The Care And The Use Of The Preacher's Voice

by Pastor Jack Hyles

(Chapter 16 from Dr. Hyle's excellent book, Teaching On Preaching)


The voice of God's man is the thing that is used to transfer what is in his mind to the minds of his people. It is the vehicle which God has chosen with which to deliver His truth to His people. Because of this, the preacher must take extra care of his voice. It matters not how spiritual he is, how sincere he is or how prepared he is; when his voice is gone, his primary purpose is gone. John the Baptist was called a voice. Because of the importance of the preacher's voice, he should watch it carefully and care for it properly There are four things that cause voice trouble for a preacher.

I. STRAIN.

Strain is almost always caused by improper care of the voice and by improper knowledge of its limitations. There are many things that a preacher can do to prevent this enemy from hampering or eliminating his opportunity for doing the thing that God has called him to do and being the thing that God has called him to be.

1. Perform vocal exercise. Any muscle in the human body needs exercise. Athletic teams must properly exercise before a game or they will damage their muscles. The wise pastor will perform vocal exercises before preaching and, for that matter; make them a part of his regular schedule. Singers are taught to exercise their voices before concerts. Athletes are taught to exercise their bodies before games. Soldiers exercise their bodies before battle. Why shouldn't the preacher exercise his voice before preaching!

When God called me to preach, I saw no way that I could ever be a success at it! I went to the Texas University at Arlington and told the Dean that I was going to be a preacher; so he gave me permission to take an excessive number of speech and public speaking courses. It was there that I learned to exercise my voice, and though I do not have the strongest voice in the world, it has enabled me to preach over 42,500 sermons over a period of nearly 40 years. This I think would not have been possible had I not been taught vocal exercises. In the morning early I use the long vowels preceded by an "h"-like "ha, ha, ha, he~, he~, he~, hi, hi, hi, ho, ho, ho, hu~, hu, hu." I exercise with my voice coming from the stomach and not from the throat. Then I do the same thing with the short vowels, "ha, ha, ha, he, he, he, hi, hi, hi, ho, ho, ho, hu, hu, hu." Then I put my hands on my stomach and do the same thing several times. Then I lay across the bed with my head hanging off the side of the bed and go through the same exercises several times. If a preacher has the slightest voice problem he should, while he is young, take voice lessons and learn the proper care for that part of his anatomy which is the same thing as a hammer is to a carpenter, a stethoscope is to a doctor; a scalpel is to a surgeon, a trowel is to a brick mason and a needle is to a seamstress.

2. Arise early in the morning; drink a big, tall glass of hot water; and then do the vocal exercises. Some people put a little lemon juice in the hot water. This is a good way for a preacher to start the day

3. Avoid lying down and/or taking naps right before speaking.

4. Sing a lot. Singing is good voice exercise. Of course, this should not be excessively loud singing; just sing with a normal singing voice, being careful to sing from the diaphragm or stomach rather than the throat.

5. Do some public speaking prior to the service in which you will preach. I find it helpful to teach a Sunday school class before I preach on Sunday morning and to speak in some way at an early service on Sunday evening. Since the teaching of a class is not as strenuous as preaching, I find it good vocal exercise for the preach mg that is to follow.

6. Stay calm at other events. The preacher should find some way to express his enthusiasm and excitement at a ball game other than straining his voice.

7. Pronounce words distinctly A mispronunciation of words is usually caused by improper training and will often cause prob- lems with the speaker's voice. The same thing that causes a preacher to mispronounce his words also causes the voice to become strained. The wise pastor will work diligently in an effort to learn to pronounce properly his vocabulary

8. Do not force excitement. Forced excitement tightens the voice muscles. Let the excitement while preaching come from the heart to the voice, not from the voice to the heart. When excitement comes from the heart to the voice, it is a natural excitement and will aid in taking the voice to the diaphragm. When excitement is not natural, it lifts the voice to the throat and leads to strain. It is usually best for a preacher not to start his sermons with a loud voice. Start with a calm, assured voice. Then when excitement comes in the heart, the heart will send the throat a message and say that it is ready now for volume! The heart has done its work first, and strain is less likely.

9. Start slowly. Have you ever noticed two prize fighters in the ring at the beginning of round one? They spar awhile; each feels out his opponent; and then gradually the intensity builds. This is what the wise preacher will do. Re will start gradually, let his voice become adjusted to a certain pitch, and then the volume can be increased without damaging the throat.

