Preaching and the feminization of discourse; a timely parable...
For a number of years, I've thought we need a book for preachers called The Feminization of Discourse. The book would show how the feminine priorities that have taken over the Western world have turned the preaching of God's Word from authority to mutual exploration and discovery. One friend lamented the preaching he'd sat under for a number of years saying, "Along with the indicative, can't we please have the imperative?" Read anything about the differences between male and female conversation and it's no mystery why the worship and preaching of our--yes, PCA--churches feel like a tea party. Having a reformed form of godliness, we deny the power thereof.
Our preaching is so graceful--more graceful than the preaching of Jesus or the Apostles. Anyone read the book of Acts, recently? Notice how often those listening to the sermon are confronted with the statement, "You killed Jesus!" No wonder repentance was the entry point to faith and baptism back then. But today? We're compassionate Christians, kinder and gentler elders, and sensitive graceful preachers who want to be liked. Above all. Yes, insofar as we can be liked and still be obedient, that's fine. But a choice between the two is no contest; being liked wins.
Now of course, right here the feminization of discourse kicks in and many are ready to condemn me for being dogmatic, making generalizations, or demonstrating a harsh and judgmental spirit, right?
Well, meet my friend Cesar Millan and see if we preachers have anything to learn from him about our exercise of the authority God has delegated to us, particularly in the pulpit...
A couple months ago, the New Yorker ran an article by Malcolm Gladwell profiling Cesar Millan, the man behind the National Geographic show, Dog Whisperer. Titled What the Dog Saw, the piece gave readers a spellbinding glimpse into the life of a man expert at training incorrigible dogs.
The central thrust of the article was an explanation of Millan’s “phrasing,” his ability to bring his body movements, hand gestures, tone of voice, and eye contact into perfect harmony so that dogs understand Millan says what he means and means what he says. In a follow-up interview, Gladwell described Millan’s good phrasing:
What we’re talking about, when it comes to phrasing, is simply the ability to communicate with clarity. We all think that those around us have the ability to read our minds—and we get frustrated when our intentions are misunderstood. But the truth is that accurate communication is really hard, and only a very small number of people can do it well.
So now, I'm starting to think about preaching, but the parallels only get better.
Gladwell’s profile contained a number of examples of dog owners who hired Millan to tame their dogs. Here are the stories of two dogs, the first named Beauty and the second Bandit:
“I have forty-seven dogs right now,” Cesar…idly scratched a big German shepherd. “My girlfriend here, Beauty. If you were to see the relationship between her and her owner.” He shook his head. “A very sick relationship. A ‘Fatal Attraction’ kind of thing. Beauty sees her (owner) and she starts scratching her and biting her, and the owner is, like, ‘I love you, too.’”
Near the end of his article, Gladwell told the story of a Chihuahua named Bandit:
Bandit had a large, rapper-style diamond-encrusted necklace around his neck spelling “Stud.” His owner was Lori, a voluptuous woman with an oval face and large, pleading eyes. Bandit was out of control, terrorizing guests and menacing other dogs. Three trainers had failed to get him under control. Lori was on the couch in her living room as she spoke to Cesar. Bandit was sitting in her lap. Her teen-age son, Tyler, was sitting next to her.…
Tyler reached over to touch the dog, and Bandit leaped out of Lori’s arms and attacked him… