Preaching Means Picking Words

It almost goes without saying, but let’s say it anyway: preaching involves choosing words.  Sometimes the words are chosen agonizingly poring over a manuscript.  Other times words are chosen at an essentially sub-conscious level during delivery.  Whether it takes an age to get the right word, or a split-second to get any word, what word should be chosen?  A couple of thoughts:

Precise words – we really are to carefully choose the best words we can.  One aspect of that choice should be precision.  If we mean something specific, we should say that, and not something else.  Was it Mark Twain who said (probably was, it was usually him) – “Choose the right word – and not it’s second cousin.”  How easy it is to preach in vague words and achieve vague results.

Pomposity & pride are problematic – while it is important to be precise in our word choices, we should watch carefully for the insidious creeping of intellectual arrogance.  It is tempting to show that you know that term, but your goal is to preach the Bible so that the listeners can understand and respond to it, not so that they can praise you for such heady fare.  So beware of “jargon” known only to theologians, literary analysts or even trendy-Christian-fashionistas.  (This isn’t just a simple rule that says, “don’t do it!”  You also need to think through the choices you make.  For instance, avoiding reference to ‘biblical narrative’ by using the term ‘Bible story’ is certainly less technical, but it might imply ‘piece of old fiction’ if your supporting comments aren’t also carefully chosen.  It is vital to know your listeners and choose words accordingly – ‘biblical narrative’ would be considered highly technical by some, not at all by others.)

So let’s be precise rather than haphazard as we choose our words.  At the same time our deliberate approach to word choices should generally tend toward the clear and plain, rather than highly technical and “showy-offy” (technical term).  Poring over a manuscript for precision is one thing, it’s the sub-conscious choices that are the real challenge. Surely that requires us to make a deep-down, heart-level, fundamental, core-value, gut-level commitment to eliminating pride from our preaching.

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