This weekend I met with a group of leaders from our congregation as we shared in a visit from another pastor we wanted to learn from. During our conversation I was discussing some current plans and activities and the visiting pastor responded in a way that made it clear he understood what I said in a very different light than I intended. My choice of words communicated a completely different picture of something than I was trying to communicate. I wound up having to backtrack and completely re-explain myself. As I was doing so I sat there wondering to myself, "Is that what I really said? That's not what I meant!" And he didn't hear me incorrectly, either. I truly misspoke.
It's been two days and I've slept little...up thinking about how I communicated something so inaccurately without even realizing it. And I've wondered, how often have I done this? Does it happen when I preach? I need to start recording.
I know it seems a bit obsessive...to labor on for two days about a miscommunication but I've come to realize the power that words have. They are released out into the atmosphere sometimes so quickly we don't realize what we're saying. They are non-returnable. We can't release them from our mouths, study them for a while, then suck them back in before they are heard.
When we teach or preach people are really listening. And what they hear causes them to interpret their faith and the world around them. When we speak, even if it doesn't seem so at the time, people are listening. And what they hear causes them to interpret us and possibly even more.
I'm reminded of something my preaching professor in seminary constantly harped on students about...using an "economy of words." It's about carefully measuring the things we say. It's about not miscommunicating. It's about being clear. It's about saying the right amount, not too much, not too little. And it's something I'm not sure I've ever been good at (something my elementary school teachers always said I was horrible at). It's the reason I preach from a manuscript, not an outline.
Although I had an opportunity to correct myself this time, we're not always so fortunate to have that opportunity.
Word of God Incarnate,
may my own utterings be honorable in your sight
and may the ears they fall upon gain understanding.
May my tongue be guarded
and my intentions well-stated
and may my mouth be patient enough to wait upon my brain.