Have you ever been sitting in church listening to a sermon and had the urge to raise your hand and ask questions? That happened to me yesterday. Our pastor's sermon was titled 'Fear of Public Speaking' and I began to wonder if he was speaking to our congregation or to us at Sew Powerful. Using the Apostle Peter as an example, Pastor Mark Plunkett listed situation after situation where Peter found himself in very uncomfortable circumstances, yet he spoke up. So, I asked Pastor if he would share his 'Fear of Public Speaking' thoughts with us today so that when we find ourselves wanting to explain Sew Powerful, we can be comforted by the Apostle Peter and his public speaking evolution.
Fear of Public Speaking with Rev Mark Plunkett
IN THIS EPISODE
Public speaking, phobias, holy spirit, stand-up comedy, Jerry Seinfeld, Heritage Presbyterian Church, elementary school teacher, using Zoom to conduct church services
We are Sew Powerful, How a Global Community of Seamstresses Is Changing Zambia One Girl at A Time, 2nd edition. By Jason G. Miles and Cinnamon, © 2016 & 2020 Jason G. Miles and Cinnamon, all rights reserved.
Heritage Presbyterian Church, https://heritagepresbyterian.org
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The Sew Powerful Podcast shines a light on the people behind the mission to keep girls in school and create purposeful products in Zambia. Join us every week for a new 30-minute episode to meet new people, hear inspiring stories, and learn how you can join us in this global movement. Whether you sew or not, make purses or not, you will find something to enjoy in every episode. Listen today.
Host: Jan Cancila
Guest: Reverend Mark Plunkett
Jan Cancila, Host 00:04
Welcome to the Sew Powerful podcast. This is your host, Jan Cancila. You know the sound of my sewing machine means it's time for another episode. So let's get started.
Welcome. Have you ever been sitting in church and your your pastor or minister is giving a really interesting sermon? And you're sitting there thinking, Wait, wait a minute, I have a question. Wait, wait, how does that apply to me? Could you repeat that? So that happened to me yesterday. I was in Zoom church listening to Pastor Mark Plunkett, and his topic was the fear of public speaking. And there was so much meat in there. And I kept thinking, wait, is he talking to our congregation? Or is he talking to our Sew Powerful audience? And guess what? Today he's speaking to our Sew Powerful audience. You're going to get to hear the sermon, but we're going to break it down, and I get to ask questions in the middle. This is a dream come true. I'd like to introduce you to Reverend Mark Plunkett. How are you?
Mark Plunkett , Guest 01:13
Good morning, Jan, thank you so much. I appreciate what you said. I hope others had that same kind of feeling during sermons.
Well, I have to tell you, my husband says he's closing his eyes so that he can concentrate better. But I sometimes have to give him a little elbow nudge so he can concentrate with his eyes open.
He's not the only one, not to worry.
I assure you, my eyes are open. Before we get to your sermon and your topic, let's help our listeners understand a little bit of your background. Where are you from originally?
I was born in Austin, Texas. I lived in Texas, all but three years of high school in Tennessee and 20 months of Seminary in New Jersey. So, I am a born and bred Texan.
You are a Texan all right. Well, that's wonderful to know. And we have an international audience, so that will be of interest. You didn't start out in the ministry. Tell us a little bit about your career history.
Well, I went into teaching. I wasn't planning on going into teaching, it was something that I wasn't real clear what I wanted to major in when I was a freshman. And there was a woman I worked with who was doing student teaching at the time. And every day, I just loved hearing about what was going on. And so, one day, she said to me, if you're that interested in education, why don't you go talk to him? She gave me a name, and so I did. And I got really interested in it. And then afterwards, I thought to myself, oh, yeah, I've got lots of teachers in my family. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. So, I went into elementary education. I taught for 29 years. And I loved teaching. I love the kids. I love the students. Sure, there were tough days, but I absolutely loved it. But around 2001, I had been active in my church, I'd been filling in to preach when our pastor was out of town. So, I was just helping out. But I had so much fun with it. I had a brand-new minister that I was friends with that said to me, why don't you check this out? And so, I did. And I started taking night classes. And then soon as I retired, I went to seminary, and really enjoyed that and came back to Texas and almost immediately got the job at at Heritage. And so, I've been there since the summer of 2011.
