Learn to speak well

By Ronald E. Keener

Those who carry responsibilities in congregations, whether employed staff or volunteer leaders, need to speak well for themselves and their churches. Lynn Wilford Scarborough has written a helpful book, Talk Like Jesus (Phoenix Books), that many church administrators might gain from. Scarborough suggests that we can learn lessons “from the most effective speaker of all time.”

She is founder of EmPowerCom, a firm in strategic business communications and media training [empowercom.us]. Scarborough responded to questions from Church Executive:

What can we know about how Jesus did talk?

Jesus was an amazing master communicator. The gospels give us a tremendous amount of information about what Jesus said but also how he said it.  When Jesus spoke he used stories, analogies, images and questions in a simple yet direct manner.  He was able to communicate on multiple levels simultaneously (from senses to head to heart to spirit) and transmit spiritual principles.

Think of it, today even the smallest child can remember his stories and the wisest of men still ponder their meaning. Today’s critics would accuse him of telling children’s stories, complain he was too blunt or they would be angered by his ability to deflect their arguments.

What should we make of it that Jesus did not always give a response? Is that a useful tactic in today’s business world?

Jesus taught us that “No Comment” can be a safe place. Jesus did not feel obliged to answer or respond to situations that were no-wins, set ups, emotionally charged or when people had closed minds and hard hearts. Talking before thinking is never a wise move. Jesus’ example gives us permission and the freedom to avert conflict or possible disaster by taking a “pass.”

What should we make of Jesus’ “incredible popularity” in his day?

Jesus used analogies, props and stories that everyone could relate to with their senses and understanding. The stories have humor and drama. Common sense also tells us that he must have been a dynamic and expressive storyteller as well.  People don’t sit in the hot sun and walk for hours or days unless there is a great presentation.

You write about him using “stories and analogies to deflect an attack.” Is there an example that can be applied to today’s church administrator?

Jesus had a remarkable ability to avert aggression.  When the Jewish leaders demanded to know if Jesus was the messiah, Jesus talked about the auditory responsiveness of livestock. (Sheep hear the good shepherd.)  What Jesus realized was that the answer to the question wasn’t the issue; it was the intent and subtext that was the driver.  In ministry there are always individuals who feel entitled to information and want to influence us as leaders.  The wise administrator needs to have a cache of stories, analogies or quotes that can be used to redirect or deflect questions that are inappropriate or manipulative.

You give Pilate credit as a good communicator? How so?

I was surprised to discover that Pilate used the same principles that we teach for dealing with a media crisis.  When you combine all the gospel accounts, Pilate tried over 20 ways to avoid crucifying Jesus. He told them it wasn’t his problem, not his job, there was no basis to the claims, asked for evidence, stalled, said Jesus was innocent, passed it off, tried to compromise, negotiated, and renegotiated. Unfortunately Pilate was wrestling against the divine will of God. Even though he was trumped by the Jewish leaders, Pilate’s story is an outstanding example of how to handle a difficult, adversarial or media crisis situation.


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