Silence can be a powerful tool for communicating a message of truth
Watching the recent Super Bowl game reminded me of a powerful kingdom lesson we learned a few years ago.
It was October 2009, and I was sitting in a recording studio at Focus on the Family. A colleague had suggested a wild idea for Focus to film a pro-life TV commercial with Pam and Tim Tebow. At the time, Tim was the University of Florida’s star quarterback and his mother, Pam, had publicly shared her decision to refuse a doctor’s suggestion to abort baby Tim years earlier.
I loved it. “That should be a Super Bowl ad,” I said.
But the cost of a 30-second Super Bowl ad was steep. As much as I wanted to do it, I wasn’t sure we could pull it off.
A remarkable series of events began to unfold. Several generous friends of Focus stepped forward and pledged to cover the cost. We were introduced to Bob (Tim’s father) and Pam Tebow, and they agreed to work with us. Under a veil of secrecy, a single day of filming was scheduled for early January.
On Christmas Eve, a newspaper columnist broke our story. His report missed several key details, but we declined comment. The writer speculated the advertisement would be an anti-abortion spot and then proceeded to lampoon us.
Within days, several abortion rights groups around the country objected to news of the rumored advertisement. Throughout January reporters called for details, wanting to know who would be in the ad, what they would say, etc. We accepted invitations to talk about it, but declined to offer any specifics—only confirming the ad would celebrate the beauty of family and the wonder of life.
It quickly became one of the most talked about commercials in Super Bowl history, garnering us an estimated $45 million in earned media coverage.
Ironically, the attention happened as a result of us choosing not to argue with our critics or challenge faulty assertions or insinuations—namely that we were bigoted, intolerant and determined to foist our opinions on others.
I’d like to claim credit for such genius. Our silence was intentional, but we didn’t do it because we thought it would make for good press—rather because I don’t think retaliating or picking a fight is the right approach. So instead of fighting back, we trusted that the Lord had His hand on the project. Even as the pressure mounted on CBS to cancel our ad contract, we stood our ground and didn’t publicly defend ourselves or even our right to free speech.
For one of my favorite commercial-related interviews, I was invited to debate Jehmu Green, at the time the president of the Women’s Media Center, who was brought on to represent those who disagreed with CBS allowing our spot to run. The conversation eventually turned to Pam Tebow’s courage not to abort Tim. She and I agreed that Mrs. Tebow was a remarkable woman. At that point, I had an opportunity to foreshadow the coming ad, saying, “Jehmu, I’m glad your mother chose life for you.” She smiled at that comment.
Shortly after the game, we received a note from a woman named “Susan.” She had seen the ad, was pregnant and considering an abortion. The ad had changed her mind. Almost a year after her daughter, Avita, was born, I had the privilege of hosting them in my office. Had we chosen to argue with our critics before the big game, just to make a point or show our strength, I believe the CBS censors would have bounced us from the lineup.
When it comes to engaging the culture, it’s never the right time to pick a fight. Instead, pick the right time to share the right word.
Jim Daly is the president and host of Focus on the Family. His latest book, ReFOCUS: Living a Life That Reflects God’s Heart, released last fall. He and his wife have two boys.
We live in a wired world. We walk together as a disrupted society. In just a few decades, the technical revolution has altered the face of communication—not only how we communicate, but with whom we communicate, the speed by which we communicate and the number of people to whom we communicate.
How we communicate has also changed. Communication is happening less and less verbally. If you can avoid a phone call by sending a text, you’ve saved time, and saving time is better!
In an ever-evolving society, where communication is still radically changing, being a communicator of the gospel can be perplexing and even frustrating. How much technology should we accept as pastors? Is it OK to use social media? Does being current equate to compromising the gospel? These questions can stir up some strong opinions. But here’s what I’ve realized: Just because the message is timeless doesn’t mean the method has to be timeless!
