Preaching the Communication Gospel

My dad spent his life in the communication business. No, he didn’t work in corporate communications or in the news media or in public relations. My dad is a retired Baptist pastor, so I guess you could say Joe Holland worked in spiritual relations.

Being a pastor is among the hardest work there is. As my dad practiced it, ministry is so much more than preaching on Sunday morning. It’s being on call 24 hours a day for people facing life’s most difficult circumstances. It’s being there in crises like illness and divorce and death and in celebrations like weddings and births and baptisms. It’s being an advocate, an administrator, a confidant, a teacher and sometimes a janitor.

Preaching is my dad’s favorite part of ministry. The man flat-out loves to preach. Even in retirement, churches have sought him out to fill in when their pastors are on vacation or move on to another church. Even at 76, he revels in the opportunity to research, write and deliver sermons — or, as he calls them, messages.

Last Sunday, our pastor was on vacation so he asked my dad to preach. Eleven years have passed since my dad retired as pastor (and he has preached in our church quite a few times), but he slipped back into the role seamlessly.

He began his message by sharing some inside information. When he was in seminary, he said, one of his professors said preachers should always give their congregations three things:

  • Something to know
  • Something to feel
  • Something to do

This struck me as being exactly the same things I share with my clients as a communication consultant. I phrase it a little differently, but it’s really the same thing. I’m always preaching — I mean, saying — that communication should influence audiences’ knowledge, attitudes and behaviors. Something to know, something to feel and something to do.

Suddenly I realized a lot of what I know as a communication consultant I learned from my father. I thought back on his 50+ years of preaching and how he followed that formula to immense effect:

  • Something to know. In seminary, my dad learned biblical history in great detail. He learned the Greek and Hebrew origins of the Scriptures so he could understand what the writers really meant (which is often not as they are interpreted by some of today’s evangelists who would use the Scriptures to support their political or social agendas). Along with his vast experience as a pastor (and as a son, a dad, a husband and a friend), this lifelong education informs his messages so that he shares his knowledge with people who hear him. The results are frequent “aha” moments of enlightenment and greater understanding of God and his plans for our lives. If we communicators aren’t well-versed in the information we share and if we don’t give our audiences some “aha” moments, we’re failing in one of the most basic functions of our craft.
  • Something to feel. My dad’s greatest strength as a preacher is the passion he brings to the role. He doesn’t fit the stereotype of a “fire and brimstone” preacher. But he does have a flair for the dramatic. Preaching for as long as he has, he knows just how to bring the right inflection to words. He knows how to weave powerful stories filled with real people. He knows how to use emotion without being manipulative. His communication techniques are subtle and he chooses them well. Corporate communicators sometimes shy away from using these techniques because we’ve become used to working in a stale, neutral, bland environment. Without emotion, however, our audiences get bored and don’t pay attention to our messages.
  • Something to do. My dad ends every message with a call to action. It might be something to ponder or to do in the week ahead. It might be an invitation to accept Christ as savior. People who hear his message always have something to do. Recently I wrote about my meeting with a corporate vice president who outlined her expectations of communication about her department. One of the elements she requires is a call to action. Communication must serve a purpose and the ultimate purpose is to lead people to action.

When I was a kid, little old ladies in the church often came up to me, bent down so they could pinch my cheek and asked, “So, when you grow up are you going to be a preacher just like your daddy?” I never said it out loud, but I thought to myself, “No way!”

Even then I knew I didn’t have what it takes to be a preacher. Still, I like to think that I picked up a thing or two from my dad.


8 Responses

  1. My Brother/bff:

    This is a wonderful tribute to your father as we approach Father’s day 2009. I hope he reads this and knows that his greatest legacy is you, Robert J. Holland, ABC.

    Your points are well-taken. It is easy to see how you were shaped and molded by watching this great man do the work he loved and is so good at. As you and I have discussed many times before, effective organizational communication is much like preaching in that we must follow the knowing, doing, and acting model to be successful at it. For example, treating the subject of improving productivity in an organization. The model fits this well.

    There is one other fact you failed to mention, one other thing you learned from your great father Joe that shapes the man you are — your success at being a world class Father yourself. All one has to do is to look at Max and Sam Holland to see what you have done.

    You are the best father I know. Add to that the fact that you are a single father who has always fought the good fight to do right by your fine sons, all the while providing for them, taking care of them when they were sick, and teaching them in the Holland tradition how to be productive, self-actualize successful men.

    Joe Holland’s legacy will live on through you, Max and Sam Holland. It is an honor to know you.


    • Wow, Les. I don’t know what to say about all that except “your check is in the mail.” 🙂

      I appreciate all your kind words here. I’m in a constant state of learning from many people including my dad and you and my sons. Thank you for your friendship and your mentorship over the years.

  2. Robert,

    I agree with Les about this post and your father. What a tribute.

    In addition, you have used his teachings to simplify how to be a strategic communications business partner.
    * Something to know
    * Something to feel
    * Something to do

  3. Fine piece, Robert!

  4. Robert, has your dad read this?

  5. Thanks for the kind comments, everyone!

    David — not yet, but I’m thinking Father’s Day.

  6. […] Preaching the Communication Gospel […]

  7. I read this a few days ago, Robert, and can’t get it out of my head, in a good way. Thanks for sharing a wonderful paradigm.

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