Tag Archives: Speaking

Cooperation, not Competition

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task.
1 Corinthians 3:5 (NIV)

Our local gathering of Jesus followers has two venues for worship, and each Sunday there are worship services that run in both rooms at the same time. For the past few years I have had the honor of working with a team of individuals who are developing their gifts and skills in teaching. Every season there is a rotating team of people who take turns teaching on Sundays and then meeting mid-week to discuss their experience and improve their skills. It’s a diverse group of both men and women of different ages, educational backgrounds, and vocational experiences. It’s been a fascinating experience for me to lead and participate. I’ve learned a lot.

One of the things I’ve tried to impress on our team of teachers is the reality that each week I get up to teach there will be those who are excited to see me up there, and those who who are not. As we represent a diverse cross-section of humanity, we each will appeal to different individuals within our gathering. Those who are gifted teachers and develop those gifts will naturally develop broader appeal, but no teacher enjoys universal appeal (not even Jesus). It just is what it is. I think that’s why Jesus’ followers are called a “body” and the spiritual gift of teaching is given to a diverse number of individuals across all parts of the body.

As I’ve been studying the early history of the Jesus Movement, I am repeatedly struck at how quickly the story shifts from the original twelve apostles to a host of other characters. In many cases, these almost anonymous individuals, such as Ananias (Acts 9:10-19), pop onto the scene like a bit player with a walk-on role, then make their exit never to be heard from again. Others characters are only referenced or mentioned, but nonetheless they played a large off-stage role. Apollos was one of these.

Apollos was from the city of Alexandria in Egypt, a city of great influence in the ancient world. Apollos was from the upper crust of society in those days. He was highly educated and trained in oratory, the art of speech and debate, which was arguably the most esteemed skill at that time of history. We don’t know how Apollos became a believer, but he arrives on the scene using his speaking and debate skills arguing that Jesus was the Messiah. He was such a powerful teacher and speaker, in fact, that he naturally developed broad appeal within the Jesus Movement, especially with many of the believers of Corinth. Division sprouted among the Corinthians believers as some in the local gathering there began to treat it as if it was a “The Voice” type of competition. Some were on “Team Paul” and other were on “Team Apollos.”

Paul immediately shuts down these notions of competition between the two. It’s not a competition, Paul argues, but a cooperation. Both Paul and Apollos had a role to play in the Corinthian believers faith and spiritual growth. Each brought his own unique personality, style, background, experience, and appeal. Every believer in Corinth had something to learn from both Paul and Apollos. This wasn’t “either, or” it was “both, and.”

In the quiet this morning I’m thinking of the diverse team of individuals with whom I partner to teach among my local gathering of believers. It’s been a blast for me to watch each of them develop their own voice, speak from their own unique experiences, and watch our gathering grow and learn from such a broad range of voices. It’s a weekly and constant reminder that “the church” was never to be a monument to a particular, persuasive teacher or leader. Every local gathering has both a Paul and an Apollos (and an Ananias, and a Priscilla, and an Aquila, and a Chloe and….).

It’s not competition. It’s cooperation. Or else, we’re doing it wrong.

The Crazy Man in the Ox Yoke

This is what the Lord said to me: “Make a yoke out of straps and crossbars and put it on your neck.”
Jeremiah 27:2 (NIV)

The language of God is metaphor. Remember metaphor from middle school English class? A metaphor is something which represents something else without using “like” or “as” (which would then make it a simile).

Consider this:

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
Romans 1:20 (NIV)

In other words, all that God made is a metaphorical expression of who God is. We can find Him by simply looking at the universe and all that is.

When Jesus talked about Himself  He used metaphors:

  • “I am  the water of life.”
  • “I am the bread of life.”
  • “I am the light of the world.”
  • “I am the gate.”
  • “I am the good shepherd.”
  • “I am the vine.”
  • “I am the way, the truth, the life.”

Other metaphors are used in scripture for Jesus such as:

  • “Word” or “Living Word”
  • “Lamb of God”
  • “Righteous Branch”

When Jesus instituted the sacrament of communion He said:

“This is my body.”
“This
is my blood.”

