So I watched a bit of the Super Bowl last night.
(Not sure I am allowed to say that, what with trademarks and copyrights and all. If you never hear from me again, it is because the NFL filed a lawsuit to shut me down for using their property.)
But I watched some of the game, when I wasn’t talking about more important stuff like taxes, house maintenance, guns, and other man stuff. And eating chili, meatballs, pizza, wings, nacho chips and queso, chocolate brownies, chocolate cupcakes.
And drinking water, because I am a devout health nut who refuses to defile my body with junk food like pop/soda/coke (depending on what part of the country you are from; gotta be inclusive you know).
Then I saw the Paul Harvey commercial. And I was riveted to it. It’s the only commercial I actually paid attention to.
In it was the greatest recorded voice of all time with a beautiful, sentimental (and probably a bit blasphemous) little thing about farmers. It was heart-warming, inspiring, and at the end, it made you want to run out and hug a farmer, and get some milk from him to wash down the chocolate brownies.
Right up until the last image of truck.
And then I felt dirty.
I felt used.
I felt violated.
All this beautiful stuff and I was being sold a truck?
All these farmers God created were just unwitting salesmen to sell a truck to a group of people whose farming experience ended in the third grade when their antfarm and tomato-plant-in-a-dixie cup both died in the same sad weekend.
And it makes me think about the emotional impact of rhetoric.
When Paul talks about using cleverness of speech for the gospel, I think he is talking about this very kind of thing.
No, I don’t think Paul cares whether or not Dodge sells trucks or not.
I think Paul cares about whether we play on people’s emotions about one thing and then ask them to do something totally unrelated to it.
Every week, pastors stand up and preach. We use stories, word pictures, explanations, poems, and just plain old speech to try to explain the Word to people and convince them that they need to respond.
And we are tempted to think, how can I get the people emotionally involved, so that they will see how significant this is. So we are tempted to resort to sad stories that play on people’s emotions, make them cry, and whip them into a frenzy. We have video intros and outros, cool lighting, humor, street talk, or philosophical talk, and a host of others things.
About the only thing we don’t have is Paul Harvey talking about farmers.
Some of these things may show a lack of trust in the simple stories of life in Scripture and the simple explanation of the gospel. We use emotional appeals through stories because we don’t think the Scriptures are enough. Scripture has plenty of stories, and some are heart-rending. So use them.
Don’t get cute. Don’t be clever.
As pastors, it is vital to the Word ministry in the church that we avoid cleverness of speech. It may not always be clear exactly where that line is, but we must constantly be aware of it, and refuse to cross it.
Pastors, don’t pitch trucks to city dwellers with an incredible voice telling a great story.