How does a pastor address his unnecessary speech fillers in prayers and sermons?

Umm…Lord we just…you know…(lip smack)…Father God…uhh…and we just…Father God…(lipsmack)…umm…Lord we just…uhh…(deep breath)… you know… Father God…umm…you know…that we all have them.  They come in different shapes, sizes, and expressions, but we all have them.  Those who claimed to have never had them, are in denial and probably are still unaware they have them.  Those polished, seasoned preachers who appear to have none of them, once did.

They are such a part of our natural communication style that they can be difficult to identify and overcome, but there is hope.  Here are a few ways I have tried to face my own unnecessary speech fillers and helped others identify and overcome their own:

1)  Create an environment in your local church to be critiqued. 

Whether it is someone preaching, praying, or leading a public gathering in our church, we have tried to create an atmosphere of humility and teachability in regard to each of us growing in these areas.  This kind of effort can become hyper-critical and unhelpful very quickly, so we want to always maintain a spirit of grace and patience in this process.

A service review with those involved in the service has been a great way for us to facilitate these discussions where men come with a desire to grow.  See these previous posts for more info on the purpose and process of a Service Review.  If you have someone unconvinced of what you have observed, the next best option is to mention it to them, then challenge them to go back and listen to their own sermon in light of it.

2)  Ask those you trust to listen and give feedback. 

If a culture is not present to already be listening for these things, approach a few godly, gracious, but wise and discerning men to try to observe you in these roles and see if they notice what your fillers are.  It is amazing how noticeable they are when someone tries casually to listen for them for your benefit.

3)  Receive the thoughts of others with humility. 

We had a service review where it was brought to a man’s attention who had prayed that morning of an obvious repeated phrase he uses, of which he was completely unaware of.  He was surprised, it was affirmed by a few other men in the room, but he received it with humility and began to consider the thoughts of others.

So he did what most men do when they hear a critique they are oblivious to, he asked he wife later that night, “Hey have you ever noticed that I repeat this phrase in my prayers?”  His wife’s response was, “Yeah, you do it all the time.”  He was amazed that he had not observed in his own life what others so clearly saw.  He received that very well and quickly developed desires to improve on it.

4)  Try to prepare knowing which fillers you struggle with. 

Although this man was totally unaware of his unnecessary speech filler that had existed for a long time, he modeled how someone should respond to it.  He received it in humility and teachability, then he instantly made efforts to try to overcome it.  The very next time he prayed publicly, he cut his use of this filler at least in half.  He hardly used it at all in his next sermon he preached at our church.  It is amazing the progress we can make over our unnecessary speech fillers once we own them and begin to focus on working ourselves out of them.

I have watched these kinds of successes through the years.  We really can make progress on these matters, but we must be aware of them, own them, then without putting too much focus on them, try to cut them out of our prayers and sermons realizing perfect oratory skills is far from the goal as we preach God’s word and lead God’s people.

However, that does not mean we should not try to grow in all aspects of our preaching and public leading, including this one.  My biggest speech filler for years was “Umm.”  Although it still shows up most of the time in my casual conversations, this formula has been very helpful to me personally through the years.

So, own it.  What was or is your greatest unnecessary speech filler?

Posted in Preaching
3 comments on “How does a pastor address his unnecessary speech fillers in prayers and sermons?
  1. Be comfortable with silence. It’s the fear of not filling every moment with sound that often drives us to, um, say anything.

  2. Doug Smith says:

    I also try to watch out for “uh” and “you know.” I also her superfluous usage of “actually” and “honestly” (as if the rest of the speech wasn’t honest?) frequently. Listening back to some recordings can make me cringe, but it’s really helpful. I recommend that preachers use a voice recorder with a lapel mic, or even just an app on a smartphone, if their church doesn’t record them. It will benefit them and their congregations in the long run if they will review with an ear toward cutting out these distractions.

  3. Casey says:

    When I was in college and first starting to preach and teach, I was a “you know” guy. I didn’t realize this until after teaching a lesson to the youth group, when my pastor pulled me aside and showed me how he had tallied up all the times I said “you know.” I think it was over 30 times for what was probably a 30 minute lesson. He did it in a caring and respectful manner, but I had no idea I was doing it and was really embarrassed. Being aware of it was all I needed to all but eliminate it from my speaking. The next time I taught after that incident, I think I did it only 2 or 3 times. Ever since then (that was probably almost 15 years ago), I’ve been very aware of any such fillers slipping into my sermons and lessons, and can cut them off more easily. I’m really grateful that our pastor pointed that out to me, otherwise I might still be doing it.

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