God regularly gave the ancient prophets metaphors to convey His message. In today’s chapter, God tells Jeremiah to strap an ox yoke around his neck. An ox yoke is the crossbar placed around the neck of an ox to control it when using the ox for pulling a cart, a plow, or some other task. Jeremiah was then to tell the envoys of the neighboring kings who were visiting Jerusalem that if they will all become servants of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon they will be spared the humiliation of being defeated by him.

You have to imagine that for a second. A man standing there strapped to an ox yoke in front of these high-powered diplomatic envoys telling them that they are going to be oxen strapped to a yoke, so they would be strapped in servitude to Babylon. No wonder people thought him crazy.

Just yesterday Wendy and I were talking about a message I gave this past Sunday among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers. She once again echoed what I have heard over and over and over again across the many years I’ve been a public speaker: “People love your stories.” I recall a client one time telling me “Just keep telling stories. You tell the best stories.” Stories are metaphors with a “moral” or a meaning larger than the story itself. That’s why Jesus told parables. When talking about God’s kingdom Jesus didn’t give dry lectures on systematic theology. He told stories about lost coins, scattered seed, lost sheep, a priceless pearl, and a runaway son.

Metaphors are powerful. Everything is metaphor. Metaphor is the language of God.

This morning in the quiet I’m thinking about another message I have to give in a few weeks. I’m thinking about a training session I have to present to a client’s Customer Service team tomorrow. I’m not thinking about the truths I want to communicate as much as I am the metaphors, the word pictures, and the life stories that will best communicate those truths.

After 40 years of public speaking I can tell you that people will quickly forget a list of dry bullet points, but they never forget a good story or word picture that made them feel something. The diplomatic envoys in today’s chapter could easily have tuned out Jeremiah’s words, but they would never forget the crazy man strapped to a yoke. When they returned to their respective kings you know that they said, “Oh king, I have to tell you about this crazy man we saw strapped to an ox yoke.”

Exactly. I’m reminded again this morning that if I want to be an effective communicator I have to continually hone my craft at wrapping my message in stories, word pictures, and images.

The language of God is metaphor.

(FYI: Last Sunday’s message has been added to the Message page)

Something to Say

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.
1 John 1:1 (NIV)

My local gathering of Jesus’ followers has been doing something rather novel and exciting over the past couple of years. I’m glad to have had the opportunity to be a part of it.

God’s Message teaches that every follower of Jesus receives spiritual “gifts” from Holy Spirit. Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth, “to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” These “manifestations” or “gifts” are specific yet diverse bents and abilities that are intended to help build up and encourage all the other believers. One of those gifts is teaching.

For the past several hundred years the prevailing paradigm in the institutional church has been that the pulpit and the Sunday morning message at my local neighborhood church is reserved for a person (typically a man) who has received a Masters Degree at a seminary approved by whatever denomination my church belongs to. This person has received a stamp of approval from the denominational board, administration, or tribunal authorizing them to teach from the pulpit on Sunday morning.

Along my journey, here’s what I’ve observed: any individual can attend seminary and get certified whether they have a teaching gift or not. And, I’ve heard some educated and approved teachers who definitely did not have the gift of teaching. By the same token, Holy Spirit can bestow the gift of teaching on any person of any age or gender despite that person never having jumped through the educational and ecclesiastical hoops dictated by  a given denominational institution.

So, our local gather of Jesus’ followers has been identifying fellow believers within our midst who may have a Holy Spirit given gift of teaching. We’re allowing them the opportunity to try out that gift on a Sunday morning in our church’s auditorium. We’re working with them to train them up and develop that gift. I’ve been asked to lead and mentor these individuals. There is, of course, a lot more to it than I have time to explain here. It’s a work in progress, but an exciting one.

As mentor of these inexperienced preachers, one of the common fears and anxieties that I hear from individuals when tasked with teaching a large group is “Who am I to teach these people?” This nagging doubt can be paralyzing during the preparation and presentation of a message.