And I didn't mention our church's name. So, let's share that with our audience.
Yeah, I'm the pastor of Heritage Presbyterian Church. It's in northwest Houston in a suburb called Cypress. And we've been in a 55 plus community center since January of 2013. And so, because it's a 55 plus community center, we get a lot of older adults, but we still managed to attract some families. And so, we've been working very hard on that.
So how has COVID affected attendance and the way that the church operates?
Well, the main thing that it did was it interrupted our momentum. I would say that at the start of 2020, we had some really, really, really good plans for the short term, and even long-term future of our church. We worked with a church consultant, and I was very excited about some plans that were gonna kind of bring attention to us, hopefully grow attendance a little bit. I mean, things were really starting to gel. And then all of a sudden COVID hit in the middle of March 2020. And, boy, I'll tell you, we just plain stopped. Everything just stopped. We were fortunate in that the woman we hired to run our office had a background in media. I just simply would record just the sermon and Scripture during the worship services, hand it to her, and she would upload it to the web, you know. Well, then we had to get very creative about how we did things.
Well hold on a minute. So, if somebody wants to hear any of your past sermons, give a little plug, where can they find it?
Okay. Our website is heritagepresbyterian.org, and they can go back more than a year to hear basically everything that we've been doing. But we were only doing pre-recorded Scriptures, and then she would magically somehow upload it. I actually had some old skills from when I was a teacher. So, I taught myself again how to do it, started editing my own stuff, and then, you and your husband, Chris, said, why don't we try Zoom church. And I hadn't even heard of that. But all of a sudden, when I checked the web, a lot of people were doing it. So, we started doing that the first few times. You know, everybody's supposed to mute their microphone. I didn't know that, you know, we were trying to sing, trying to pray...
That that was pretty interesting.
That was a train wreck. I was so proud of the people that came back the second week. I wouldn't have done that, you know. We got a lot better at it.
And there have been some glitches, even in yesterday's service. What happened?
Well, when we were doing Zoom only, it was just a matter of signal strength. Then I started adding things. I started adding a weekly devotional that took, you know, three or four minutes, started adding a two-minute Bible lesson that's on Instagram that my daughter suggested. I have a little trouble sticking to two minutes between you and me. But that's good discipline for me to try to get it down, you know. But along the way, we've tried three different computers, to try to make everything work the way it's supposed to, you know, try to not only have the Zoom people there, but we have about 20 that join us in person, and between 20 and 30 that join us via Zoom. And so, what every teacher knows as a hybrid experience is what we're doing. And while I'm trying to attend to the computer, I’m trying to attend to the camera. I'm trying to attend to people there. It got very stressful. And then my computer froze, almost at the end of the service. That was fun, you know.
And let me tell it from our perspective, because I was on the same call. So you froze and if you do a lot of Zoom, you know that people freeze, but then that normally resolves itself. Well, that didn't happen. And so, 20 of us were all just sort of looking at each other. And so, I unmute and say, well, we're doing prayer requests. We can pray, let's keep going. And so, we needed you, but we limped along without you. And then all of a sudden, we were back. So, it was sort of interesting. I was thinking people were going to drop off. And I was like, no, don't drop off.
No, nobody did. Yeah, I had time to restart the computer and get it back out. Nancy, our choir director, was leading a hymn. I was about to tell her sing one more verse. And all of a sudden, it worked. It all just came back on. And that is not the first time that that's happened.
It's the first time that it's happened with this particular computer. But it's happened handful of times since October, since we've been doing a hybrid service live and also via Zoom. So, it's been working. But the other thing we did was we hired a young lady in our choir, who is just in charge of all this. She just sits down and the first time she ever did it, she did not know the software. But by the end of the first worship service, she was already making suggestions. You know, Pastor, why don't we do this? And why don't we just....? She wasn't there yesterday, of course. So that may have had something to do with why everything happened the way it did.
