What do the preacher's hands say?

hand with crossed fingersI've never seen a video of myself preaching. I hope I never do. It's painful enough to hear a recording, and I can only imagine that a video would be excruciating. Regardless, if you've ever worked with video, you know that you can make anybody look ridiculous if you freeze the video at the right moment. Still, sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words, actions speak louder than words, and body language speaks volumes. 

A pastor asks, "Can anyone point me to a esteemed book on the exegesis and theology of hand gestures within sermon delivery?  I would like to learn more about this topic."

Whether or not they are esteemed, I don't know, but there are several recent books that go on at great length about this topic. For example, in Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon Bryan Chapell says, "Our eyes, faces, hands, and movements participate in what we say or may carry a message all their own that we never intended to communicate. Some communication studies have actually concluded that we communicate more by what we gesture than by what we vocalize." He also goes on at length on hand gestures, posture, facial animation, eye contact, voice, etc. 

Similarly, The Oxford Handbook of the Early Modern Sermon reports on the importance of style to the reformers, referencing "the extremely influential handbook on preaching by William Perkins, The Arte of Prophecying (1607). Perkins gives detailed attention... even to pitch of voice and hand gestures."

And last but certainly not least, here is Spurgeon evaluating and denouncing certain preachers based on how they use their hands:

Some have tried to imitate unction by unnatural tones and whines; by turning up the whites of their eyes, and lifting their hands in a most ridiculous manner. M'Cheyne's tone and rhythm one hears from Scotchmen continually: we much prefer his spirit to his mannerism; and all mere mannerism without power is as foul carrion of all life bereft, obnoxious, mischievous. Certain brethren aim at inspiration through exertion and loud shouting; but it does not come: some we have known to stop the discourse, and exclaim, "God bless you," and others gesticulate wildly, and drive their finger nails into the palms of their hands as if they were in convulsions of celestial ardor. Bah! The whole thing smells of the greenroom and the stage. The getting up of fervor in hearers by the simulation of it in the preacher is a loathsome deceit to be scorned by honest men.

Image credit: Evan-Amos

Joseph and his wife, Heidi, have two children, Tate and Eliza Jane. Joseph graduated from Vanderbilt University and Clearnote Pastors College. Joseph serves as pastor of Clearnote Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.

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So, Tim...are you trying to say "Chappell/Perkins <em>and</em> Spurgeon"...or..."Chapell/Perkins <em>or</em> Spurgeon" ?

Just lowly Joseph, actually. :)

I was pointing out that *everybody* knows and agrees on 2 things:

  1. That body language is a real part of communication.
  2. That like words, body language can lead us astray.

But careful analysis and critique of men's words is despised today, so it's not surprising that people froth at the mouth when we do the same with the rest of their communication (ie, their hands).

Warmly,

-Joseph

Joseph,

I appreciate your "lowly" attitude. :)

So many pastors seem to have prodigal sons. Is it lack of discipleship from fathers who are too busy shepherding other families?

Dear Freida,

Indeed, there are many prodigal sons, and our faults as parents and pastors undoubtedly contribute. It is very sad.

Still, the temptation is strong to think that we can guarantee the outcome with our children. Only God can do that.

Warmly,

-Joseph

Help me understand this a bit more.  Sorry, I can be slow.  Which specific hand motions within preaching might lead people astray... so that I and others might not offend the least of these. Furthermore, how does one discern what is appropriate and what is not?  Where can one look for clarity on this subject beyond quotes from Spurgeon?  Thanks for your help.  Sub Cruce

Dear Mr. Richard,

Did you read the multiple pages on gestures by Bryan Chapell? I linked directly to it in the post. 

I get the feeling that you don't truly want your question answered. Maybe I'm wrong?

-Joseph

"there are several recent books that go on at great length about this topic. For example, in Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon Bryan Chapell says, "Our eyes, faces, hands, and movements participate in what we say or may carry a message all their own that we never intended to communicate. Some communication studies have actually concluded that we communicate more by what we gesture than by what we vocalize." He also goes on at length on hand gestures, posture, facial animation, eye contact, voice, etc."

