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Something to Say


Although I am talking mostly about writing here, this also applies to leadership. In both cases, it is easy to become more interested in the glamour of the job than in the real task at hand.

The two most important lessons for giving a speech or writing, are the ones most universally overlooked. We have discussed elsewhere the subject of making sure that someone is listening. However, the second (and possibly even more basic) lesson is to make sure that you have something to say.

I have tried to encourage people to think for themselves and not to pretend that they believe something just because I do. I have also encouraged them to express their faith in terms that they are comfortable with.

However, there is a difference between being able to express your faith, and being a teacher of our community as a whole. We can all teach those who have less knowledge than us in a particular area. Many members of the community have taught English classes. Leaders have taught classes for new members. Some have taught others how to cook or to use a computer.

It has, for example, never particularly bothered me that Ross has written almost all of the music in the community. Although I have had a go at writing lyrics on a number of occasions, I have never written a single tune. But that is not a problem. Ross has the ability to do that and I do not. I find every bit as much satisfaction in singing a song that Ross has written as I might have if I were singing one that I had written... if I were capable of writing one. It's not a competition.

And so it is not scandalous that I am the primary teacher of new revelation for the community as a whole. Although not exclusive to me, it does happen to be my special gift, and at least for the time being, it seems that God is communicating the message sufficiently through me. If, however, he reveals something through someone else, then we are open to that as well.

But remember, that the first rule to be a teacher is that one needs to have something to say that your listeners need to hear. If they've already heard it before, then you need to ask yourself why you should bother to tell them again. How many times do we need to be told that two plus two equals four?

If once is not enough, then it may be that there was something wrong in our technique the first time. Our second attempt may be similar in content, but it will probably involve changes in our techniques. This may include illustrations, personal applications, new arguments or reasons for accepting the same truth, the use of other media (e.g. spoken word, music, artwork, the internet, public demonstration, the media, literature).

Suppose the truth we wish to communicate is that people should be living by faith. Obviously we have tried to communicate that to people in a hundred different ways. But unless each attempt is unique in some way, it is a waste of effort on our part and a waste of time on the part of the listener. It may be that two or more attempts will have something in common (e.g. reference to Matthew 6:19-34), but unless you're saying or doing something new in each new attempt, you may as well just send off another printout of a previous attempt.

I assume that, in their witnessing on the streets, to friends and relatives, and through the mail, members of our community more or less restate in their own words those aspects of what I have taught that have appealed most to them. The slight differences that come from each individual can sometimes make a difference in getting through to someone, especially if the person being taught has an overall liking for the person delivering the message. However, when it comes to formal teaching (e.g. in our printed literature, or on the Internet), there is not time for us to give fifteen different versions of everything that we say. The general public does not have the time to go through them all.

Even I must ask myself when I am about to write an article: "Have I already said something along those lines? Is it really worth a whole new article in itself?" I have often skipped whole topics (e.g. evolution and abortion), because I felt that there was no need for us to restate something that has already been said quite well by others. Similarly, there is no need for others in the community to attempt to teach the rest of the community something that I have already taught.

The teachings of Jesus are unique. No one in all history has said the sort of things that he has said. And practically all that I am doing today is just applying the principles that he taught in terms that relate to today's world.

If there were another church that was already doing that, then there would be no problem with us just joining up with them and both using the same material. What matters is not that anyone's ego be flattered, but that the message get out in the most effective way possible.

Now here is where the biggest problem seems to arise with novice "teachers". They see teaching as a glamourous parading of the teacher's ability in some area, whereas real teaching should parade the message more than the person who happens to be delivering the message. A good teacher will leave people thinking about the truth in what he or she has said, rather than oohing and ahhing at how wonderful the teacher was.

I knew an old Pentecostal preacher in Sacramento, California, years ago, who was the pastor of quite a big church that he had personally built with his own hands. He said that young zealots often came to him asking if they could preach, and he would say, "Sure. What do you want to say?" And they would always be speechless, because for them, the important thing was to get the pulpit, and then they hoped to come up with something to say.

He said that if you had something really vital to say, then the message would make way for itself. One way or another you would make yourself heard, and the word would be passed around that you had something unique to say.

But what about the need for "practice" in order for these people to develop "confidence" with regard to public speaking? I think that speech clubs and essay competitions and the like are a good way for people to get practice with expressing themselves in formal situations. However, even in these situations, you should understand that the participants are rarely being judged on what it is that they are saying. All the emphasis is on their technique.

In the Christian church today, the need is not smoother and fancier technique. God knows that we have more than enough silver-tongued con-men running around the church scene, ripping people off and leading them astray. The need in the church scene is for someone who can speak as the oracles of God. I don't mean bombastic pretence at authority either, but just a quiet conviction that what you have is a special message from God himself... a message which is not being delivered by someone else already.

I believe that the members of our community are largely convinced that they have a special message from God himself. It just happens that it has come first through me. They are happy to repeat it in their own words to others outside the community, but they have found that the most efficient way to get the message out to the maximum number of people with the minimum distortion is for them to distribute my writings in print. Their task, though humble by system standards, is a momentous one compared to the popularity contests that traditional church ministries are constantly engaged in.

Believe me, if you want to work on technique, the smaller your audience is, the better. For, until you have developed confidence in your message, it will be apparent to those who observe you preaching or writing, that you are just working at pretending that you have something important to say. Nothing is more embarrassing (and therefore more damaging to your confidence) than to be caught doing such a thing.

(See also Those Other Apostles.)

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