Okay, well, right. So, this is our background. We're going to take a quick break here. And we're going to spend the rest of our time now talking about the sermon, and your topic was the fear of public speaking. So, stay tuned, and we'll be back in one minute and we're going to talk about public speaking.
Have you gotten the second edition of the We Are Sew Powerful book? This updated version of the original bestseller, 4.9 out of five stars by the way, is again authored by Sew Powerful co-founders, Jason and Cinnamon Miles. It is available on Amazon in paperback or for your Kindle reader. This latest edition is packed full of moving stories about how Sew Powerful came to be, the volunteers who make it happen, and the way this small movement has grown into a global mission to break the cycle of poverty, through education and the dignity of work. And don't forget when you place your order if you use smile.amazon.com and designate Sew Powerful as your preferred charity, Amazon will donate a portion of your purchase right back to Sew Powerful. And now back to our podcast.
Welcome back. We have been speaking with my pastor, the Reverend Mark Plunkett. Pastor Mark has been sharing his background and telling us how Heritage Presbyterian Church addressed the challenges that we were all facing with COVID, and yesterday in his sermon, Pastor Mark talked about the fear of public speaking. And as I'm listening to this sermon, I'm thinking is he talking to the congregation or is he talking to Sew Powerful? And so yesterday he spoke to the congregation, but today, we're speaking to Sew Powerful. So, Pastor Mark, why did you choose this topic, the fear of public speaking?
Well, I've always been intrigued by the change in the Apostle Peter. If you look at any of the Gospels, Peter is not well spoken. He doesn't even seem to be kind of in charge of his own thoughts. He comes across as rash, as bumbling sometimes, I know that sounds bad to accuse an apostle of the Lord of sounding like that, but he really did. The phrase I used yesterday in my sermon was, it was as if he couldn't get out of his own way sometimes. You know, and then of course, he becomes the only apostle who denies Jesus. The point that I made was Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus. He never denied that he knew him. In fact, he said, I know him, I can get him for you was when he was talking to the Sanhedrin. But Peter denied him; he was the only apostle that did, and it haunted him for the rest of his life. And yet, when the Holy Spirit came over Peter, he just changed. He changed into the most amazing speaker, the most amazing man and the first leader of the church when the church was barely even forming, and the quality of the speech. And the way that he talked and the boldness, the absolute boldness was just astounding to me. It's always been interesting. So that's why I picked that to go with that particular Scripture reading.
Okay. And, you know, you started off the sermon talking about different phobias.
And so share that with our audience because it really made me stop and think and especially the elevator one really hit home for me.
The definition of phobia is an irrational fear. And so, everybody's got one. Everybody's got something that makes them uneasy, that makes them afraid. Some people are literally terrified by whatever their phobia happens to be. And so, the fear of public speaking is the number one phobia that people have.
And you quoted Jerry Seinfeld. I mean, when you can go to church and hear about Jerry Seinfeld, that's a bonus.
One of my favorite bits that Jerry Seinfeld did, he said, the number one fear is public speaking. The number two phobia is death, the fear of dying, he said, so at a funeral that means most people would rather be the guy in the coffin than the guy giving the eulogy. And that always cracks me up. But it's not exactly true. But boy, it's close. I have seen some people in our church, they get up, do the most amazing things. And some of them are shaking like a leaf. And yet I watch them, and I just watch everybody's reaction. And I'm just astounded by what I see, you know. But I've got my own phobias, but they don't involve public speaking, that's for sure.
Well, and you know, you might not be comfortable doing it. But I mean, you pointed out in the sermon, that, especially when you're up in front of the congregation, you're speaking to a friendly audience.
Just like anybody I might invite to be on the Sew Powerful podcast would be speaking to their contemporaries and people who have a passion for Sew Powerful. So, when you know your audience, does that help if you're a public speaker?
