Influence

 the shape of leadership

I No Longer Need an ‘Amen’

Answering the call, embracing the silence

Kayla Marcantonio on December 6, 2017

I preached my first Sunday message to adults when I was 16 years old. My sermon was about learning to hear God’s voice using the story of Mary Magdalene and Jesus after His resurrection as my main text. If you can believe it, I paired my message with a short monologue (talk about awkward) because it was 2006, and the human video/drama age was alive and thriving in small and big churches alike. I’ll forever appreciate my pastor, who saw God’s calling on my life and gave me an opportunity to preach at a young age.

That first night in front of an attentive church taught me many communication lessons (yes, one of them was that I shouldn’t do a monologue in the middle of a message). But what most surprised me was how some listeners expressed themselves verbally. I noticed the church seemed more vocal at certain points in the message. They received well thought-out sentences with claps, outspoken uh-huhs and clear amens. I naturally concluded that quietness meant I was not doing such a good job.

So, then and there, I drew up the following measurement scale:

  • Loud, vocal church = good, effective preaching
  • Quiet church = better luck next time preaching

Watching my favorite pastors online, this scale still seems to hold true at times. For instance, I enjoy listening to Steven Furtick. Based on his congregation’s response, he does an incredible job. The atmosphere is electric. People are hungry to hear God’s Word. No one looks bored. The feedback is great. Church is lively and vibrant. I once thought that was the standard and assumed I should preach like that.

So, I did. I practiced and critiqued. I sought out mentors and those who would offer constructive criticism. I replayed my messages repeatedly to find any areas of miscommunication. After all, if God had called me to communicate the gospel accurately and efficiently, I wanted to become the best communicator I could be. No misunderstandings. No lulls in time or space. My goal was to have listeners engaged from beginning until end.

Yet, despite these time investments, feedback during service became minimal at best. I tried just about every technique I could find on effective communication. I told more stories. Silence. I included more humor. Muffled laughter. I focused more on real, to-the-point moments. Dead quiet. No matter what method I used, you could hear a pin drop.

Fed up, discouraged and seriously questioning my ministry effectiveness, I finally talked to someone representing a demographic I had not yet considered, someone entirely new to this Jesus thing. This recent convert had just started attending the church. Feeling vulnerable, I asked the genuine question, “When I preach, does it make sense? I get nervous because it’s so quiet. I’m not sure whether people are getting it or whether I’m doing a good job of explaining my thoughts.”

Be steadfast in the silence and courageous in the quiet.

The response surprised me: “Kayla, I’m quiet — and others I know are quiet — because we’re intently listening. We’re thinking. We’re processing. You must remember, many of us haven’t heard any of this before. You don’t have to worry about whether you’re doing a good job. If you weren’t, we would probably be talking.”

The scale I had built in my mind at the age of 16 came crashing down.

Searching that conversation further with others, I now understand that response is a cultural thing. Vocal feedback is cultural. I was raised in one culture, and now I lead in a different one. Reflecting on our church demographic, about 30 percent of those attending on Sunday mornings come from unchurched backgrounds, are newly saved and are age 30 or younger. They don’t know what “amen” even means. They’ve never experienced a service where they can react, laugh or cry. So … they’re quiet. They’re reverent. They’re tuned in to learn more.

Now, I can embrace the silence. Because I realize that when they’re silent, God’s Spirit is moving on their hearts, speaking to them about what steps to take next. So, praise God if I never hear an “amen” again. In my context, I think that would indicate a successful ministry indeed.

I no longer try to imitate someone else’s style or insist on doing what works in another preacher’s congregation. Like the apostle Paul, I want to “speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God.”

The next time I preached after that conversation, I was again speaking on the life of Mary Magdalene. I gave it my all to communicate clearly about her life in relation to the transformational change Jesus gives. It was the quietest service I’ve ever experienced — and I was the most comfortable and confident I had ever been.

I continue to hit up my favorite podcasts every week. I listen to speakers and “amen” them from my living room. I recognize that they fit their culture. They’re divinely placed. They’re excellent speakers who lead well. But for me and the people I serve? I’ve built a new measuring scale void of amens. Maybe it’s one you can pick up as well.

  • Sincerity = effective preaching
  • Relying on Christ’s power and not my own = effective preaching
  • Adequate preparation, giving my best and striving for excellence = effective preaching
  • Obedience and knowing God is pleased = effective preaching

Of course, this lesson applies to more areas of life than just preaching. Wherever God places you, whether in a pulpit or a volunteer position behind the scenes, can you confidently continue in the midst of silence? When you don’t hear words of approval or receive accolades and applause, can you diligently work hard at the job God has given you to do? Can you stay true to your God-ordained coarse?

Throughout history, great men and women of God have managed to rise above the opinions of others and pursue God’s purpose regardless of the noise — or stillness — around them. So, be strong. Be steadfast in the silence. Be courageous in the quiet.

In the end, God’s approval is all that matters. As Paul said, “we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts” (1 Thessalonians 2:4).

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