There’s an awful lot of talk out there, but how much of it makes a difference? With so many voices and messages in our lives every day, we have become masters of determining genre – as a way of coping with the on-rush and categorising all the information.
What do I mean by genre? It’s simply our way of sensing what type of information we’re getting, and so determining which part of our brain it goes into. If we sense that what we’re hearing is a joke, we listen in a particular way. If we pick up that we’re hearing a reminder ‘Don’t forget to socially distance and wash your hands’, we let it drift to the back-of-mind. But if we’re hearing and urgent alert ‘Get out, get out, the place is on fire!’ then back-of-mind is absolutely the wrong place for that.
We determine what genre we’re hearing through a whole bunch of little signals. My kids tell me that I have a ‘joke voice’, even when I think I’m being dead-pan. But it helps them to totally tune out, laugh politely when I stop talking, and get on with their lives. It would be wrong of me to use my joke voice to alert them to the fire and their need to escape.
This of course leads us to think about evangelism. There’s more thirst-for-meaning and openness in people than we think. But it’s one thing for people to be willing to hear our message, and other thing as to how they hear us. For instance, a family may be willing to make a rare visit to church at Christmas, and I’m pretty sure they’ll be exposed to the greatest story and biggest truth. However, if they are in ‘Christmas sentimentality’ mode, then the message they hear may well be headed straight for the Fairy-tale Department of their mind. They’ll smile and nod and thank you for it and change absolutely nothing of their lives.
We can’t fully control what ‘mode’ people are in when they hear us but do have a role in the signals that we send. If we tell the gospel like a fairy tale, people will hear it as such. If we speak with doubt, as though saying ‘Look, this is probably of no interest to you, but…’ it will also be a genre-signal also.
So let’s take into account the tone and other signals that surround our message. The gospel is real news, great newsand revolutionary news. If we truly believe this then if anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God.(1Pe4) We should speak as if our message matters – We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.(2Co5)
We know that some may not respond well to the message and note that Christ himself had people gnash their teeth at, despise and reject him. This will, in fact, be a sign to us that we have spoken in an appropriate genre – who gets upset at a fairy-tale or joke that they don’t like? But none of this excuses us from our responsibility to speak with gentleness and respect1Pe3 – even when we’re being blunt and direct. Sacred agents do it all out of love for Christ and with love for those he loves.