5 Ways to Battle Anxiety in the Pulpit

I pray we can use these tips to become better and perhaps humbler preachers.

You might not have the same gifts as John Piper or Tim Keller. You might even struggle with impediments they don’t. But you have other gifts they don’t, and even your impediment can help you develop ways of speaking that can enhance your preaching. Be creative.

 

Surveys have shown that the greatest fear Americans have—even more than going to the dentist or flying—is speaking in front of a group.

Believe it or not, preachers are not free of this fear. Many—more than most of their congregations know—are terrified in the pulpit.

These pastors might be comforted to know that some famous people struggled with stuttering all their lives, and yet did not let it stop them from public speaking.

I found out about these famous stutterers because I am a stutterer. I am also a preacher. Researching their lives gave me new hope. Some of them struggled with a stutter worse than mine, yet achieved great things.

Even if you don’t stutter, you might have a handicap that produces similar anxiety. Here are five lessons I learned from famous stutterers.

1. Be creative.

Marilyn Monroe worked with a coach to develop her own creative way to overcome the terror of speaking in front of a camera. Marilyn had a stutter since childhood, but learned in Hollywood to speak in a breathy voice to help her get through difficult words. As it turns out, this was good advice then and now. Taking full breaths and slowing down will make anyone a better speaker.

Because TV journalist John Stossel knew he couldn’t do what major news reporters do—shout out questions with split-second timing—he threw himself into deep research on stories about slow-moving things. Better suited to his speech struggle, they were also more interesting to more people. This led to a successful career as a prominent investigative journalist and author.

You might not have the same gifts as John Piper or Tim Keller. You might even struggle with impediments they don’t. But you have other gifts they don’t, and even your impediment can help you develop ways of speaking that can enhance your preaching. Be creative.

2. Practice.

Winston Churchill practiced his speeches in the bathtub and spent hours rehearsing every speech. Repeated practice was his response to the terror he experienced early in his career when he lost his train of thought in a Parliament speech. He had a complicated set of speech defects, one of which was stuttering. But disciplined practice helped him become one of the world’s greatest orators.

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