Ah, so next we shall have sermons in mime?  Liturgical dancing?  If you want trendy and compromising, this sounds like a book that an emergent leader would love!

Hey, how come there was no 'warmly' when you closed your message to Matt?  Are you annoyed with him?

It is actually a book that an emergent leader would hate. As opposed to a emergent/postmodern approach to the Scriptures, Chappel believes and asserts strongly that the Scriptures have meaning in and of themselves, apart from whatever one might 'bring to them.' He is unyielding on the importance and vitality of the word preached.

Joseph,

Yes, I read it.  The basic premise is to keep your hand gestures 'natural' but to avoid 'slovenliness.'  Furthermore, one is not to have more than two gestures per sentence. Etc... However, genuine enthusiasm seems to trump all rules and the situation/content of the message is important to consider, for the context also dictates the proper usage of hands.  All this said, I am still unsure what specific hand motions within preaching might lead people astray and what hand actions are sin.  Help on this would be appreciated for I was recently told that I use my hands a lot when I preach in my alb.

Furthermore, my concern with this thread and the previous one is the premise that one is able to completely discern and exegete the motives and intent of a speaker based upon his/her hand gestures, especially since hand gestures are so very dependent on context, as well as what is genuine for the pastor (i.e., according to Chapell there is a great deal of context and personality that goes into the usage of one's hands.)

All of this said, do we not violate the 8th commandment when we concretely exegete a person's supposedly natural/genuine hand gestures to their detriment?  The 8th commandment calls forth for us to explain everything in the kindest way about our neighbor for the sake of not hurting their reputation.  Thus, can we speak with certainty and to a person's detriment about supposed natural/genuine hand gestures without violating the 8th commandment, especially since it has been so clearly shown that this is really an exercise in subjectivity and/or contextual analysis? 

Indeed, actions communicate.  However, let us not be so quick to believe that we completely understand a person's motive by their actions. I'm sorry, but actions do not speak louder than words.   It is best we stick with words (what was said) lest we journey down an ad hominem lane.  

PAX

How do you learn to "preach"? If you can speak to God himself, as yourself, from hearing his Word, then you have all the idiom, clarity and orientation you need to speak to folks from hearing his word. It is Andrew [deleted] Keswick South African Murray but still an obvious point: Jesus taught his disciples how to pray not how to preach. Learn the one, and you will only have to improve the other. I don't buy a lot of your schtick. 

Matt Richard,
One might wonder why God gave us eyes for observation. It seems to be a rare gift that only the most thick-skinned pastors are willing to use. That makes them so much more useful than the non-observant ones piously watching their sheep get sick, die, or snatched away by wolves.

>>> How do you learn to "preach"?

Dear Ben,

Do you want to know? I am doubtful.

If you do, you should read through the whole Bible from beginning to end, paying special attention to God's preachers (His apostles and prophets and Son) and their ways.

But really, you're going to need to find and join a congregation where a pastor faithfully pastors and preaches God's Word. God says,

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, "HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!" - Romans 10:14-15

What city are you near? I will try to get you connected to a good church in your area. If you want to email me privately, you can click on my name above and then go to my "About" page to get my email address.

Love,

>>It is best we stick with words (what was said) lest we journey down an ad hominem lane. 

Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love respectful greetings in the market places, and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets... (Luke 20:46)

From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus. (Galatians 6:17)

And Jesus said to them, “Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” They began to discuss this among themselves, saying, “He said that because we did not bring any bread.” But Jesus, aware of this, said, “You men of little faith, why do you discuss among yourselves that you have no bread? Do you not yet understand or remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets full you picked up? Or the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many large baskets full you picked up? How is it that you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread? But beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that He did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (Matthew 16:6-12)

And He was also saying to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘A shower is coming,’ and so it turns out. And when you see a south wind blowing, you say, ‘It will be a hot day,’ and it turns out that way. You hypocrites! You know how to analyze the appearance of the earth and the sky, but why do you not analyze this present time? (Luke 12:54-56)

But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. (Hebrews 5:14)

The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us. Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1John 3:24-4:1)

God has filled His world with signs, and those signs yield truth to the men and women who practice to the end that their senses are trained to discern good and evil. This is the purpose of this blog—to help in that training.

