Wise Preachers, Sound Wise

As preachers of the gospel, we must realize that at all times, we carry with us the one instrument that helps us effectively live out our clarion call: our voices. Sound wise, the voice as an instrument can do amazingly incredible things. It can produce high and low pitches with electrifying, symphonic rifts that can stop hummingbirds from humming. Its volume’s loudness and softness has the capacity to sound like thundering, bellowing roars, whispering the secrets of a sweet summer breeze. Its rate can increase, decrease, or even pause at a nanoseconds’ notice, with neither applause nor apology. The voice’s tonality has the capacity to interrupt a saint’s perfect peace with its nasality, while granting sinners rest with the cadence of its soothing monotonous drone. Conjointly, this same voice has the awesome and winsome privilege of proclaiming the gospel message of Jesus Christ. Yes, the preaching voice is indeed an amazing gift from God! Unfortunately, it is not always cared for in the same manner in which God has entrusted it to us.

Sound wise, because the voice is biological, it requires more maintenance than any other natural or manufactured instrument. In order for the preaching voice to operate at its peak performance, it must be developed, cultivated, and maintained.

Good vocal hygiene is caring for the voice in such a way that it will operate at its optimal level or peak performance.1 Spurgeon’s exhortation to preachers to correct any “idiosyncrasies of speech” includes voice, speech, and articulation.2 Sound wise, following are ten ways preachers can daily practice good vocal care:

  1. Make it a priority and daily commitment to care for your voice.
  2. Practice good breathing techniques. Speaking without appropriate breath support can strain the vocal cords. Diaphragmatic breathing is the recommended solution. Diaphragmatic breathing requires practice. If you do not know how to do it or need extra motivation, there are demonstrations on Youtube.com or consider getting the assistance of a choir director, musician, or voice coach.
  3. Rest, rest, rest. This is the mantra of good vocal hygiene.

Rest your body: Get enough sleep. It is commonly suggested that one should sleep a minimum of eight hours per night. However, body types and body needs vary, so individuals should rest according to their own personal need. Sleep studies suggest that the best and most healing sleep occurs before 2 a.m.3 Consequently, when one stays up too late, more than the midnight oil is being burned.

Rest your voice: Vocal usage should be regulated and monitored. By the very nature of the profession, preachers are required to talk. However, talking too much, too loudly, or when one’s throat is already irritated, can cause vocal fatigue and irreparable damage. Just as one takes coffee breaks, lunch breaks, or power naps, one should consider taking talking breaks. Specify a time each day to turn off the telephone, etc. and just rest the voice.

Rest your stress: The voice is a biological part of the body and is impacted by one’s physical, mental, and emotional state. Too much stress on the body can lead to damaging vocal distress. To de-stress, prayer and meditation are proven weapons in the fight.

  1. Hydrate: drink more water and less caffeinated or alcoholic beverages. Herbal tea with honey is good for soothing an irritated throat. Limit your lemon and citrus intake, the acid actually irritates and dries out the vocal cords.
  2. Periodically listen to your sermons and access your vocal delivery. How does your voice sound? Are there any distracting idiosyncrasies? Are you doing anything to cause vocal abuse?
  3. Do not clear your throat excessively. When you clear your throat, your vocal cords squeeze together and air is pushed through which can cause irritation and even damage. To clear a clogged throat, it is recommended that one should try swallowing, humming, taking a deep breath, yawning, or taking a drink of tepid water.
  4. Do not cradle the phone between the head and shoulders, it can cause muscle tension in the neck—which can ultimately affect the voice.
  5. Do not smoke or inhale environmental toxins, which can cause irritation to the vocal cords and lead to chronic laryngitis, vocal cord polyps, or even cancer of the tongue, mouth, or larynx.
  6. Do not yell, scream, or even cheer loudly. These actions can lead to vocal abuse. Try using nonverbal cues such as whistling, clapping, and other physical gestures.
  7. Do not take your voice for granted. If you have any severe or recurring vocal problems, do not hesitate to see a doctor, preferably an ear, nose, and throat specialist.

These are a few suggestions for maintaining the preaching voice. As you wisely begin your new vocal maintenance plan, you may not see immediate results, but a few well planned changes can and will eventually make your “idiosyncrasies of speech” agreeable to the ear—sound wise.

The first version of this article appeared at http://www.workingpreacher.org/sermondevelopment.aspx?article_id=283. This is an adaptation of that earlier version.

1. The Voice and Swallowing Institute, “Voice Conservation and Vocal Hygiene: Tips for a Healthy Voice,” http/www.nyee.edu/pdf/voice-vocal-tips.pdf (last accessed October 14, 2009).
2. Charles Spurgeon, “Hints on the Voice for Young Preachers,” Sword and Trowel, July 1875. htp://www.spurgeon.org/s_and_t/voice.htm (last accessed October 14, 2009).
3. Eunice Tan, “Five Reasons Why You Must Go to Sleep Early,” Health Mad Aug. 31, 2008. http:/healthmad.com/health/five-reasons-why-you-must-go-to-sleep-early/ (last accessed October 14, 2009).

This article was published in Theology, News & Notes, Spring 2011, “Empowering Wise Preachers: For a Vigorous Church in a Volatile World.”