Maintaining the Preaching Voice

Emilie Bouvier, "Fertile Soil." (Split Rock Lighthouse State Park; Two Harbors, MN)Image © Luther Seminary Fine Arts Collection, St. Paul, Minn.

In 1875, Charles Spurgeon wrote, “If you have any idiosyncrasies of speech, which are disagreeable to the ear, correct them.”1  Spurgeon’s exhortation is sage wisdom for today’s preacher.

As preachers, we carry at all times the one instrument that helps us effectively live out our clarion call: our voices.

In reflection, the voice as an instrument can do incredibly mind-boggling things. It can produce high and low pitches with electrifying, symphonic rifts. Its volume’s loudness and softness has the capacity to sound like thundering, bellowing roars, whispering the secrets of a sweet summer breeze. Its rate can increase, decrease, or even pause at a nanoseconds’ notice, without apology. The voice’s tonality has the capacity to interrupt a saint’s peace with its nasality, while granting sinners rest by the cadence of its soothing drone. Conjointly, this same voice has the awesome and winsome privilege of proclaiming the gospel message of Jesus Christ. Yes, the preaching voice is indeed an amazing gift from God! Unfortunately, it is not always cared for in the same manner in which God has entrusted it to us.

Because the voice is biological, it requires more maintenance than any other natural or manufactured instrument. Therefore, in order for the preaching voice to operate at its peak performance, one must develop what is known as good vocal hygiene.

Good vocal hygiene is caring for the voice in such a way that it will operate at its optimal level or peak performance.2  Spurgeon’s exhortation challenging preachers to correct any “idiosyncrasies of speech” includes voice, speech, and articulation. For this writing, attention will only be given to vocal care. To make things memorable, let us discuss some do’s, and don’ts, in maintaining the preaching voice.

The “Dos” of Maintaining the Preaching Voice

1. Make it a priority and daily commitment to care for your voice.

2. Practice good breathing techniques. Speaking without appropriate breath support can strain the vocal cords. Diaphragmatic breathing is the recommended solution. Diaphragmatic breathing requires practice. If you do not know how to do it or need extra motivation, there are demonstrations on or consider getting the assistance of a choir director or musician.

3. Rest, Rest, rest. This is the trilogy and mantra of good vocal hygiene.

     •Rest your body: Get enough sleep. It is commonly suggested that one should sleep a minimum of eight hours per night. However, body types and body needs vary, so individuals should rest according to their own personal need. Sleep studies suggest that the best and most healing sleep occurs before 2AM.3  Consequently, when it comes to good vocal hygiene, when one stays up too late, more than the midnight oil is being burned.

     •Rest your voice: vocal usage should be regulated and monitored. By the very nature of the profession, preachers are required to talk. However, talking too much, too loudly, or when one’s throat is already irritated, can cause vocal fatigue and irreparable damage. Just as one takes coffee breaks, lunch breaks or power naps…one should consider taking talking breaks. Specify a time each day to turn off the telephone, etc. and just rest the voice.

     •Rest your stress: The voice is a biological part of the body and is impacted by one’s physical, mental, and emotional state. Although stress is a natural part of life, too much stress on the body can lead to damaging vocal distress. To de-stress your stress, prayer and meditation are proven weapons in the fight.

4. Hydrate…drink more water and less caffeinated or alcoholic beverages. Herbal tea with honey is good for soothing an irritated throat. Limit your lemon and citrus intake, the acid actually irritates and dries out the vocal cords.

5. Periodically, listen to your sermons and access your vocal delivery. How does your voice sound? Are there any distracting idiosyncrasies? Are you doing anything to cause phonotrauma or vocal abuse.

The “Don’ts” of maintaining the preaching voice

1. Do not clear your throat excessively. When you clear your throat, your vocal cords squeeze together and air is pushed through which can cause irritation and even damage. To clear a clogged throat, it is recommended that one should try swallowing, humming, taking a deep breath, yawning, or taking a drink of tepid water.

2. Do not cradle the phone between the head and shoulders, wear heavy backpacks, or carry heavy shoulder bags. These can cause muscle tension in the neck…, which can ultimately affect the voice.

3. Do not smoke or inhale environmental toxins of any kind. These can cause irritation to the vocal cords and can lead to chronic laryngitis, vocal cord polyps, or even cancer of the tongue, mouth, and larynx.

4. Do not yell, scream, or even cheer loudly. These actions can lead to vocal abuse. Try using non-verbal cues such as whistling, clapping, and other physical gestures.

5. Do not take your voice for granted, it is the only one you will ever have.
If you have any severe or recurring vocal problems, do not hesitate to see a doctor.

These are a few suggestions for maintaining the preaching voice. As you begin your new vocal maintenance plan, you may not see immediate results, but a few well planned changes can and will eventually make your “idiosyncrasies of speech” agreeable to the ear…

Final Thought: If your voice were your calling card, what would it tell others about you?

1Spurgeon, Charles. Sword and Trowel, “Hints on the Voice for Young Preachers”. July 1875.

2The Voice and Swallowing Institute, “Voice Conservation and Vocal Hygiene: Tips for a Healthy Voice.”

3Tan, Eunice, “Five Reasons Why You Must Go to Sleep Early”. Aug. 31, 2008