By Michael Mooney, Ministry Practitioner
It is not uncommon that ordained ministers find themselves in situations where they must speak before audiences –especially if they pastor churches. Something that should be considered in any situation where they must communicate (before audiences, inter-personally, email, etc.) is:
What are our words communicating?
Are they conveying the messages that we intend our audiences to receive?
“Words are the best medium of exchange of thoughts and ideas between people.” –William Ross
Compare the above quote to this one:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (Joh 1:1 ESV)
The conclusion is that Jesus was the message of God. The word for “word” in the above verse is Logos, which was understood in John’s day as “the divine mind”. What it seems that John is telling us is that Jesus is the full expression of God’s thoughts and reasoning. Notice especially that God chose to have Jesus called “The Word”. This demonstrates that God’s plan for communication with humans is through the use of words; therefore, words are of extreme importance.
“Words are one of our chief means of adjusting to all the situations of life. The better control we have over words, the more successful our adjustment is likely to be.” –Bergen Evans
We are left asking the question of the meaning of words. We have dictionaries to help us with these meanings, but dictionaries are really nothing more than an attempt to produce a standard for the “meanings” that words have in the minds of people.
Consider this loaded phrase:
The gay man had intercourse with several others at a party.
Gay, “cheery: bright and pleasant”.
Intercourse, “communication between individuals”.
Party, “an occasion on which people can assemble for social interaction and entertainment”.
The dictionary definitions above are quite different than what most would have expected the statement. Yet by the dictionary’s definition, there is nothing strange about the statement. If ministers were to use such terms during the discourse of their messages it would likely prove very distracting to their audiences.
Example: A minister closes a sermon saying, “let us pray. Our Father we want to thank you for this time we have enjoyed today having social intercourse with one another…”
Social Intercourse, Noun. 1. social intercourse – communication between individuals. intercourse. intercommunication – mutual communication; communication with each other.
It seems safe to say that there would be some in the audience whose mind would wander from prayer and reverence to something less appropriate. However, this could all be avoided if the minister were more selective of their words. A good way to be ever careful about this issue is to consider this question before every speaking engagement:
How can a communicator benefit by using words according to the way in which they think the receiver will interpret their meaning, rather than their definition?