Just last week while I was driving to Minneapolis I started listening to a series of talks called Something to Say by Rob Bell (available for download; name your own price). One of the things that Rob brings out is the fact that everyone has the authority to speak about what he or she has witnessed and experienced in their own lives. If you’ve lost a child, then you have the authority to speak about that experience. If you swam the English Channel then you’re an authority on that subject. If you’ve been a diesel mechanic your entire life then you have the authority to speak about diagnosing and fixing a diesel engine. If you were on upper Manhattan on 9/11 then you can authoritatively speak to what happened that day from your own experience.

This morning we begin a letter written by John, one of Jesus’ inner circle of disciples, who was writing what scholars believe was a “circular letter” intended to be copied and passed around to all believers. John begins his letter the same way he begins his biography of Jesus,  by stating clearly that he is speaking to what he heard with his own ears, saw with his own eyes, touched with his own hands. “I was there,” John says. “I was with Jesus. I saw the miracles. I heard the teaching. I witness Him die on the cross. I saw Him risen from the dead. I am a primary source witness to it all.”

As I lead and mentor our fledgling group of teachers, I try to instill within them the power of our stories. In my almost 40 years of teaching, preaching, training, and presentations I have rarely had a person tell me that they remember the arcane theological point I made in a message ten years ago. I continue to have, however, a steady stream of people who tell me that they have never forgotten the story that I told even when I’ve long forgotten what it was.

I’m reminded by John this morning that I may not have all the knowledge, education, or professional training this world offers me. Neither did he. I do, however, have my stories. I have seen things, heard things, touched things, and experienced things to which I can bear witness. That means that, like John, I have something to say.

Easy Prey

For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle.
James 3:2 (NRSV)

Public speaking has been a big part of my life and vocation since I was a very young man. I have stood in front of many groups both big and small, and I have addressed a host of subjects with listeners.

When you step into the spotlight of the podium you are setting yourself up for scrutiny. Often the environment itself lends itself to critique. You as the speaker are alone, elevated before the crowd with bright lights shining directly on you. I have often quipped that when you stand up before a group of people you have an invisible target on you. You’re easy prey; The proverbial sitting duck. People will listen with critical ears, watch with critical eyes, tear apart your words, and question both your message and your motivations.

Even as I write this I am flooded with a host of memories. I regularly have complete strangers correct me, challenge me, and criticize me. And, quite often, they are correct. Wise King Solomon said, “Where words are many, sin is not absent.” The more you speak, the greater likelihood of staying something wrong, stupid, ignorant, or offensive.

And, that is James’ point in today’s chapter. For being such a small thing, the tongue can get me into all sorts of trouble. This morning I’m thinking about words. Words from the podium, words in blog posts, words in conversation, words in tweets, words to strangers, words with loved ones.

This morning I’m reminded of what James wrote back towards the beginning of his letter: “Be quick to listen, slow to speak….” Today, I endeavor, once again, to apply that simple principle.

Beginning now.

(Have a nice day!)

A lot of Words

source: disowned via Flickr
source: disowned via Flickr

I too will have my say;
I too will tell what I know.
For I am full of words,
and the spirit within me compels me;
Job 32:17-18 (NIV)

Wendy and I often joke about the differences between men and women when it comes to words. I have heard it said, and perhaps it’s an old wives tale, that women have more words than men. Yet, I am reminded of Tolkien’s wisdom when he wrote, “Pay heed to the tales of old wives. It may well be that they alone keep in memory what it was once needful for the wise to know.” 

There are often nights, especially when I’ve been on the road for a week and Wendy has been sequestered along at home, that our heads hit the pillows yet a steady stream of conversation emanates from Wendy’s side of the bed. I quietly strain to maintain consciousness. Wendy will turn and see my struggle and laugh.

“Can you tell that I still have a lot of words?” she’ll ask.

I nod silently.

“But you’ve been gone all week and I haven’t had anyone to talk to!” she’ll exclaim as she cuddles in next to me.

Just the other night at a Christmas party, I realized that it’s not just a Mars and Venus issue. I have grown quieter in social settings over the years. When I was younger I had a lot more words. I was a steady stream of youthful conversation, wisdom, and diatribes. I speak less today than I did back then. I tend to ask more questions. I ponder more. I mull things over more in my head. Words are more precious to me than they used to be, and they carry more meaning for me. I am more mindful of wasting them.

