This Sunday, in a church near you, someone is going to yell. And that person will probably be the preacher. Yelling has long been part of the preacher’s arsenal of public speaking tools. When the crowd tunes out, take it up a notch. When someone nods off, let loose with a stentorian bellow. When people seem placid, fire ‘em up with a rousing round of shouting. When you catch a whiff of apathy, yell about it. If the “amens” reach a lull, cut loose with another ear-splitting session. When the sermon is nearing its climax, make people reach to turn down their hearing aids. Crank it up, shout it out, and bring the house down! I want to raise the yelling question because a lot of preachers shout, and it undoubtedly has an effect on the delivery and the message. Is this effect good or bad?
Does Your Pastor Yell During Sermons? A Discussion If Yelling Helps Further the Gospel
Why are you shouting?
There are things worth shouting about. Is preaching one of them? I know many effective speakers and preachers who can transition to shouting without even thinking about it. For some of these speakers, yelling is just the modus operandi for preaching. They start quiet, but then they ramp up to a fever pitch in just a few minutes. Other speakers know how to nuance their yelling by carefully selecting the points in the message at which they will yell.
Other speakers don’t yell at all. Why are you shouting? In this article, I want to ask that question from several angles. Rather than simply accept yelling as necessary or dismiss it as unnecessary, let’s be intentional about this technique.
Why are we yelling? Someone once said, “You hear of screaming used-car salesmen…but you never hear anyone screaming in a Mercedes commercial.” Preaching isn’t about used cars. But it’s probably not about Mercedes, either. So much for that cute-sounding quote.
The method of your delivery has an effect upon your message.
This is an important consideration. Marshall McLuhan is famous for saying, “The medium is the message,” by which he meant that the form a message takes is symbiotically related to the perception of the message itself. You can’t separate the two. Medium — how the message is proclaimed — influences the meaning of the message.
When it comes to yelling, that medium embeds itself within the message itself. In other words, your yelling says something about the message. So, we should ask this important question — Is what you’re yelling about worth yelling about? Pro-yellers would answer with a facile “yes.” But let’s go a level deeper with two more questions:
- What does yelling communicate?
- What meaning does yelling inject into the message?
What Does Yelling Communicate?
Let me take that first question, “What does yelling communicate?” There’s no single right answer, but a range of possibilities. Here are just a few:
- Anger about the subject
- Anger at the listener
- Passion or intensity about subject matter
- Grief regarding the subject matter or regarding the listener
- Listener being hard of hearing
- Listener being a long ways off
- Some other strong emotion about the subject matter or toward the listener
None of these are necessarily wrong in and of themselves. It’s okay to be angry (Ephesians 4:26). It’s good to be heartbroken (Matthew 5:4). It’s totally appropriate to raise your voice so your listeners can hear you. Thanks to modern amplification, most preachers don’t need to yell to make themselves heard. Nor do they need to yell in order to make their message understood. However, yelling can impact the message. Since anger, grief, intensity, and passion are not alone negative things, we need to ask an even more nuanced question.
What meaning does yelling inject into the message?
If yelling has meaning, and I’m arguing that it does, then what meaning does yelling put upon the message? Well, it depends on a lot of things. So, I’m going to break this question down, sharpen it up, and put it to you: Does yelling within this context, at this point in my message, about this subject matter, with this style and towards these people help or hurt my overall message?
- “This context.” Are the people used to yelling? Do they expect it when a preacher proclaims God’s Word? Does it tend to turn them off, or does it spark interest and genuine engagement with the message?
- “This point in my message.” I’m suggesting that yelling need not be the continuous proclamatory style for the entire message. Yes, I’ve heard preachers bless-their-poor-vocal-cords yell the entire sermon. There are points at which yelling might be appropriate. Is this point in your message a good place to start yelling? When should you stop?
- “About this subject matter.” Like I mentioned in the above bullet point, you don’t need to yell about everything. Variety is what provides interest in speaking, not nonstop high volume or intensity. Consider the subject matter being discussed to determine the style of delivery. If you’re about to describe a peaceful scene, or issue an invitation, it may not be the best time to start shouting about it.
- “With this style.” Yelling has many shades. There is angry yelling, soft yelling, harsh yelling, high-pitched yelling, yapping yelling, and playful yelling. Does your yelling style suit the situation? You don’t want to sound angry, if you’re simply retelling the story of the centurion begging for Jesus to heal his servant (Luke 7:4).
- “Towards these people.” I alluded to this in the discussion on context (first bullet point). Are you more effectively and accurately addressing your audience by yelling? What impact will it have upon them? Will it make babies cry? Will it make people leave? Your audience is of paramount importance in the style of your delivery.
Wow. So we’re getting this detailed about a way of speaking? Sure it may be seem like overkill, but it pays to be conscientious and careful, especially with an issue as important as preaching. Yelling is a double-edge sword. It can offend people, or it can enhance the message. Yelling says something about you too.
So, should you yell when you preach?
Since this article has two-dozen questions in it, I don’t mind asking just one more. After all, this is the whole interrogative title of the article, “Should you yell when you preach?” For that matter, should you roar, shout, scream, snicker, yuk…you get the idea. Sure you can. Maybe you should. I don’t know. It just depends. If you’d like to yell in the comments, you can use all caps. Should you or your pastor yell when they preach?