Yes, it does. I don't know if you want to hear this, but when I was in college, I actually did some stand-up comedy. And I know, I know, an unfriendly audience. I know the worst that can happen. If you have the fear of public speaking, I have had it happen to me. I have been booed off of a stage, you know. So, I mean, they didn't throw fruit, and they didn't leave in groups, but I got everything else that could possibly happen. You know, jeering, clapping when I left, you know, it was just terrible, absolutely terrible.
And yet you did it more than once?
Oh, yeah. Well, you can't just stop. I made sure that I knew my audience. I'm not going to describe that audience, but let's just say, I thought they would be a lot funnier and laugh a lot easier. I didn't think they get mean. And that was on me, that was on me. It was a time in place. And I thought, oh, this is this is gonna work great. No, no, no, no terrible. So, in a church, and even in some other places, knowing the audience really did make it better. But then I've also preached in places where I didn't know a single person in the room. I just kind of took for granted, okay, I've been invited to be here, I'm here, let's have this experience. Let's read from Scripture. Let me interpret some things for you. But let me talk to you about what I think and let me challenge you to think.
Because it's so well known that people are not comfortable doing public speaking, I feel as an audience member, I have an obligation. I feel like, especially if it's somebody I know, and I'm a part of a group, I feel like showing that I'm engaged with the speaker is an obligation I have as a member of the audience. And I've been in a public speaking situation where people are looking at their phones, they're whispering to each other. And I'm thinking, man, I've got to step this up or my topic is off or my delivery is off. And it gets you totally rattled as a speaker, and the rest of the speech just goes downhill. So it might not have been anything I was doing. You know, their boss was saying, like my boss was saying today, give me some numbers, or whatever. But as an audience member, I try and maintain eye contact with the speaker, just like a speaker would try and maintain eye contact with the audience. And especially if somebody looks nervous, I try and smile and nod with them.
Now, I don't want to be insincere about doing that. But I do want to show them that I appreciate the effort that they've gone to, to prepare to talk to us.
I tell you what, any public speaker, no matter the setting, really lives and dies for people like that. I mean, you get somebody that's really tuned in to what you're saying or what you're doing, and that is, that is gold, that is absolute gold, when it happens to the majority of people in the room. You're not ever going to get 100%. But that was also part of the training that I had as a teacher. There was one set of training, a long time ago, that was "most of the minds, most of the time" was the saying that went along with it. I remember thinking, I can't do most, I’ve got to try to do all. I knew I couldn't do it, but if I tried to do it, then I was doing a little bit more than what I needed to.
Okay, now you can see, audience, why pastors, don't let people in the congregation interrupt them with comments, because now we're totally off track from the sermon here. But...
If they raise their hand, no, no, no, we're not gonna we're not going to call on you.
Yeah. So why don't we start out because the Scripture reading that you used was from Acts, and it was Acts 4:5-12. But there's a little background that happens before we get into the exact Scripture. So, share that with us, please.
Yeah, Peter and John, this is right after Pentecost, maybe a few weeks, but not very long after Pentecost. So they were in the temple, and there was a sick man there, and they healed this man. And when they did, the crowd was really fired up about it. And Peter talked to the crowd, addressed the crowd again with that bold way that he did, filled with the Spirit. And then they got arrested. They got arrested and taken before the Sanhedrin, which was the Council of Elders in Jerusalem at the time. And this should have been a setting where most normal people, no matter who you were, should have been intimidated and scared to death. These people could take you outside and stone you to death and nobody would lift a finger against them. They had their own guards. The guard, the temple guards were not just ceremonial, they had they had weapons. And so, Peter and John should have been afraid for their lives. And yet, they were not just speaking boldly or loudly. They were defending what they did. And they were even accusing, because this was the same group of people that had accused and condemned Jesus and arranged for him to be executed by Pilate. So, this is the very definition of a tough audience. If there was ever anybody that should have been afraid of speaking at that moment, it should have been Peter and John.
So now let's get to the Scripture here. Could you read it, please?
Sure. So, they have already been arrested, they're already there. "The next day, their rulers, elders and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, and it's the high priest, Caiaphas, John and Alexander, and all who were of the high priestly family were there. When they had made the Enquirer stand in their midst, they inquired, by what power, or by what name, did you do this? Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit," (that's the most important line), "filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, "Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick, and are asked how this man had been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel this man is standing before you in good health, by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders. It has become the cornerstone. There is salvation in no one else, but there is no other name under heaven, given among mortals, by which we must be saved."