In today’s chapter, we unexpectedly meet a devout young man named Elihu (his name means “He is my God”). Elihu has been waiting in the wings listening to Job and his three friends debate. The young man finally speaks, and he is honest when he says, “I am full of words.” We’re going to get five straight chapters of his youthful exuberance starting today.

Today, Elihu has me thinking about words. Despite my speaking less than I used, I still feel like I talk more than is good for myself or others. I’m pondering the wisdom of knowing when to speak and when to be silent. As we enter a week full of family and friends, I want to hear more and speak with purpose.

The One Thing

source: opensourceway via Flickr
source: opensourceway via Flickr

Now all has been heard;
    here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
    for this is the duty of all mankind.
Ecclesiastes 12:13 (NIV)

One of the most frustrating things for me as a listener is when a speaker blathers on, his or her message chasing off on various tangents without ever clearly saying anything.

I learned long ago that when preparing what I need to say, no matter the context of the message, I should always nail down “the one thing.” Think of “the one thing” as the entire message boiled down into a simple tweet on twitter. It is “the one thing” I want my listeners to hear clearly. It is “the one thing” I am really trying to say. It serves me well as I prepare my message because I can constantly review my points, my stories, and my illustrations with “the one thing” in mind. If something doesn’t directly connect my listener to “the one thing,” or if they have to connect multiple dots in order to arrive at “the one thing,” then it shouldn’t be in my presentation.

This morning as I read, I found it interesting that the scribe who edited the original works summed the entire book up in this short conclusion. In the end he boiled it down and gave us “the one thing.”

Life is full of words, posts, tweets, texts, videos, and podcasts. We are inundated with a steady stream of messages. I wonder if it’s making us better communicators or if the one thing is constantly lost in the blather.

An Audience of One

audience of oneObviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant. Galatians 1:10 (NLT)

In the wee hours of this morning I was up praying for and responding to an e-mail from my daughter. Earlier this week she and her husband crafted a well articulated blog post about the journey of relational and behavioral they have been struggling through in the past three years. As happens whenever you offer up intimate details of your life for public consumption you are bound to receive diverse reactions and responses. The kids have been struggling through some particularly negative, personal feedback.

I thought of them as I read the opening of Paul’s letter to those following Jesus in Galatia. In the early years after Jesus’ resurrection, there were all sorts of quarrels and schisms between the growing number of believers around the known world. Paul was a fiercely independent person and I get the impression that he had a very strong, fiery personality. Because Paul was not one of the original group of disciples, because he had once hunted down and executed Jesus’ followers, and because he didn’t not easily fit into the organizational structure of the emerging group of believers, there was a lot of controversy surrounding him and his work to share the good news of Jesus with the Roman provinces in Greece and southern Europe.

In today’s chapter, Paul makes it clear that he is doing what God had called him to do. He did not seek nor solicit anyone’s permission. He did not beg anyone’s leave. He had an audience of one, and that was God alone. He did not care what anyone thought about him or his work. He was not answering to them nor responsible for their reactions to him. He was not out to please people. He was working to please God by being obedient to walk the path he’d been given.

Unlike Paul, God gave me the personality of a people pleaser. I want people to like me. It makes me uncomfortable when people take issue with me, my words, or my actions. Yet, I have learned along the journey to accept the criticism, harsh words, and negative reactions that sometimes come with public speaking, blogging, and performing. I can’t keep people from judging me, criticizing me, or condemning me. What I can do is continue to walk the path God has laid before me, step-by-step, to the best of my ability, and to keep my focus on the audience of One who ultimately is the only One who counts.

My daughter shared with me some of the outpouring of people who have been touched, encouraged, moved and motivated by their blog post. People who thought they were alone in their own pain now have someone with whom they can identify. Opportunities are opening for them to help others through the painful struggle of their own brokenness. Despite the criticism of a few, many are benefitting from their courageous honesty, openness, and transparency. They have no need to waste emotional energy on unimportant criticism and the judgment of others. They need that energy to be channeled in love, grace and encouragement towards the precious ones who are coming out of the wood work to say, “Help. Me too.”