Friday, November 25, 2011

How A Word Or A Tangent Can Lessen The Impact Of A Message

A letter, written by an acquaintance, appeared this week in our local weekly newspaper. For the most part the letter was well-written and contained good facts about the subject matter – the opening of a local Pregnancy Support Center. It also contained important facts regarding a certain organization vehemently opposing the Pregnancy Center. The writer’s presentation of the facts was well done and thought provoking – if a reader had never considered the information before the reader might well ponder the letter; and if the reader had been opposed to the Pregnancy Center’s opening prior to reading the letter, such a reader might well have paused to reconsider his or her position.

It was a fine letter until the last paragraph when the writer referred to the opposing organization as “those nefarious places of business”. What was the point of this language? What was the point of the letter?

If the point of the letter was to set the record straight regarding the Pregnancy Center and its opposing organization then the writer accomplished that goal prior to the last paragraph. If another point of the letter was to provoke thoughtful consideration among those readers who may have opposed the Pregnancy Center or have been ambivalent about the Center then the writer did a pretty good job of doing that prior to the last paragraph. But then we have the characterization of the opposition as “those nefarious places of business”. What could such characterization possibly accomplish?

From a communications point of view the adage “show don’t tell” still stands – don’t tell me something is nefarious, show me that it is nefarious. Such a statement is not likely to encourage supporters of the opposing organization to reflect on the information previously presented in the letter, on the contrary, it may evoke a reaction that will lessen the likelihood of such reflection – for while information encourages reasoning, adjectives such as “nefarious” evoke emotion, in this case possible defensive emotion. The characterization of the other organization as “nefarious” was unnecessary and, I think, counterproductive. It may have made the writer feel good, but we ought to communicate with the reader or listener in mind – I’ve been guilty of this many times so I know whereof I write (or speak).

This in turn reminds me of a presentation I heard in the past year on a Sunday morning; the focus of the presentation was to be the speaker’s testimony, of how the speaker came to know Jesus Christ. It was a pretty good presentation, just as the above letter was a pretty good letter; but at one point during the presentation the speaker negatively referred to two well-known Christian authors – associating them with the devil and occult; then at another point the speaker raised the issue of how people interpret the seven days of Genesis – portraying those who do not believe in seven twenty-four hour days as not believing the Bible.  

In the case of the presentation did the speaker enhance or hurt the communication of the Gospel by introducing topics that may cloud the issue and dull the thrust of his testimony? I’m not aware that belief in seven twenty-four hour days in Genesis is necessary to our salvation; nor am I aware that thinking that these two well-known authors are outside the pale of Biblical Christianity is necessary to coming into a relationship with Jesus Christ. It may have made the speaker feel good to make these statements, but did these statements serve to communicate the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Did they serve to draw a listener into a relationship with Christ?

When we take any doctrine or opinion and place it on the same level as the person of Jesus Christ, when we add anything to the basic equation of trusting in Christ, of believing in Christ, of repentance to salvation in Christ – then we tread on dangerous ground and place barriers to knowing Jesus that I don’t see either Jesus or the Apostles erecting in the Scriptures.

I read a pretty good letter, and I heard a pretty good testimony – they both would have been better if their respective goals and audiences were kept in mind. As I wrote above, I’ve been guilty of these things more than once. As soon as we introduce a tangent or a statement that can hijack a listener’s or reader’s mind and pull him or her away from the main point then we have run the train off the track – no matter how good it made us feel.

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