I know it’s not really fashionable to do so in a polarized society like ours, but I actually listen to and learn from people I don’t agree with. A few weeks ago I talked about how Bernie Sanders offers some insight into successful student ministry. I’ve resisted and wrestled with saying so, but I think Donald Trump has a thing or two to teach preachers. Does he sort of seem like a demeaning, pandering, hyperbolic goof ball?
Most definitely, yes.
Does that mean he’s inept at everything? Of course not.
Here are three things I think every preacher in America might actually learn from “The Donald.”
1. Speak with Passion
The jury is still out on whether or not Donald Trump actually believes the things he is saying. But one critique that cannot be made of Mr. Trump is that he is dry and boring. You could argue Ben Carson had more of substance to say during his campaign, but his sleepy demeanor made even him seem disinterested in what he was saying, much less make him capable of inspiring anyone else.
Listen to Donald Trump speak. He speaks up. He speaks using flowery adjectives (some of which I, admittedly, would never print on this blog). He speaks in ways that are motivating and inspirational. You may not like much of what he says, but you can’t critique the guy for being dispassionate.
I used to be critiqued for being “too laid back” while preaching or teaching. I had mentors who coached me to change my voice inflection, speak up, and act like I meant what I was saying. Be more intense. Have some fire. I’ve grown in that area over the years, and a big piece of it was that I realized what I was saying was stuff I actually believed! Is Trump faking us out? I don’t know. But I know what message we carry as communicators of the Gospel.
We’re talking about the Gospel here, not some silly little thing like campaigning for president.
We should probably be pumped about that!
Don’t be a bore.
Speak with passion.
2. Connect Personally with Your Audience
One of the things that separates Donald Trump from nearly every other presidential candidate of the last 50 years is the fact that he rarely speaks with a teleprompter. That has caused him a fair amount of trouble, but I would argue it has also endeared him to his audience faster and more intensely than those who are tied to their notes.
Other than a slender podium, Donal Trump does not allow himself to be blockaded away from the crowd when he’s speaking. I really think this has an impact. One of the reasons some preachers seem distant and aloof is they’re on a stage elevated from their congregation behind a bulbous pulpit that hides practically their whole body. I may be over-thinking this one, but we would do well to minimize the separation, I think.
I hardly ever memorize my sermons, but I do use as few notes as possible. I rarely, if ever, use a stand or pulpit, preferring to fold my notes up inside my Bible. This allows me to keep maximum eye contact with the audience and puts nothing between me and the people listening to me.
To be fair, there are a lot of preachers who could preach circles around me that happen to use a manuscript and a big, wooden lectern. I’m not saying this is the end-all skill of preaching. It’s not. I’m just saying that the less barriers the better. And eye contact is a must. Master these skills and you’ll be a better communicator.
One of the reasons Donald Trump says crazy stuff and has a HUGE following is because he understands this.
3. Utilize Social Media Adequately
Sometimes preachers get themselves into a lot of trouble with tweets and blogs and video clips. Still, social media is a valuable tool in advancing the Gospel and having meaningful conversations.
Donald Trump has used media to fuel his campaign. He doesn’t pay for much of it. He just speaks and tweets and it gets shared. It’s goofy, in a way, but I wonder if the phenomenon is instructive to those of us who have a life-changing message to share.
Here are a few practical applications of how church-based communicators can leverage the tool of social media. If you didn’t click that link, go back and do so. Really, really good stuff.
This blog–and my “reach” is relatively small–has been read in nearly every country on the planet. I’m talking Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, India, and more. There are places social media can go that I can’t. We do well to utilize media in all it’s forms, because it expands the reach of the Gospel much further than our message may go otherwise. To violently take out of context and paraphrase Saint Francis of Assisi (and do so with something he likely never actually said to being with):
“Preach the Gospel always. If necessary, use Twitter.”
Listen, there are a ton of things we should not mimic about Donald Trump. He is not, by definition, a preacher. As an orator, however, his lack of refinement is only surpassed by his effectiveness. Like him or not, there are some lessons to be learned from watching him speak.