If You Don’t Have Something Nice to Say…

I recently watched a FREE (I love free!), online, continuing education webinar for preachers.  The training consisted of worship and presentations by internationally-known preachers, theologians, and experts.  Throughout the webinar, I also followed (and added to) the Twitter comments of webinar viewers, who were mostly Christian pastors and preachers.  I was surprised, and frankly disappointed, by how often the comments were critical; scrutinizing how the (free) webinar was run, to the selection of presenters, to the words and illustrations of the preachers/theologians themselves.  Honestly, the fault-finding felt unkind, if not altogether unchristian.

I’ll confess, I think it’s difficult for preachers to listen to other preachers.  At least, it is for me.  Too often, when I listen to another preacher preach, I’m so busy evaluating the theology, the illustrations, the points, and the use of the text, etc., I miss the message the sermon has for me.  I miss what God might be saying to me – which is the point of listening to a sermon!  Instead, I’m pridefully assessing all the ways I think I could have preached it better – all the ways I’m a better preacher, at least in my own mind. 

Pride – that’s the issue, or at least one of them.

Similarly, over the last couple of months, while quarantined, I’ve watched more news than usual.  Truthfully, I’m a bit obsessed.  I should confess, my preferred news channel is unflinchingly critical of our president.  And, I very often agree.  But, at times, I feel like they go too far.  Though I wholly agree a leader’s words carry extra weight and meaning, requiring extra thought and care, the close scrutiny, critique, and repeated air-play of every controversial statement or mis-stated fact feels excessive, even to me. 

Of course, the president’s opponent, Vice President Joe Biden, whom I like and respect, is also famously known for “gaffes.”  Can you imagine the field day reporters will have during the debates, picking apart every sentence of BOTH candidates for accuracy and exaggeration?  Twitter will explode!  Fact checkers will be forced to work extra hours!  And, we’ll have to sort out the facts from the fictions, the truth from the lies, the actual from the hyperbolic.

As a professional communicator, with more than twenty-five years of experience preaching, teaching and writing, I’ve said more than my share of misstated “gaffes.”  And, I’ve heard about many of them!  Though I always strive to do my best, unless every word is perfectly scripted, and read flawlessly, “gaffes” will inevitably happen.  Even a carefully chosen word can be misunderstood!

My doctoral program included a leadership course, taught by the dean.  Each week, we were assigned a leadership book to read and a brief written reflection was due each Monday.  Many of us were NOT impressed by the first book assigned, and had informally chatted about our dislike for it.  Apparently, most of our papers reflected our critique.  The dean was not pleased.  I’ll never forget what he said: “I do not assign books for you to tell me what’s wrong with them.  I assign books for you to learn something about leadership.  In the future, do NOT tell me what you disagree with.  Tell me what you learned.”  Though I didn’t care for MOST of the books we read, I learned from the dean’s challenge, and thus learned “something” from each and every one of those books.  I’ve strived to carry that life-lesson with me to other contexts and situations.

Where did we learn to be critics?  Where did we learn to be fault finders?  And, what makes us the experts?  Why did we forget the childhood lesson, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all?”  Did we forget the Bible’s frequent admonition not to judge, lest we be judged by the same standard?

As I watched this webinar, I didn’t necessarily love or appreciate everything about it.  I didn’t agree with everything that was preached or taught. I didn’t appreciate every preacher’s style.  How easy it would be to “tweet” one critique after another.  But, for what purpose?  For whose benefit?  And, might I likely miss a helpful nugget of wisdom or insight, while I’m busily typing another tweet, rebutting someone else’s, or defending my last one? 

So, I made the decision, as best as I humanly can, to strive to lay aside my judgements and to be open to what I need to learn, day by day.  I don’t know what that means for you, in your present context.  But, I challenge you to do the same. 

Be open.  Be receptive.  You never know what you might learn!

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