There are those who resist this practice and training; in fact, many consider such practice and training evil. So be it. This should be no surprise. But for the rest of us, let us redouble our commitment to the practice and training that, alone, will lead to our ability to discern good and evil.

Finally, concerning ad hominem, Scripture is filled with it: "Those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised, simply so that they will not be persecuted for the cross of Christ" (Galatians 6:12).

Love,

I'm just astonished that you folks are actually taking Matt's original question so seriously.  LOL  Patently ridiculous.  But when you're focused on the law, then to the making of books about exactly how we ought to do things, down to the tithing of dill and cumin and godly hand gestures, there is no end.  What bondage!

>>What bondage!

Dear Paula,

If you comment again, please use your full name—both first and last. House rules.

Thanks,

Paula's beef really has nothing to do with hand gestures; it's that it's of no concern to her if a man preaches that faith without works is alive, giving false comfort to the unrepentant on their way to hell.

How can you tell the difference between an animated and enthusiastic personality and someone who is trying to manipulate with their hand movements? Wouldn't personality be expressed in preaching? 

Really? How did I prompt such a rejoinder? My mischievous inclinations are mildly piqued by the assumptions, but I will reply with equal earnestness. 

1) Your understanding of a pericope is best expressed in how you will pray from it. It is praying the passage-- meditation, but in God's presence and so with direct address-- that moves you from the text's ancient horizon to its present. This is how to avoid/flee a manipulative pursuit of relevance.

2) Your manner of expression to people is shaped by the way you pray to God from that passage. Your theological commitments most intimately shape your prayers before they do so your preaching; and you will only preach the God to whom you actually pray.

3) Preaching the way you pray drives you away from rote idiom and repetition of phrases and also purges out affectations for the audience's pleasure. It limits: there are things I would not say to God, and so I will not say to people in his presence. It fortifies: there are things I must say to God, and so I must speak similarly to people in his presence. 

4) I have chewed on this for a long time, in practice and observation; but it was first given to me in an Andrew Murray quote by a friend in college. I like being benefited by someone whom I am tempted to despise. 

BTW, Raleigh NC, Redeemer, extraordinarily good Lord's day to Lord's day.

Dear Ben,

God gives us much instruction about preaching in His Word, but He never equates preaching and prayer. Where would you get such an idea?

Please pardon me for assuming you were unchurched.

Love,

Dear Pastor Richards,

You might want to rethink your comment accusing various men of breaking the 8th commandment while misrepresenting what they have written. 

The premise is obviously not that we can "completely discern and exegete" people's motives. Your use of the word "completely" is the problem. Rather, the premise is that we must work to discern whether a man is accurately handling God's word, as well as discerning that man's actions and motives.

Your argument that we should "stick with words" not only requires that we ignore people's actions, it also reduces us to a bunch of idiotic Amelia Bedelias who have no discernment at all--even with words.

To start with, "sticking with words" is patently absurd. If I said, "I love you" and then punched you in the face, would you "stick with my words"?

Secondly, I could give all sorts of examples of sinful hand gestures for you to avoid while preaching. I will refrain from listing them, both for the sake of my fingers and the eyes of all our dear readers. I'm not sure why you couldn't figure out the answer before you asked, but if you give it half a second's thought, I'm sure you'll make good progress.

Now, let's cut to the chase. God commands us to discern people's motives and actions, and he also condemns men for leading people astray with their actions.

My father has already given an example of the former with Jesus' command to, "Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and like respectful greetings in the market places, and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets..." (Mark 12:38, 39).

For an example of the latter, please read Jeremiah 27 and 28. In it you will see that God puts Hanahiah to death because he causes the people to believe a lie. How does he convince them to believe his lie? With his hand actions.

So you want me to admit that the words take primacy? Gladly. This is why the entirety of the original post, save the last sentence, dealt with words that Tully wrote. To make what I said before more specific: you refuse to see the clear evidence that Tully's words are dangerous, so I'm not surprised you won't admit that his actions are dangerous.

