This is the second of a five-part series of an interview I conducted in March 2006 with the pastor of a small Baptist church in Kentucky about how ministers use the media at a local level and the art of oratory in preaching. Rev. Darrell Belcher is the past or Echols General Baptist Church in Echols, Ky.
Sam Ford: Darrell, how frequently do pastors in your position deliver sermons?
Darrell Belcher: I have done radio shows, and I used to do some things years ago for Channel 13 (a local station in Bowling Green, Ky.) There was a lot of filming done of revivals I have preached and messages I delivered back in Louisville years ago. 15 or 20 years ago, I preached a lot of revivals. I was healthy, so I travelled a lot. I would sometimes preach five or six revivals in a row, without stopping, plus pastoring a church in between. It was hard to travel, and you had to take off work if you had a regular job most of the time. I always tried to keep my preaching in front of my job. WHen I worked for General Motors, it was always a little harder to manage my work schedule with pastoring and revivals. But, I worked for about 20 years in my own business, so I could plan my work schedule around revivals, and have employees work for me while I was gone.
Sam Ford: How much preparation do you put into a sermon?
Darrell Belcher: It is almost continuous, as far as the research. You deliver one week's sermons and then immediately start preparing for the next run, so you are constantly researching and studying. If you don't, with all the church services you are expected to deliver a message at in a year, you would just start going over the same ground time after time. In general, 30-to-45 minutes is the time span for a sermon. I think it's key to keep your sermon to its barest minimal to keep everyone's attention. If you go too far, you've done ruined your sermon because you lost everybody, so it's important to keep it as short and to-the-point as you can.
Sam Ford: How does the size of the audience change the way you deliver your message?
Darrell Belcher: Not that much changes, really. It doesn't make that big of a difference how big or how little a crowd is. All congregations are different, though, so you have to realize that. You just need to feel the crowd out and realize more or less how to deliver your message in a way that will keep their attention. For instance, take a sermon in the middle of the week. You need to keep your message a little shorter then because you won't be able to hold people's attention as long. It's easier to preach on a Sunday than during the work week, because the audience is starting out more fresh and upbeat instead of being worn out after a long day of work. In general, though, every crowd is different, so you have to adjust for that.
Sam Ford: How does the church at which your deliver your message change the way you deliver it?
Darrell Belcher: Well, you have to think about the environment. For instance, I have delivered sermons many times in which I knew the people I was addressing were in some form of disagreement. If you are pastoring a church, it's a lot harder to pastor a smaller congregation than it is a larger one. If you know your audience personally and know of issues in their lives, you may want to preach from the bible to reach out to them about the issues they are in disagreement about. Sometimes, though, the audience then thinks you are picking on them from the pulpit. A pastor is not supposed to have the luxury of choosing sides. In that case, it's a lot easier to prepare for delivering a sermon when you are just visiting a church. If you are in a revival, for instance, you will alter for more salvation-type messages. When you are preaching in a church regularly, you preach out of the whole bible, about how to raise families, what God says about marriages and morality, and all the things you would be expected to speak about as pastor. As a visiting preacher, it's what is called a 'hit-and-run situation." You don't know anything about the church, so it's easier to preach to them with a salvation-type service, and then at the end of 7 or 8 or 9 days, you can just move on. Pastoring is a much bigger responsibility.
Sam Ford: Have you ever preached on television?
Darrell Belcher: I have always been in a church when I preached for television, in a live service. I have had sermons aired on Channel 13 here and some in Louisville, years ago. They came and filmed at the church I pastored a lot, although I'm not always sure how they used the footage. They used clips from some of my sermons to show some of the differences in church services. I don't like to watch tapes of my sermons, though. Even if it was a good service, I am constantly thinking of the things I should have done differently. YOu are always your own worst critic, I guess. I don't ever write down or keep notes on any of my sermons; I never did do that. So I don't need to watch tapes to try and perfect my notes.
Sam Ford: How are the dynamics different when a video camera is recording your sermon?
Darrell Belcher: Myself, I never did pay attention to the camera much and went ahead with the regular service like I always did. If you start trying to change things and not be natural, people can pick up on those things. I think it's better for you to just stay as natural as you can. It's not like I am filming every Sunday, like Jimmy Swaggart or somebody. My concentration is on the live audience and delivering a message to the congregation, since they are part of the filming, anyway.