This post has been republished on Neue Magazine’s website This is really the first election year that I’ve spent a lot of time listening to the speeches and debates from the two main Presidential candidates. Usually, the only campaigning that I let into my system are the television commercials and that’s only because the DVR […]

This post has been republished on Neue Magazine’s website

This is really the first election year that I’ve spent a lot of time listening to the speeches and debates from the two main Presidential candidates. Usually, the only campaigning that I let into my system are the television commercials and that’s only because the DVR hadn’t been invented yet. This year, as I have taken in all these speeches and “debates” I’ve realized that there is something to be learned for pastors and people who teach or preach on a regular basis.

Watching these two candidates has made me ask this question: As pastors and teachers does our preaching give way for conversion or does our preaching simply make those who disagree with us disagree more?

I have come to realize there is a strong difference between how I used to preach and how I preach now. I used to preach, and still sometimes do, in a manner similar to these conventions, speeches and commercials. When I was done, those who already agreed with me cheered me on and told me, “That was one of your best sermons.” But, those who disagreed with me would not have said, “You really made me think.” Instead, they probably just wrote me off, or even worse, tuned me out halfway through the sermon.

Why the different reactions? Because my sermons were too much like those of our wonderful politicians. As I’ve watched them, it has become clear that there was no way someone who is a strong Democrat would be able to watch McCain or Palin and say something like, “Hmm, that’s a good point. I never thought about it that way. Maybe I should think carefully about that.” Conversely, no one who was a strong Republican would have been able to listen to Obama and Biden and say, “Wow, that’s an interesting point. I should think carefully about that.”

No, the reactions were… well, you read them in the papers, the news websites and friends’ blogs. You’ve heard them talked about awkwardly and sometimes ignorantly in your workplace.

“The Democrats are socialist liberals and will ruin our country!”

“The Republicans have ruined our country for 8 years and they are war mongers!”

Why these reactions? I think partly because these speeches, like my early sermons, aren’t so much geared at conversion of people’s thoughts, but rather to show why and how one side is right and the other side is wrong. Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t speak about things with conviction. In fact, without conviction there would be no point of me continuing to preach and there would be no point to hearing these men and women talk. But, a huge challenge to those who preach (and, dare I say, those who speak in political settings) is to make your case for your conviction in such a way that allows the other side to begin to see why it is important that you think the way you do.

The reality is—the Democrats are right on a lot of things and so are the Republicans. Neither party has a corner on the market on “rightness.” Of course, the two sides will never fully agree with each other. But, I can’t help but think that there is room for a lot more respect.

What I am talking about here is the difference between being a bully with your words and carefully shepherding with your words. When I get done preaching, I honestly would rather hear someone say to me, “Your sermon was very thought provoking” than to hear, “Your sermon was awesome.” When someone says, “Your sermon was awesome,” it usual means they already agreed with me and I just reinforced their previously held belief. When someone says, “That was thought provoking,” it means I really communicated well and made them think differently about a topic in which they disagreed with me on or one that they hadn’t thought of before.

It’s easy to effectively communicate with those who already agree with you. It’s a whole other challenge to communicate effectively with those who disagree with you.

Oh, and by the way, ticking them off isn’t necessarily effective communication. I heard a few times that “Obama really took McCain to task” or “Palin really laid the smack down on Biden.”

Well, your side thinks that’s what happened.

But their side just thinks that other person is an idiot.

I have to wonder, when this happens, how much is really accomplished?

  • Awesome post!!!
    (Just kidding, you reinforced what I thought. Just kidding, you really made me think more along these lines.)
    Can’t agree more. I too prefer pushing people to think differently then receiving their praise.
    Much of our preaching is a pep rally for the hometown. Many times, it has no pep, unfortunately.
    I’d like to add that many times people will like the sermon simply because they like you. I think this is part of the Joel Osteen craze. That’s not really a joke either.
    Certainly our worshippers need to be encouraged, inspired, etc. but we all need to be stretched and pushed. I believe strongly that this is why our Scripture reading tends to suffer because if you don’t spend the time reading, meditating and struggling with it, then you’ll get frustrated and stop reading altogether.

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  • Mitch

    Hi Todd,

    Thanks for writing this.

