Wednesday, August 28, 2013


With the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's "I have a dream speech," many have been reflecting on one of the greatest pieces of leadership oratory, ever.  I've been reflecting on not just what was said that day, but how it came to be.  You see, the speech he gave was not precisely the speech he had planned.  Dr. King was asked to give a very brief series of remarks, which he had scripted, and dutifully delivered.  But when he came to the end of what he had planned, he felt that "the Spirit moved" him to continue on, and it was then that he got into the stirring "I have a dream" and "Let freedom ring" riffs.  How was it possible for him to deliver such a lucid, compelling speech impromptu?  Answer:  He had spoken those words many times before, in various contexts.  He was well-versed in the cadence of these lines.  He had repeated them often. When the big moment came, the words fervently rolled off his tongue, and into the psyche of America.

It is difficult to come up with world-changing oratory in a single attempt.  (I know that every pastor, given seven shorts days to prepare a sermon, is saying "Amen.")  But I think it is an important leadership principle to identify repeated themes in which one will become well-versed.  Jesus certainly did this.  In the gospels we get to see His variations on themes (the golden rule, loving your neighbor, the light of the world, etc.).  In Paul's writings we see a fair amount of repetition, as well (grace, etc.).  Does your ministry have a theme?  Have you been honing lines and phrases?  Could you give a spontaneous sermon?  Probably the most famous pastor of the 20th Century showed us the way, not just to racial equality, but to leaving a legacy with words.