Here are four essential communication lessons I’ve learned as a pastor praying to engage people where they are today with the good news of the gospel:
Recently, I’ve been “reinventing” myself and re-evaluating my methods after 22 years of pastoring the same church. I come from a deep heritage of Pentecostal preachers, where fiery, Holy Ghost, sweat-filled sermons are the cure-all. Don’t get me wrong, the Bible makes it clear in Romans 10:14, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” (NASB). But is the gospel really communicated only through me? And does effective communication rely only on my preparation and my delivery?
Not long ago, I was challenged on this by a very successful pastor who attended one of our services. He told me, “You muscle everything! Everything that has to be communicated, you communicate by yourself, in the pulpit, with no support.” He said that at his church, the messages are communicated by everyone from staff to parking lot attendants and by multiple vehicles such as T-shirts (on the parking attendants), video screens and banners. His insights really opened my eyes, and I immediately began reallocating funds to staff these areas of support.
Since then, I’ve discovered some key principles for effective communication, which center less on me and more on the people I’m teaching. Here’s what I’ve learned about driving home a relevant message:
Communicating a relevant message requires me knowing and caring about my audience.I think back to Ezekiel and his charge from God to communicate His Word to the exiles at Tel Aviv. Scripture says he went to them “in the heat of my spirit” (Ezek. 3:14, NKJV). In other words, Ezekielthought he had all the answers. But once he arrived there, he “sat among them for seven days—deeply distressed” (v. 15, NIV). He began to get a heart for those to whom God had sent Him. Have you studied your audience? Are you acquainted with their needs, hurts and passions? To be relevant to people, we must care about them. This is the key to relevancy.
Communicating a relevant message requires me thinking about everyone who’s listening.I had the honor of speaking at Ed Young Jr.’s C3 Conference this year, where Ed talked about the “three chairs” we as pastors must keep in mind. The first chair, he said, is occupied by the visitor who has no knowledge of the gospel. The second chair is occupied by the new believer. The third chair seats the seasoned Christian. We must prepare our messages in such a way that we keep all three chairs in the front of our minds.
Communicating a relevant message requires transparency.Recently, I stood in the pulpit with tears running down my face and spoke honestly of our family’s struggle with our oldest son’s drug addiction. Afterward, thousands of teenagers responded to the altar call and accepted Jesus as their Savior. And we heard from many parents who, feeling like failures because of their children’s lifestyle decisions, were freed of guilt. It was one of the most transparent days of my life. I gave my congregation insight into my real pain. “Getting real” allows us to become touchable and makes our faith more authentic.
No one living in our culture today would argue that this is a different day. People are bombarded with information. But when it comes down to it, communicating a relevant message reflects our heart for God and for people. May we always have a heart that thinks first about those we’re teaching and allow that to shape how we communicate an eternity-altering story.
Ron Carpenter is senior pastor at Redemption World Outreach Center in Greenville, S.C. Connect at RonCarpenter.com.
As I sit in my office contemplating the last year, I am overwhelmed by a profound sense of thanksgiving. At this time a year ago, I was lying in a hospital bed, recovering from open-heart surgery.
As many of you may (or may not) know, a year ago things were very different in my life. After more than a week of exhibiting some very serious symptoms, my family, staff and friends began voicing their concerns. My son, Ronnie Jr., had been out of the country preaching, and while he was away, he had a heavy burden for me. He and his host pastor prayed and interceded for my life, and upon returning home, he tried to convince me to go see my doctor.
Evangelist Steve Hill was at heaven’s doorstep after years of fighting incurable melanoma. Those closest to him were making funeral arrangements and securing a burial plot after doctors told them he had three days to live. Yet as Hill faced eternity, the man known worldwide for his fiery preaching at the Brownsville Revival in Pensacola, Fla., made a deathbed deal with God.
“Jesus,” he prayed, “they just told me that I’m going to die, and to die is gain. You and I are madly in love with each other, Jesus. You’ve been my best friend for decades. Now they say it’s over. If it’s over, that’s fine ... but You’re hard-pressed for evangelists, Jesus. There are very few evangelists out there that do what I do, and You know that. If You’ll let me live, I will win another million people to You, Lord.”