Preaching To Equals

Most things can be described on a continuum.  Consider the tone of your presentation to others.  At one end of the scale, it is possible to fawn, to flatter, to pander to those listening.  At the other end of the scale, a preacher can condescend and patronize.  Neither is helpful.

A preacher who overdoes the flattery and pandering will convey very little in the way of integrity and respectability.  A preacher who overdoes condescension and patronizing will achieve little in making listeners want to hear what is being said.  Both extremes will undermine communication very rapidly and deeply annoy the listeners.

We might assume that younger speakers are the flatterers and older speakers are the patronizers.  We would be wrong.  Any speaker can have a tendency to offer either, or both.  I’ve heard some extremely patronizing speakers in their twenties, and some ridiculously fawning speakers in their sixties.  The problem is that most are probably deeply unaware of how they come across.

Yet there is another challenge here.  These two extremes are on a continuum, so it is not as simple as just avoiding them.  In fact, isn’t low level flattery sometimes called politeness?  Isn’t low level patronizing sometimes called being simple and clear?  Both of these are very important.  It doesn’t help to avoid flattery and pandering by being obnoxious and objectionable.  It doesn’t help to avoid condescension by being obfuscatory and lacking in perspicuity.

To be accurate, I wouldn’t say that politeness and flattery are actually on the same continuum, nor clarity and condescension.  The distinction is probably at the level of motive.  As preachers it would do us good to check our motives regularly – what is our motive in regard to these listeners?  Do we love them?  Do we genuinely respect them?  Are we wanting to serve, or to show off?  Are we serving for their benefit, or for our own?

One more thought.  Even right motives don’t guarantee effective communication.  After all, communication has a lot to do with how the listeners perceive your preaching.  Do they find you condescending?  Do they find you overly flattering?  Perhaps it would be worth a periodic spot check from someone you trust . . . “Do I come across as one speaking naturally to equals, or is there any hint of pandering or patronizing in my delivery – please tell me?”

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