Pastor, try not to sound so much like a preacher! (This is about communication.)

“Your words have helped the tottering to stand; you have strengthened feeble knees”  (Job 4:4). 

Speak clearly.  Enunciate. Use simple, active language.  Avoid wordiness. Never try to impress the audience with large, unfamiliar words.

Encourage people with your speech.  “She opens her mouth in wisdom, and the law of kindness is on her tongue” (Proverbs 31:26).

“Take with you words,” said the prophet to God’s people, “and return to the Lord” (Hosea 14:2).

Words.  They matter so much.  You’re reading a compilation of them right now.  Ideally, I have so arranged them as to make sense and convey a message.

The major reason writers edit their writings is to find the culprits that would hinder communication.

It’s essential not to use a word that would impede, stun, or burden the message. .

In today’s newspaper, the food section carried a huge article on how a good salad can improve a meal.  The headline said: “Ameliorate any meal with a simple pasta salad.”

Ameliorate?  The word means to improve, to enhance, to make something bad better.  But ameliorate?!!  When was the last time you used that word?  And why would a newspaper–where reporters and editors presumably work at effective communication–use such a word?

A friend points out the irony of finding ameliorate and simple in the same sentence!

Is the food editor playing with us?  Trying to drive us to our thesaurus?  or to drive us nuts?

When is the last time in church someone came near to pushing you over the edge with their endless announce-making, pontifical sermonizing, or other wordiness?

No one who communicates well and effectively does it without advance thought and planning.

This is about effective communication. 

A lady in Maryland owns a company called E-Write that helps airlines communicate more effectively with their disgruntled clients (translation: unhappy passengers).  Leslie O’Flahavan is “a customer service writing expert who runs a boutique business” (i.e., small) “which helps travel companies recast their letter template libraries into shorter, easier to read and ‘modern-sounding’ emails.”  In other words, she helps them to write gooder.  (From USA Today for April 9, 2018)

Did you notice that phrase: “recast their letter template libraries”? Talk about unnecessary wordiness!  Let that be a reminder to us that even when trying to correct a problem, we may end up illustrating the problem!

Here are some examples cited in the article…

–The airline’s letter to the unhappy passenger might say: “We regret any inconvenience this may have caused.”  What makes this sentence offensive are the “any” and “may have caused.”  Ms O’Flahavan calls this a “passive-aggressive non-apology.”  The airlines aren’t really apologizing for anything.

Have you ever heard an apology that sounds like this? “If I offended you, I’m sorry.”  Or, “If you were insulted in any way by what I may have said, I’m sorry.”  The speaker is not apologizing for anything, but putting the onus on you.  Being offended was your problem, and I’m sorry you took what I said in the wrong way. Try not to do that in the future.

Passive-aggressive indeed.

A genuine apology might say, “We did it. We goofed.  We are sorry. Please forgive us.  We’ll try to do better next time.”

“Safety is our top priority.” The implication from the airline is that of course, you being a customer and not an airline, your own personal convenience is the most important thing to you.  But to us, safety is paramount.

Again, it’s an insult.

–“We will share your comments with the appropriate team for review.”  Which being interpreted means: “We’re done here” and “We are about to ignore your complaint.”

In our denomination, when the annual session votes to “refer your motion to the appropriate agency for consideration,” you can bid it bye-bye.  In most cases, it’s the equivalent of File 13.  But it allows the maker of the motion to save face.

“We appreciate your loyalty to our airline.”  Which is beside the point. This is not about loyalty but getting things right.

What can churches learn from this?

A great deal of written material comes out of the church office:  Worship bulletins, announcement sheets, letters to the congregation, letters to individuals, birthday notes, and so forth.

Is someone overseeing them to make sure the sentiments are expressed well, simple, courteously, properly?  They should.

No letter should be sent, no email posted, no church bulletin printed without a second party proofing it to catch any error, typo, poorly structured sentence.

There is an unwritten law that says the writer of a piece is not the one to edit his own stuff. When I go back and read something I’ve just written, I end up seeing not what is on the page but what I intended to write.  Ask any writer.

The editor of the newspaper should have asked the food editor: “Ameliorate?  You really want to use that word?” And then, “What does it mean?”  And “Why do you wish to use it?”  “What are we trying to do here, help people plan their meals or educate them on their vocabulary?”

That question should be asked in the church office (or pastor’s study) from time to time.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.