On one of my rare weekends away from Chapel Oaks, I got to visit a distant church with some extended family members. We gathered from California, London, Kansas, and Michigan to celebrate my grandma’s 80th birthday. Some of these family members only attend church services when they are visiting family members who go to church habitually. You may have such family members. If so, you can likely imagine my desire for their church experience to be a positive one, one that would lead them to want more.
Unfortunately, I found myself frustrated with the sermon and I eventually checked out and did some reading on my iPhone. On the way back to the house for lunch, the sermon was the main topic of conversation. The key text and topic of the sermon had so much promise in it. But the delivery was lacking in factual information, helpfulness, hope, motivational power, thoughtfulness, and kindness. It repelled the “outsiders.”
Don’t think for a minute that the pastor didn’t have vibrancy or ability. He has talent and I actually have a lot of appreciation for this man that is so well-loved by my family members as he has seen them through some difficult times over his decades of service. It’s not that there was not truth in the message either. What seemed to be missing was Spirit-led intentionality in communication.
Deanne and I weren’t the only ones troubled and talking about the sermon afterward. I found out that all of the visitors from my family to the church that day were thinking about it and talking about it. As the pastor in the family, some turned to me for my take on it. In summary, I said, “it wasn’t helpful.”
If the gospel is truly good news on the level of, “our country won the war and we’re not going to be slaves after all!,” as an example of how that word was used back in the day, it should be helpful and hopeful. Truth does have elements that repulse our sinful nature. Yet, as bearers of the glad tidings that our God is victorious through love, it seems that we should make our best effort to frame all truth in a way that reflects the same liberating beauty that draws all of us otherwise hopeless sinners to Jesus in profound gratitude.
This critique and advice is not just meant for a pastor’s homiletics class for effective speaking, it is for all of us. We all talk to people in and outside of the church. When we do, as Christians, we represent the name of Christ. I am reminded of an acronym of questions to ask ourselves when we consider opening our mouths to share a thought. I have added some Bible verses that support each point:
T - Is it true? Your thought could be God’s truth from Scripture or an opinion or feeling. Be clear about what it is. “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” - John 17:17
H - Is it helpful? If so, who or what is it helpful for? “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” - Ephesians 4:29
I - Is it inspiring? Is there hope in your words? “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11
N - Is it necessary or is it better unsaid? “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” - Proverbs 17:28
K - Is it kind? This last one relates to your motive for speaking. “Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.” - Proverbs 12:25
Proverbs 18:21 says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” James 3:8 says, “But no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” Clearly, this is a big issue in our world, in our churches, and for each of us. I acknowledge that I too have said things that have hurt others and pushed them away. I’ve said things I regret both from the pulpit and in conversation.
May God forgive me and each of us for flippant, wasted, and harmful words. May the Holy Spirit lead us to consecrate our words to Him daily as we listen at His feet for good news and let Him draw others to Him through us by truthful, helpful, inspiring, necessary, and kind words, words that will cause whoever we are talking to want more, more of Him who is our truth, our help, our inspiration, the only one necessary and whose great kindness has led us to repentance. Of Jesus it was said by even His enemies, “no one ever spoke the way this man does.” - John 7:46. May we speak and live and love like Him by always thinking of Him first.