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Preaching to the World: When Everything You Say is Heard by Everyone Instantly
By Daniel Weber
We live in an instant world. Everything happens in nanoseconds and is instantly available around the world through social media, email and texting. In 2010 I was traveling in the country of Namibia in southern Africa when an earthquake hit the east coast where my family lives. I found out about the earthquake moments after it happened through social media, while my wife who experienced the quake didn’t have the full details until I texted her to see if she was safe.
Currently there are more than 160 million smartphones being used in the United States, with an estimate of well over 200 million by 2018. Each one of these phones can instantly capture video, photos or audio and share it around the world, and each phone is a potential “witness” to our conversations, sermons, shared stories or every day life experiences. What a wonderful opportunity to witness to the world! What an even greater challenge when you consider the negative impact that these “moments in time” can have on our church, our members, and even our own lives.
It is hard to find a church these days that doesn’t record the majority of their sermons so that they can be put on the internet so that the world can share them at a later date. Some churches even utilize low cost technologies such as LiveStream to broadcast their sermons each week, reaching thousands of people at a time. The days of only the big churches being able to afford to “telecast” their services each week are over. Low cost tools have afforded us the luxury of sharing the Good News of Jesus with the world via the internet. This has resulted in pastors becoming “media stars” as they are recognized for their sermonic excellence well outside the boundaries of their own pews.
What was once a safe haven for comments shared with the local congregation, has now become a pulpit to the world. This growing exposure is a wonderful opportunity that also leads to more responsibility in messages and statements that are shared. Comments that would stop at the last row of the church are now shared around the world, possibly in environments where these comments could prove harmful to Christians.
Recently an Adventist lay pastor came under media scrutiny for statements that he made regarding various social groups and their lifestyle choices. He also made comments about other faith communities and the origins of their beliefs. The statements had been made several years prior, but because they were in sermons that were shared and stored on the internet, they were discovered by some of these groups and shared with the local media and the lay pastor’s employer. The result was an embarrassing situation for the local church leadership and the lay pastor lost his job.
Were the lay pastors statements correct? About 80 percent of what he said was factual, but the other 20 percent was from sources that would be considered unreliable. Also, the tone of his message was not of a loving and caring nature, but condemning and demeaning. In today’s “politically correct” world, pastors are challenged with every statement that is said from the pulpit, public gatherings, and on social media. They must be cautious at all times that any comments regarding politics, demographic groups or other religions can be considered hateful or demeaning. Even simple comments made in jest can become a firestorm of controversy. Caution must be given to comments about other religions that if shared on social media or the internet can cause harm to other Christians in areas of the world dominated by these religious groups.
What guidelines are there for pastors as they tread the minefield of public speaking and sharing the Gospel? When speaking to others about Jesus and the Gospel, it is important to keep two things in mind. No matter what the context of your sermon or the audience that you are speaking to, the most important part of your presentation is to speak in a tone that reflects the love of Jesus. When we are tempted to speak of others in terms that don’t reflect love and respect we are treading in dangerous waters. Ellen White cautions us to keep these points in mind “Preach the truth, but restrain the words which show a harsh spirit; for such words cannot help or enlighten anyone.” CW 64.3
When we use words as weapons in describing the truth of the Gospel and the teachings of the Bible, hearts that can be softened with love become hardened to stone because of the approach that was taken. Again Ellen White advises. “The truth should be presented with divine tact, gentleness, and tenderness. It should come from a heart that has been softened and made sympathetic. We need to have close communion with God, lest self rise up, as it did in Jehu, and we pour forth a torrent of words that are unbefitting, that are not as dew, or as the still showers that revive the withering plants. Let our words be gentle as we seek to win souls. God will be wisdom to him who seeks for wisdom from a divine source....” CW 72.2
Keep these rules in mind when preparing your sermons or public comments:
  1. Speak in love.
  2. Don’t use sarcastic or language that belittles others.
  3. No name calling.
  4. Don’t use bigoted or exaggerated statements or characterizations.
  5. Don’t let your words become weapons.
  6. Follow Jesus’ example of showing love and acceptance to all people.
How does this affect our preaching the “gospel truths”? No one is suggesting that we need to change our Fundamental Beliefs or the doctrines that make us Christian or Adventists. In fact we must speak the truth, but only in a way that reflects the same love that God shows all of His children. We must be firm in our beliefs, steady in our resolve to spread the Gospel to the whole world, but at the same time making sure that our words show the love and compassion that Christ showed to a world in need. We all are sinners and it is only through God’s grace that we can be saved. It is this grace that He calls us to tell others about.
I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Ephesians 3:7
Daniel Weber is communication director for the North American Division
Reprinted from CALLED