10. Stay close to the microphone. Use the microphone! I do not like for the public address men to "ride gain" on me while I preach. By that I mean, if I get loud, I do not like for them to turn down the volume of the public address system. If I get soft, I do not like for them to turn it up. I prefer to use voice fluctuation rather than "riding gain." Because of this, I do not prefer to use a lapel mike. Many splendid preachers use them with great success; however; I would not advise a preacher who has even the slightest problem with his voice to use a lapel mike.

11. You should be able to hear your amplified voice. The public address system should have speakers placed close enough to the preacher so he can hear his own voice easily. Avoid using small speakers throughout the auditorium. The sound should come from speakers near the preacher so he can hear himself. Often I will preach in a church building where the people can hear me better than I can hear myself. This always poses a problem. In an effort to hear myself I speak louder than I should. I soon find myself hoarse and often make the mistake of straining my voice.

12. Use an excessive amount of treble on the PA system with not much bass. Get behind a microphone and test this for yourself. Ask someone to adjust the PA system to be heavy on bass. In fact, turn the treble all the way down and the bass all the way up. Notice how muffled the words seem to be. Then turn the bass all the way down and the treble all the way up and notice how much easier it is to understand the words. This is not to say that the treble should be all the way up and the bass all the way down, but the emphasis should be on the treble rather than on the bass.

13. Do not use an adjuster or a mixer on your PA system. This will lower the volume automatically when you speak loudly and will raise it when you speak softly This may be good for lecturing, but is treacherous for preaching. Some electronic engineers who have never preached love them, but no real preacher enjoys preaching when the volume of his voice is controlled by a machine. of all the things that destroy my voice and cause me to strain it, this is the one that does the most damage the quickest!

14. Use a change of pace while preaching. Do not preach an entire sermon at full volume. Give your voice a chance to rest. An athlete does this with his body. A preacher should do it with his voice. This also enables the hearer to have a chance to relax. It provides added effectiveness. If everything is emphasized, nothing is emphasized. For proper care of the voice, there should be some loud speaking, some soft speaking, some conversational tone and a variety of volume.

15. Exercise your voice on days you do not do any public speaking. The voice is like a muscle. It can be sore if it is not used regularly A preacher who preaches daily and who cares for his voice properly will have less voice trouble than a preacher who preaches one day a week, all other things being equal. So on days when the voice is not used for preaching, it should be exercised on a regular basis.

16. Try to avoid tension while preaching. The more relaxed the preacher can be, the less likely he is to strain his voice. Enjoy preaching. Don't let it be a chore or a time of unnecessary tension. Relax in the Lord while you preach. Enjoy it, and avoid tension as much as possible.

17. Use your voice early in the service so as to test it and therefore learn how to pace yourself and use it when you preach. By that I mean, make the announcements and/or recognize the visitors so that you will know your voice and its condition before you stand to preach.

18. If following another preacher, learn to be yourself Do not fret if he has taken the congregation to a high pitch and to a lofty spiritual experience. Realize that God has you there for a purpose too. Do not compete with him. Do not fret or try to out-preach him. Just be yourself. Yield yourself to the Holy Spirit and let Him use you for the purpose that He has you there.

19. Do not try to deliver a sermon, but deliver your soul and lose yourself in a truth. The throat loosens when a preacher is lost in his message. When he is totally consumed with what he is saying, there is less strain on his voice.

II. TENSION.

Just as strain causes voice problems, tension is also a great enemy to preaching.

1. Prepare in advance, and avoid the meeting of a deadline. When a deadline is approaching, the preacher's entire body be- comes tense. It affects his voice and will lead him to not having his tool sharpened for its work.

2. Do not discuss problems before preaching. Do not allow church problems or personal problems to be a part of your conversation or thinking process before you preach. Problems will tense up the body, including the voice, and often cause serious voice problems while preaching.

3. Take care of no church business before preaching. Do not have board meetings, committee meetings or counseling sessions that could cause tension.

4. Do not read your mail before preaching. It could bring some bad messages that could cause you to enter the pulpit with a tense body and a tense throat.

5. Avoid fellowship before preaching. There should be no counseling or fellowship. This too could create tension that could affect the voice.

