Christian Media

Do You Suffer from “Pulpit Personality?”

Pastor Greg Laurie shared something with me recently that made me laugh.  He called it “pulpit personality.”  Essentially, pulpit personality is when a pastor or religious media personality talks in a different voice when they step into a pulpit, or on television when camera is turned on.  Everywhere else on television we see reality.

Love it or hate it, reality programming has left an indelible mark on the industry.  People now see what happens behind the scenes on HBO, they see “America’s Favorite Home Videos,” they see non-professionals on Youtube, and they watch the news 24/7 on cable.  So when you appear on your program with your “classic TV voice” it sticks out like a sore thumb.

You know who I’m talking about. Numerous ministry leaders who are gracious, authentic, and engaging when talking with friends over lunch. But turn on the camera, or step into the pulpit, and they become someone else. Radio personalities suffer the same thing when they get in front of a microphone.

The television commercial business is a great example of the change. National spots used to be narrated by men with powerful voices.  Deep voices that resonated with power and authority.  But listen to a commercial today.  More often than not, it sounds like a regular guy – or woman.   The advertiser knows the connection doesn’t come from a perfect voice, but from the sound of someone like you and me.
Sometimes you’ll hear name actors, but in most cases, they’re hired not because of the quality of their voice, but because their voice is recognizable.

Watch regular television and listen to the difference. Stop trying to be bigger than life.  Be real.  Speak normally.  It doesn’t make you more anointed or powerful when you try to sound like God.  Talk like everyone else, and you’ll be amazed at the connection.

The “over the top” era is done.

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  1. When I catch myself doing this, I loathe it and reverse course as aggressively as possible. I call it "speaking ministerially." You rock on your feet and say "Gawhud" a lot.

  2. The word that applies:  "Ye know not what spirit ye are of." 

     Thus, pulpit personalities preach the word… uhm, while conveniently ignoring… the word.

     Is it a problem?  Well, the fake pulpit voice is actually a spirit, a spirit not necessarily of God.  It allows false dogma to be preached with seeming impunity.

     However, once a truth-seeker starts connecting these dots… the dots of false voice…. to false doctrine… false doctrine to teaching lies… from lies to extortion… well, then such a person’s blogs don’t last long… do they? 

     But looking at false voices… is a big start!  Do not despise small beginnings!

  3. "Pulpit Personality" also happens to politicians who speak from the pulpit.  Take Al Gore and Hillary Clinton for example.  They go from their boring voice into that of a Black Southern Baptist Preacher when they step behind the pulpit. 

  4. I knew a pastor once who was the nicest, most affirming, gregarious guy you would ever want to meet, until he stepped into a pulpit. Then he became angry preacher man, and I as I sat in his church, I always wished that the people visiting that church could actually meet the man he was when he wasn’t preaching. Had he let them see that man, I felt sure his church would have grown even more.

    My theory is that sometimes preachers are taught to preach sermons that please other preachers or their bible school instructors, and from that paradigm a good sermon is graded on "you really let them have it today, or "you stepped on a bunch of toes" and oddly enough that in doing that somehow the good news was proclaimed. But most are good men who if they would just be themselves and not a caricature of some "preaching machine" they were presented with, their flock would be better served. 

  5. Since we’re largely discussing fashion here, I think it is worth pointing out that the current preference for "sincerity" in preaching is also a fashion. The hushed-tones-reading-glasses-off sincere style of preaching we get now can be just as much a "pulpit personality" for many preachers as the booming voices we got a few years ago.

  6. Thanks so much for this post. Sometimes my (also free church) husband and I listen to church services and can recognise what we call an "Anglican" voice. Hmm I’m sure I suffer from a similar problem though, though years of preaching in French means my "terribly nice" received pronunciation voice rises and falls in the wrong places.

    Anyway I shall work at toning my voice tone to somethign more natural in English but also try and get feedback on the "realness" of my voice in French. A chatty style that is still audible and credible is what I’m after I suppose.

  7. Part of this is demonstrated when pastors read their sermons.  My denomination (which shall remain nameless PCUSA) is really bad about this.  You can tell that the pastors were graded well in our nameless denomination’s PCUSA seminaries when their preaching class sermons were very cerebral, and so that is what they bring to the pulpit:  Cerebral; dry; dull; read with a certain amount of pomposity.  

    It irritates the fire out of me.  Especially when you go to have a cup of coffee with these same folks and discover that they are warm, engaging, and friendly.



  8. I used to see this kind of thing years ago with a pastor friend of mine from a predominantly Bible Belt denomination. He was Hispanic and had kind of a Mexican-American accent until he got in the pulpit where he affected a Southern accent, probably unconciously mimicking his ministry teachers.

  9. Some of it comes from having to project your voice for others to hear you. Even with a microphone if you are not close to it you have to raise your voice quite a bit for it to be amplified properly. 

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