So in your sermon, you talk about a little list here of the different ways that Peter had to speak in public, even though his background was not one of leadership or even a respected member of his community. He was just an average Joe, right?
Yeah, exactly. Right.
Okay, so what happened when Peter was first called by Jesus, and he fell on his knees, what happened there?
Well, they had been fishing. And Jesus was standing just off the shore and watching them. And they were coming in and Jesus said, why don't you toss your net over on that side. That's not good fishing area just off the shore. And they kind of threw the net in, just to all right who's this guy? And they caught such a huge catch of fish, everybody in the boat recognized this was something miraculous. This was not a lucky catch. This was not some guy who just saw the fish in the water and realized, hey, if you toss it right there, you're gonna catch some. This was something from God. So when Peter realized it, he jumped out of the boat, splashed through the water, ran up to Jesus, fell on his knees and said, Get away from me, I'm a sinful man. And yet, Jesus said, No, I need you. I need you. You're going to be the one I build my Church upon. And as I said, that wasn't exactly public speaking for Peter.
What about the Transfiguration? What happened there? And how did that involve Peter?
Well, again, in that scene, the person who really, really spoke, who had the most lines was Peter. Yet Peter was babbling. Jesus went up on this mountain. He took Peter, James and John with him, the three that he probably trusted the most. And then Jesus appears in this brilliant white apparel of some kind. And he's pictured with Moses and Elijah. Moses representing the law and Elijah representing the prophets. And Jesus is standing with them. The image there is, he was on the same level as them. And Peter, James and John were just practically freaking out. And in his excitement, Peter starts babbling. Let's build shelters here. This is so great that you're here. Well, we'll build shelters, and we'll stay here for all time. And then this voice comes out of the heavens, you know, this is my Son, my beloved, listen to him. And Peter, James, and John, face down on the ground at this point, because they knew to look upon the Lord, face to face, was to die. And I think they were afraid that was gonna happen. And then, of course, they look up and it's only Jesus, and he's back in his own stuff. But notice who was talking, it was Peter. But again, not exactly public speaking, just babbling more than anything else, which, who knows what James and John might have said. It wasn't the Holy Spirit either. That was just plain Peter, at that particular moment.
And then what happened when Jesus washed the feet of the apostles?
I've always kind of understood how the apostles felt, because I've tried to do this a couple of times, in the years I've been in ministry. Well, Jesus washed feet. And this is a good idea. No, it's really not. You want to wash people's feet; they tend to kind of freak out about it. So, I can just imagine, Jesus, whom they loved and worshipped and adored and admired, and he's got a towel wrapped around his waist, and he's getting down on the floor, and he's washing their feet. And apparently, nobody said anything, probably because they could barely talk. And then he gets to Peter. And once again, Peter kind of blurts it out, but well, wash my head, too. He couldn't think of anything to say; there was no Holy Spirit going on in Peter at that moment either, he was so uncomfortable, that he had to say something. But this is the pureness of Peter, if you asked me, what he said was to try to get rid of that discomfort that he felt, that anybody would feel if they're washing your feet, you know, don't wash my feet. That's gross.
Now, you alluded to this earlier, but on the day of Pentecost, a change came over Peter, what happened?
Oh, yeah. This is a favorite reading of every Christian I've ever known. They're locked in the upper room for fear. They know their time could come, which means this wasn't too long after the Resurrection, either. They were still locking the doors, and before Jesus had appeared to them, but this time they heard this rush of wind. And the Holy Spirit came through this house. And I love the imagery of wind, because in Hebrew, the word "ruach" means spirit, or breath, or wind. It has three or four different meanings. Ruach came upon them. And they all run out in the street, and they're all speaking in all these languages. And everybody that was there for the celebration heard the praises to God in their own language. So, they had these multiple witnesses, and you get the line, that they're filled with new wine. And that was what made Peter start talking. We're not full of new wine. It's only nine o'clock in the morning, which is also a funny thing for them to say. And then Peter gives the speech of his life. Except now, it's Peter filled with the Holy Spirit. It's not bumbling Peter. It's not uncomfortable, Peter. It's not betraying Jesus, Peter. It's Peter filled with the Holy Spirit, just like he was when he appeared in front of the Sanhedrin. You know, the power of the Holy Spirit came over him, and Peter became more than he had been before.
