putting up this wall that derides knowledge as mere "impressing" and implies that we can't be academic in sermons AND effectively communicate to the heart is a very shaky foundation to stand on indeed. to this day, the best and most effective sermons i've ever heard were from pastor frank humphrey of people's church in montreal, a phD and master of ancient languages, archaeology, theology, etc. he preached in a church across the street from a prominent university full of international students and academia. his sermons were full of knowledge AND the conviction and joy of the Lord. he was not arrogant in his knowledge, and never made the mistake of preaching in a way that the non-academics in the congregation would not understand. i've yet to meet a Christian man who's put his learning to better use than frank. a good read: Habits of the Mind: The Christian Life as an Intellectual Calling, by James W. Sire.

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Joe Jordan

November 20, 2007  3:24pm

The essence of effective communication is more than connecting, compassion, or compelling rhetoric. I can learn how to act with compassion. I can use the words that will make people feel like we "connected." I can tell stories that let people into my life in such a way that I appear to be transparent. I can do all of that and still miss the heart of what I am convinced God wants–the truth flowing through an authentic life–someone that is "conforming to fact or reality; actually and precisely what is claimed." My greatest battle and deepest fear when I stand in front of an audience is that I will not be authentic.

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November 19, 2007  7:37pm

I used to think that an audience could tell the difference between a self-congratulating blowhard, and a passionate scholar who believes in his work/his thoughts etc. Boy, was I ever wrong. The main reason we're seeing more of the self-congratulating blowhards in the Church here in the US is because the laity wants to hear how great they are for being followers of Jesus, and how wonderful it will be for them in the here and now. In exchange for the feel good sensation from having an hours worth of sunshine blown in one's earhole, the people fawn over the speaker and his having a "Blessed ministry" and "spiritually gifted" and "how blessed I am to hear him!" Anyway, my thoughts are that the audience plays a role in the content and the how a message/talk/lecture is delivered.

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John Meunier

November 19, 2007  6:30pm

Geoff, your point about how you communicate more effectively raises a point for me. How do we know when we communicate effectively? We only know when we find out what the other person experienced. I can express something as well as I know how - with art and grace - but if the person on the other end does not receive it, then I have communicated nothing. Or, if there are lots of people in the pews, I have probably communicated lots of different things all at once.

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November 17, 2007  12:00pm

I find it more helpful to be educated on the origional Hebrew or Greek words. Looking at the Bible is much better than some stories. A sermon that is just story after story is worthless esp if the ones you are telling have been researched on!

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Geoff Baggett

November 16, 2007  2:22pm

Far too many preachers jump the tracks on Fred's point #1 ... they preach to "impress" rather than to "express." I find that, most often, I can get my point across or communicate a biblical truth much more clearly by simply telling a story (expressing & informing - connecting with the heart) than I can by parsing a Greek verb (trying to "impress" by saying, "Look how educated I am.") Maybe that's why Jesus taught with parables rather than Hebrew and Aramaic lessons ... We "professionals" would do well to pay attention and imitate the Master.

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