    I think you’re raising really important questions and ideas. For my job, I spend a lot of time thinking about how people can talk with each other in constructive ways across political and other differences. I work with Jewish folks in particular, but I’m really interested in the conversations that happen in churches too, and in all kinds of other settings.

    I’ve come across a couple of really interesting short articles that I thought you might appreciate. Brian McLaren published a fascinating piece in Sojourners in the summer of 2004 called “Praying for Good Politics.” The essay outlines his ideas about how to speak most effectively about controversial issues from the pulpit, and about how to foster constructive discussion within churches about those issues. You can find it at:

    http://www.alternet.org/election04/19458/praying_for_good_politics/

    This past summer, Rabbi Julie Saxe-Taller, who is a leader in a Jewish peace and justice organization called Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, published a short essay called “3 Strategies for ‘Successful’ Conversations about Israel.” It briefly lays out some fascinating lessons she has learned from engaging with her congregants around controversial issues related to Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

    You can find it at: http://ga3.org/btvshalom/notice-description.tcl?newsletter_id=27810108

    Good luck with all you’re doing!

    –Mitch

  • Nice post Todd. I couldn’t even watch the conventions this year, I don’t understand why we should think of something that everyone says, “It’s all scripted, nothing surprising happens on the stage” as high drama.

    I think the problem with a lot of preaching is that it’s about being more right than “them.” I kinda take the tack that sermons ought to be about Jesus and how WE do/don’t reflect him (well, mostly it’s “I,” the rest of the congregation just gets to listen to my wrestling). I sum it up this way, “The mirror shouldn’t be turned outward against people, but on ourselves – with the accompanying question, ‘Do we see Jesus in it?'”

    You’re also right, I’ll take 10, “I’m not sure I agree with you, but you gave me some things to chew on”‘s over 1000 “Great sermon, pastor”‘s any day of the week.

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  • jim

    Hi Todd, this post is awesome!! 😉

    I like your thoughts here. I wonder are there some specific ways you invite people to consideration? What has changed about your preaching style to invite this kind of thinking?

  • Todd – funny thing, just minutes before reading your post i was thinking about this same idea! You know I think for people, myself included, sometimes its easier to just stick with our current form of thinking. To be challenged in our beliefs or ideas takes humility on our part and a willingness to say I’m going to research that out or seek God on that topic. Way too much effort! And then as leaders/public speakers its a more challenging route to take to think about how can I get people to explore a different line of thinking – its so much easier to say what we want people to hear. We come out feeling good about ourselves because of the pats on the back for an awesome speech. I am a big fan of iron sharpening iron. I believe that is where the refinement comes and how we can truly accomplish things as one nation/body.

  • ryanb

    Hey Todd… Some interesting statistics/research related to this that was shared with me in a recent seminary class I took. We were talking about this very idea of persuasion and how the brain responds to one-sided appeals (like preaching). When a person is listening to a one-sided appeal, they of course are processing the information at various levels of conciousness. Their brain begins to increase it’s amount of inner speech (a level internal communication in practical conciousness). In a typical conversation, the brain will process through ideas with about 400 words per minute of this inner speech, when a one-sided appeal is being presented, that jumps to 4,000 words per minute. The listener essentially shuts down any possibility of being persuaded and begins to think of all the reasons why they disagree with the speaker. The more intense the appeal, the more intense the inner speech and the less likely someone is to be persuaded. In fact, some research shows that a person listening to a one sided appeal (that they don’t already agree with) will be 80% more likely to be in further disagreement with the person giving the appeal after it’s all said and done.
    It’s interesting to also note, that Jesus had his times of one-sided appeal, but it was typically with a “friendly audience” (i.e. a party convention) who were more likely to nod there heads in agreement (or wave their signs and cheer loudly every thirty seconds). The other times he seems to use the one sided appeal is when the result of any type of conversation is a fairly foregone conclusion and it’s a quick way to make a point and get out of a situation (such as with the Pharisees).
    Finding ways to effectively preach is definitely a challenge!

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  • I agree with your assessment. The role I have play at onevillagecoffee.com has shown me what my giftings are. My response has been to develop new relationships in the DE, MD, D.C, VA area for our mission to help the world one village at a time.

    Go eagles!

    love you man…

    hope to hang out soon…