In my first year at theological college, aged 33, I discovered I was dyslexic. I guess I had known it since my mid twenties when my then fiancée’s house mate, a special needs teacher in Cambridge, told me she thought I was dyslexic.
As an engineer, with a good degree from a Scottish University, I had used all the strengths of dyslexia (3D thinking, visualisation of buildings in my mind’s eye; sales and marketing of a structural engineering system which relied on being able to combine the economics of construction with technical stuff). I had project managed a couple of small contracts in Singapore and really enjoyed it, pulling together teams from different disciplines to get the job done. I had not needed to know that I might be dyslexic.
What I discovered toward the end of my time in construction was that I could not write a legal letter for toffee. A couple of our bigger contracts had gone legal and I was given the job of wrangling with the main contractor. I’d take letters into my director’s office, knowing that I was unsure about what I had written, asking for help to review them, to be shown that I had no grasp of logical, legal, written argument. I knew what the problem was technical and contractual but I could not explain it on paper.
In my opening week at theological college I was told that essay writing is like a legal letter. The aim of an essay is to argue a point. I knew I’d struggle. Another struggle was reading the bible in public which took 110% effort to lift the words off the page, mentally process them and then speak them with the right tone and emphasis.
Being a dyslexic minister of the word of God presents me with some struggles but some strengths. Dyslexia is the condition where the brain processes information conceptually and pictorially rather than verbally. As a dyslexic, I have no internal dialogue.
So, the struggles are mostly word based. I struggled in biblical Greek, taking it to third year at college I was convinced of its importance and still use Greek today, but it is not easy. I really struggle to preach biblical narrative, for reasons I can’t quite figure out. Where a passage is logical, then I can preach, because the work I find so hard, making a step-by-step logical argument, is done for me. I struggle with my diary and chronological thought, often leaving things too late to organise them properly or double booking without realising it until the moment is upon me.
The benefits of being dyslexic are based on the dyslexic person thinking in concepts and pictures rather than words. I see things and then describe them. And so, structural organisational thinking, forward strategic thinking, having a sense of where things are and addressing needs appropriately, all these things come easily. When it comes to the bible I see patterns and connections in scripture. I find easy to see links between the situation on the ground in the Epistles, the flow of the arguments or theology of the letter and it’s application to the present.
Although it is tempting, because of time, to drop word based ministry, I am determined to stick with expository preaching and so when I prepare a sermon my preparation goes like this:
- read the context of the passage
- do my exegesis (translating Greek when NT) using text flow diagrams and lots of colour
- find the theme and aim sentences
- develop a sermon structure
- mind map it and write my talk in mind map software
- convert the mind map into a full text
- use my text to speech software to read my sermon to me
- edit it
- produce the final version with lots of colour on each page (blue, red and black work for me)
On weeks where time is squeezed I jump from stage 5 to 9. I did that last Sunday only to find I could probably have removed 25% of my material which was repetitious. The problem is, I can’t hear the repetition, even when I am speaking live.
I hang the ministry God has given me on the peg of 2 Corinthians 2:17.
For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.
I speak God’s word with sincerity and give the best I have each week. I pray that God will take his word and write in on the hearts of those who hear, not because I am eloquent but because his word and Spirit are at work when God’s word is preached.
1 Corinthians 1:17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.