Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Are You Smarter Than An Eighth Grader?

When I was preaching in Nashville, there was a young brother who became a pretty close friend.  Ocassionally he would come by my office and we'd study and pray together, and spend a good bit of time sharing some very personal things in our journey to know God better.  At that time, I was really discovering, or maybe rediscovering, the primacy of thankfulness if we truly wanted to draw closer to God.  In private discussion I said to him what I later used as a permanent prayer on this blog, "God has been so good to me, and I am so thankful for the wonderful life he has given me, that anything that comes from this day on is truly gravy."  That was said as a profession of thanksgiving, but later, when for reasons still unknown today, he became dissatisfied with our church family, he put that quote from me in a letter of complaint to the elders to point out that I was "burned out" in my ministry.
How could something that was being said as a praise of thankfulness to God be interpreted as the words of a burned out preacher?  I don't know, but I do know that communication - that is, being understood - is always a complicated process.
Many times we assume someone understands what we are talking about, or at least our perspective, and we don't explain things as completely as we should.  That's a real problem in marriage, because after so many years together, we assume our spouse knows what we are thinking so we don't have to explain things.  Wrong.
I have often mentioned to people that I preach on an about an 8th grade level.  It's not just me, any and all public speakers, even if they don't know it, nearly always speak on a Junior High level to be understood by the greatest number of people.  NO, that doesn't mean that you prepare your lesson and then go over it to "dumb down" your message for the "lowly masses" of people you have to talk down to.  Most of us, yes even with multiple graduate degrees, speak to one another on about an 8th grade level.  That has nothing to do with conceptual understanding or intellect, but has everything to do with vocabulary.  I could throw in all kinds of theological terms that I've learned from scholarly volumes or papers, but why?  To impress others?  To sound erudite and superior?  The goal is communication not personal grandeur.
I am profoundly convicted by Paul's declaration to the Corinthians, "For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified."  It was essential to him that they understand, "My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power." (1 Cor.2:1-5)  There were some at Corinth that evidently thought Paul's message was too common, too basic, and lacking eloquence.  They didn't want to be challenged by a crucified Jesus, they wanted to be impressed by a polished public speaker.
No, an eighth grade vocabulary is all you need to share Jesus, confront sin, and show the way to find hope.  Everything else is fluff, fizzle, and fake.  If you don't know what those words mean, ask an eighth grader.

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