6. Avoid heavy praying before preaching. This is mentioned in another chapter and on both occasions I approach this point with fear and trembling for fear I be misunderstood. I believe in heavy praying. I believe in all-night praying. I believe in fasting and praying. I believe in supplication and prayer, but I do not believe that right before a sermon is the time for a preacher to become tense. It can affect his voice adversely

Nothing should be done that would take the slightest chance of causing any disagreement before the man of God walks in the pulpit. This will not only affect him adversely in his preaching, but also it could damage his voice.

7. Always preach with a collar that is loose. If you like to button your collar while preaching, then buy shirts that are a half size too large. Do not be timid about unbuttoning your collar and slightly loosening your tie. Of course, there are circumstances when this should not be done. These would include commencement exercises, weddings, funerals, etc., but behind his own pulpit, the pastor should feel free to do what is necessary to care for his voice.

8. Do not preach to individuals. This also is mentioned else- where under another subject, but when a preacher preaches to individuals and uses the pulpit as a whipping post or scolding place, he will more than likely become tense, and his voice could be affected.

All of this is to say that the preacher should avoid tension. Voice problems are caused not only by strain but also by tension.

III. STOMACH.

Most voice problems are really stomach problems. If the stomach is in good shape, the voice is usually in good shape.

1. Never speak right after eating. I try to leave at least three hours between my last meal and my sermon.

2. Eat very little at bedtime.

3. Wear loose clothing. Tight pants can cause a problem with the preacher's voice while he delivers his sermon.

4. Rely a lot on juices. Many years ago I used to preach revival campaigns. Sometimes I would begin a revival campaign with a hoarseness. When such was the case, I would get off all solid foods and stay on vegetable and fruit juices for the entire revival. Usually my voice was in better shape at the end of the revival meeting than it was at the beginning.

5. Eat plenty of vegetables. Though I do not live on strictly a vegetarian diet, I believe that I could do so because I believe one of the great secrets to health is the consumption of many vegetables. Eat salads that include lettuce, celery, greens, cucumbers, etc. Then enjoy cooked vegetables such as carrots, asparagus, green beans, zucchini, squash, greens and other leafy vegetables.

6. Avoid dairy products within two hours of preaching. Dairy products have a way of causing a congestion in the throat and should be used on a limited basis and not at all near the time of preaching.

IV. COLDS AND SORE THROATS.

I travel every week. In January I am in the Florida Keys one week and in Alaska the next week. I go from sub-zero weather to tropical weather within a matter of days. I am in all types of climates, all degrees of humidity, and I must constantly watch myself. Thanks be to God, I have not missed a speaking engagement in over 20 years. Part of this is because I fight constantly to avoid sore throats and colds.

1. Keep your head and feet warm and dry. My mother used to say to me, "Son, the most important thing about being outside in the cold is to keep the extremities warm. Keep your feet warm and your head warm."

2. Avoid drafts. Avoid drafts on airplanes, while driving in a car, while sleeping, and by all means, while preaching. Pamper your- self. When you are in a draft, do whatever you can to have it removed or to have yourself removed from it.

3. Watch auditorium temperature. A building that is too hot or too cold can play havoc with a preacher's voice. Every Sunday morning at 7:45 I go to the auditorium in our church, read the temperature and look at a chart of days in the past when the outdoor temperature was nearly the same. Then my maintenance man and I decide the degree of heat or air conditioning that we will need for the service.

4. You may be wise to wear year-around suits. It may be below zero outside, but the temperature in the auditorium will be about the same in January that it is in July If the preacher preaches in a heavy wool suit in January and a thin light suit in July in the same auditorium with the same temperature, it could affect his voice and his throat.

5. Always keep a coat, a hat and rubber shoes available. Weather can change. In the fall and winter do not be very far from a hat, coat and rubber shoes. If the preacher must stay late after the service, it might be wise to have some dry underclothing available. If he is perspiring heavily when he finishes his sermon, it might be wise for him to consider changing his undershirt and perhaps his shirt before counseling or fellowship or caring for other duties before he goes home.

There are many other things that a preacher should do or avoid doing, but time and space will not permit us to cover them. For example, it is wise for a preacher to choose a sermon that will fit the condition of his voice. It is wise for him to know the condition of his voice and to decide to keep his sermon within the range of his voice for that particular day.

Perhaps the most important thing that we can say is, let your voice be honest. Let it show your heart. Use the same voice in preaching that you always use. Be yourself and take good care of that part of your anatomy that God has chosen to use to spread His truth, to train His people, and to point sinners to the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world! You have only one voice; it is the only one you will ever have! Take care of it! God needs it!

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Billy Sunday (1862-1935)


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