So, Pastor, thinking about Peter and his evolution in public speaking, what advice would you give to anyone, and specifically, maybe some Sew Powerful volunteers who might be reluctant to speak up? I will give a plug that we started a little course called Speak Up for Sew Powerful, which I'm in the process of editing and making available and gives a little formula for talking about Sew Powerful, but what would you say to people who might be reluctant? I guess they think they're not going to be eloquent or that their message would not be received? I'm not really sure what the reservation might be. But what advice would you give?
The word that I would use for them to hold on to is the word that I've heard you say a couple of times already, editing. Alright, with all the stuff that could go on in podcasts, editing can take the um, you know, and take that stuff out of a conversation, so that you literally sound better than you normally would. The other thing that I would encourage them to remember is like right now, Jan, I only see you and me talking. Now I know that others are going to be hearing this later on. But that's not what I'm thinking about. Right this second, I'm thinking about you and me. So, I would advise anybody that has any kind of reservations to remember, this is a conversation between two people. And all of us talk to somebody. All of us talk to our friends. We talk on the phone, and who do we talk to? Mostly we talk with people that we're comfortable with. So, if this is a situation, and you're picturing, oh, gosh, you know how many people? Forget about that part. Forget about that part. Just have a conversation with one or two people, and then take it from there. And maybe that conversation is going to be something that somebody else with the same reservations is going to hear and go, well, I could do that. I can talk with a couple of people. Yeah, I could do that, too. And the editing with the software, oh the software's so good now, with all the things that they can do. You can really make what is probably a good conversation even better.
And poor Peter, he didn't have the benefit of editing software.
Peter didn't have any. No, he sure didn't. I think maybe when the Holy Spirit came along, that was his editor. I think instead of cutting down on his speech, though, I think Peter's speech was freed. I think it was driven. I also think it was directed. The Holy Spirit did not speak. Peter spoke. But Peter spoke with the Holy Spirit, you know, helping him, encouraging him, filling his mind with right, say this, say this, say this, say this, and we don't get Peter yelling at anybody, we get Peter piercing them with the truth. That's why Peter is one of my heroes. It's like if Peter can do it, anybody can, you know, he had every reason not to get it right. And yet he did.
Well, on that note, if Peter can do it, anybody can.
Anybody can. That's right.
We're going to call it a day. So, thank you so much for your time. And thank you for letting me pick apart your sermon and ask questions as we went along. So that was really fun. Thank you.
It was my pleasure. Thank you, Jan, I've enjoyed this very much.
Thank you. We'll talk to you soon. Bye, bye.
Bye, bye. Take care, Jan.
If what you've heard today inspires you to want to make a difference, I urge you to explore the Sew Powerful website at www.sewpowerful.org. That's SEW POWERFUL dot ORG. The website has great information about the organization. It's where you can download the free purse patterns or even make a donation. We hope you will join us again next week when we bring you another Sew Powerful story. Thanks for listening. Now, go out and have a Sew Powerful day.
ABOUT THE HOST
Jan Cancila has been making purses for Sew Powerful since 2014. She serves the organization as Director, Global Volunteerism, the Area Manager for Shows and Events-Mid/South USA and as the Houston Regional Coordinator. She was a public speaking major at Hanover College and holds an MBA from Our Lady of the Lake University. Jan had a 25-year career with The Coca-Cola Company before owning and operating a linen and party rental business in Houston. She is married with two grown sons, a lovely daughter-in-law and two remarkable granddaughters. Jan’s published work includes more than 100 online articles for Examiner.com. Reach Jan with comments or suggestions at email@example.com.