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Read my Lips

Presidential candidate George H. W. Bush received enthusiastic cheers by promising his party convention, “Read my lips, no new taxes.”

Yet, when Bush became the US President, what did he do? He introduced a stealth budget that was full of new taxes.

In a relatively light-hearted piece about political leadership in the Times Magazine, it was suggested that a leader can only get away with telling two big lies a year; to try a third is pushing their luck!

At the moment we are in the midst of a leadership contest for the Conservative Party. No wonder that one of the words being used rather a lot in this process is the word ‘integrity’.

Words matter.

People like their leaders to say what they mean and to mean what they say.

The person chosen as the next Conservative leader will become our next Prime Minister. Part of the selection process is a series of TV debates between the five contenders. What they are finding is that what they have said in the past has been repeated back to them.

In a social media shaped generation the off-the-cuff remark, the wacky idea, and the less than honest statement can come back to haunt someone who wants to be taken seriously for the top job.

What can preachers learn from this?

  1. Think carefully before you say anything. This is particularly important if what you say is in writing, posted on social media or being recorded.

  2. If you want to say something of particular significance compose what you are going to say. Perhaps it might be wise to run it past your spouse or the rest of the leadership team?

  3. As far as you are able check your facts, choose your words wisely and seek to communicate them in a way that is unlikely to be misconstrued.

  4. Consider the tone of your voice and the context in which you are speaking. Some words can ignite a flame if spoken in the wrong tone and in the wrong context.

Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the pipe or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes? Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?” (1 Corinthians 14:7–18)

I like the idea of speaking in tune. Preachers need to have an internal tuning fork in their preaching. This will help them avoid speaking at, speaking across, or speaking down to others, or speaking over people’s heads. It will also help preachers to avoid waving red rags at bulls or trampling all over people’s sensibilities.

The implications of all this are crystal clear.

Preachers need to speak with clarity, care and compassion.

Words are not to be used as weapons of deception but tools of truth.

Speak the truth in love, in such a way that you can look your hearers and your God in the eyes and not be ashamed.

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