Do microphones muffle good preaching?

Writer Leroy Huizenga thinks so.  From First Things:

I think microphones might very well injure preaching, for in preaching the microphone functions as both obstacle and crutch. The microphone is an obstacle, one more piece of complexity that can go wrong. It makes preachers tentative; the microphone is like a snake that might bite if one makes a wrong move. Having used many microphones of all kinds in both public speaking situations as well as concert venues (I used to play in rock and heavy metal groups as well as praise-and-worship bands), I have learned that microphones are painfully unpredictable. We have all been in situations where they don’t function well, for whatever reason, and the result is poor sound quality (at best) or feedback (at worst). The microphone is also a crutch, since the electronics of the microphone are designed to do the work the bodies of preachers of prior ages used to do.

Microphones are therefore enervating, as the microphone affects the very nature of the homily by affecting delivery in removing much of the preacher’s body from the arduous physical task of public speaking. Good preaching generally involves a tone of authoritative proclamation, but the use of microphones encourages a quieter, conversational tone from the pulpit. Thus the proclamation of both law and gospel loses its force as preaching becomes something either casual or intellectual. The preacher transmits either banalities or mere information, and the congregation misses a potential transformative encounter with the Word of God.

Technologies have unintended, undesired, and often ironic effects. One such ironic effect of microphones in preaching is the increased distance between preacher and congregation. We do not hear our preachers directly from their lips, but at another remove, from the speakers. To me, this seems to cut against the grain of good preaching, which ought to be both interpersonal (ideally, we have a good relationship of trust with our preacher) and incarnational (as the word of the homily rooted in the word of Scripture proclaims and makes present the Word of God, Jesus Christ). In evading the role of the body, the microphone subtly supports a soft sort of Gnosticism, like most modern technologies.

Read it all.

This raises some interesting issues.  But I think a lot depends on environment: acoustics, setting, size of the space.  More often than not, I’ve found the use of amplification a blessing, enabling me to better modulate my voice, tone, volume, and pacing.  And let’s face it: some passages of scripture, and phrases of a homily, are better when they are whispered.  A mic facilitates that, especially in a large church.

Electronic amplification is a reasonable and helpful tool.  We might as well use it.


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