This is the third 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: Tell me about your experience in preaching on the radio.
Darrell Belcher: Radio is completely different. For radio, you go into a studio. They sit you in a sound room, just you alone, or maybe they'll bring in a group of singers first who will sing, and then they put you in a sound room by yourself. They turn the lights on, and you know you are live on the air and what amount of time has been allotted to you. You have a time when you can start and a time you have to finish. It's not like preaching to the congregation; it's a lot harder, standing in there all alone, just preaching to the walls. It's a lot harder preaching like that than it is preaching at a church somewhere. You can't have any contact with anyone but the four walls in the studio. Of course, they have a little window there you can look through and see the person running the switchboard or whatever it might be out there. They give you your cues of when to start and when to stop, so you have to keep your mind on that, too. It's completely different than going into a church or anything like that.
It's really hard. You have to prepare a message and know the message you have. I know I have 15 minutes or 20 minutes to do this in. Now, I'm going to have to watch my time and get the important parts of the message in before that time runs out.
I had a regular service. I started on the radio in 1977 and stayed on the radio off and on plumb on up until the mid-1980s. It was a weekly show on Sunday mornings, and I had to be in there by 8:30 usually. The program, if it lasted from 8:30 until 9:30, would have singing and prayer, and then I would preach probably up until close to 9:00. When my message was over, there would be some singing afterward, and I had to go on to my church. That's the way they always arranged it for all the ministers who pastored.
A lot of preachers can't do radio; they just can't do it. When they get shut into the room, they get all flustered. There's no congregation, so they just get flustered. A lot of ministers who are good ministers just can't handle radio, because they don't understand it. Even though you are talking to a radio audience or even go out across several different stations, it's just being shut in that room, that little studio, and not having a congregation.
The time thing also really gets a lot of people. They just can't handle being timed. They'll go along and get shut off before their sermons even over. I always had good success in radio; it didn't bother me. And I always did mine live, although some ministers tape their radio programs previously. For me, I would just think about being in a church. The church I pastored was bigger than Echols at the time; there were a little under 200 people in my congregation. But if you think of all the people who are shut in, who don't get to go to church, or the people who don't go to church that's lost who might tune in, you get to reach so many more people than just that small congregation you preach to at church.
And you realize you are reaching a lot of people from the calls and the letters you get. You get a lot of feedback from people from everywhere who call and tell you that they really like your preaching. Sometimes, nursing homes send feedback about people there who like the message because they can't get out to church. You also get a little negative feedback, but overall people appreciate your coming into their homes, so you get a lot of positive feedback from radio. Mostly, ministers get negative feedback when they preach more denominational messages than general messages, which makes listeners unhappy. I never preached any denominational stuff. Most of the time, the audience didn't know I was Baptist unless they just knew the church where I was at. Some people would call and think I was a Holiness pastor, while the Baptists thought I was a Baptist pastor. If you don't get into the denominational differences, everyone thinks you are one of them. I just preached a more general style of message to the lost. In that way, preaching a sermon on the radio is more evangelistic than it is like pastoring, but it's also like pastoring, in that you do it weekly.
I know that some other pastors would tape messages from home and send them in or tape a service from their church and send them in. Often, these would be a week or two or even a month behind. I always did mine live because it was easier. My train of thought doesn't always run the same, and I like the spur-of-the-moment-type thing, so it was always hard for me to tape. You always want to go back and change things if you tape, it seems, and it seems more one-on-one live than it is through taping.