Rather than continue to argue about actions, please demonstrate that you are not completely opposed to discernment by working to discern whether Tully accurately handles the word of truth.

-Joseph

Thank you for your thorough response Joseph.  

In regard to your comment:

"Rather than continue to argue about actions, please demonstrate that you are not completely opposed to discernment by working to discern whether Tully accurately handles the word of truth."

I am glad we are on the same page.  I am more than willing to discuss Rev. Tullian's theology.  I will post some followup thoughts on the other blog post.

PAX

Daniel.

As I said, I received the idea from Andrew Murray's observation that Jesus gave formal instructions about how to pray while he did not give something similar about "how" to preach. I think that the best influence on "how" one will preach a passage comes in praying that passage. There is a scrutiny and purging not only of my thoughts but my way of expression in the exercise of prayer. In general, if you learn how to speak to God of holy things and sinful men, they you will by consequence learn to speak to men fittingly of the same things. It is a $.25 observation, but I think valuable in considering how one learns to preach. I do think that many oratorical faults can be rendered negligible by the effect of this. It is why on some occasions "bad speakers" do so well be their hearers. 

Assumption set aside. 

peace,

Dear Ben,Is this the quote you're referencing:

Jesus never taught His disciples how to preach, only how to pray. He did not speak much of what was needed to preach well, but much of praying well. To know how to speak to God is more than knowing how to speak to man. Not power with men, but power with God is the first thing. Jesus loves to teach us how to pray. --Andrew Murray, from Lord, Teach Us to Pray

When you look at that quote in context though, Murray is not talking about how to preach; he's talking about the importance of prayer, and trying to make a point by comparison to preaching.

It's a weak point---Jesus did teach His disciples to preach, both by command and by example. For instance:

From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”...These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them: "Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans; but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give..." - Matthew 4:17; 10:5-8 NASB

"God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible...And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins." - Acts 10:40, 42-43 NASB

Prayer is an appeal from a subordinate to his superior, from a son to his Father. Preaching is proclaming the King's Word to His people. It's not that there's never any similarity---entreaty is a part of both prayer and preaching. But to take the elements of prayer (for example, confession, adoration, entreaty, intercession) and say that's what preaching should be, would erase several elements of preaching that God has commanded: exhortation; rebuke; admonition; instruction; correction.

Preaching that is all entreaty and no instruction? Don't starve the sheep, Ben!

Love,

Daniel

Daniel, 

That is indeed the quote, and (yes) I was stepping off from A.M.'s point on the basis of his observation. I am fearful of exchanging one affected style for another in the desire to be influential. I do think style matters, and so would encourage men to norm their manner of expression by their careful and earnest manner in prayer. 

For the rest, your assumptions are showing again, good sir. How could you so quickly discern my error(s) when I had said so little? How articulate am I, or insightful are you!

Of course, this is a public discussion, so p'haps you are replying for the benefits of other readers as well. A little tiresome: either to be spoken past for the sake of others, or to have full attention to be button-holed for comments on zippers and velcro. 

peace, 

Ben

I am fearful of exchanging one affected style for another in the desire to be influential. I do think style matters, and so would encourage men to norm their manner of expression by their careful and earnest manner in prayer.

Dear Ben,

If all you're saying is that men should be as careful and earnest when they preach as when they pray, I have no quarrel with you. But you started out saying,

How do you learn to "preach"? If you can speak to God himself, as yourself, from hearing his Word, then you have all the idiom, clarity and orientation you need to speak to folks from hearing his word. It is Andrew...Keswick South African Murray but still an obvious point: Jesus taught his disciples how to pray not how to preach. Learn the one, and you will only have to improve the other. I don't buy a lot of your schtick.

You said that from prayer "you have all the idiom...and orientation you need" for preaching, and "Learn the one [prayer] and you will only have to improve the other [preaching]", and you put the word "preach" in scare quotes. You were actually saying a lot.

If you aren't claiming that preaching is just like prayer, dear brother, you should be more careful and earnest in how you comment.

Love,

Daniel

Not sure what I've done to deserve this, but Twitter just suggested I follow Tullian Tchividjian.

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