Watch the Tone of Your Message!
“So how did you think my first year of teaching went? Any suggestions?”
My young colleague was looking for my feedback now that the school year had ended and we were leaving for our summer break. I’d had a good view of his overall style and manner since we taught the two fourth grades as a team. He had experienced many of the pitfalls of a new teacher. However, he had a wonderful knowledge of his subject matter and conveyed it well. He had high expectations for classroom behavior. The message was good. It was his tone that was lacking.
“I have an assignment for you for the summer. Oh don’t worry! It’s not anything you have to study or research.”
Hoping to express my criticism in the kindest way I continued:
“You need to develop ‘the look’ and also get a bit of an edge to your voice. The students aren’t taking you seriously.”
He smiled, apparently realizing his own shortcomings. The message he was conveying was right. The tone was wrong. He happily spent the next several weeks perfecting his delivery.
Getting out the message of hope in Our Lord Jesus can take a variety of paths. Even the Gospel writers present the message with different tones. They also chose different parts of Jesus’ ministry to emphasize because of the audience they were writing to.
Matthew has much more emphasis on showing how the Messianic prophecies were fulfilled. His audience was the Jewish people who were learning about the ministry and saving grace of our Lord Jesus. Matthew’s tone captures the challenges Jesus made to the religious rulers who denied His complete fulfillment of those prophecies.
John’s message focuses on the divinity of Jesus. In a firm and forthright manner he answers the doubts people had about who Our Lord truly is. At the same time, John’s tone is always one of gentleness and love.
Even the Apostle Paul, who wasn’t one to hold back his criticism of the church at Corinth, could soften his tone when he was urging them to abandon their out-of-control behavior (See 1 Corinthians 13). Yet earlier he sternly challenged them: “What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a rod of discipline, or shall I come in love and with a gentle spirit?” (1 Corinthians 4:21) In other words, the message isn’t going to change. How do you want me to deliver it?
The Apostle Peter, another boisterous fellow, could have taken his own advice about delivery. Or perhaps his admonition to “do this with gentleness and respect” was an admission of his own lack of proper tone at times when conveying the Gospel message (1 Peter 3:15b).
Our leadership involves many more message topics than ones about our faith. That doesn’t mean, however, we can ignore our tone when the topic isn’t directly connected with our witness. Our witness is ongoing whenever we use a certain tone to convey our message.
On the other hand, leading like Jesus doesn’t mean a one-tone delivery.
Jesus had a different tone and message depending on the circumstances and His audience. The Pharisees were constantly watching His every move, hoping to catch Him breaking a commandment. Our Lord Jesus addressed them angrily before healing the man with the withered hand (Mark 3:5).
In contrast to His anger at hardened hearts, He gently encouraged the woman caught in adultery. His compassionate message and tone stopped the stones from raining down on her (John 8:3-11).
Our Lord Jesus delivered a strong message. He challenged the status quo. He confronted those who were so intent on burdening people with the Law. He didn’t shy away from difficult choices or decisions. And He continued to lead that unlikely band of followers even when they didn’t always understand His message or mission.
Jesus expects us to lead with the same fervor, challenging things that need to be changed, confronting those whose focus is on the wrong thing, making difficult choices and decisions. And leading those who don’t always understand our mission.
The ultimate task for me is knowing when to give the Law and when to give the Gospel. And especially how to deliver it. This is what sets apart a leader who leads a church, a company, an organization, or a family like the Lord Jesus would.
Oh to have that perfect knowledge, that perfect tone at all times! Knowing my audience as I’m delivering my message.
Ah… that’s the key. Getting to know those I’m leading and how they respond. Asking for insight and wisdom from my Lord Jesus. Praying for His guidance so that my message and tone are both effective. Learning from the Master how to lead… with the right blend of certainty and grace.
Leaving my guilt at the cross,
(First published at Lead Like Jesus November 2019)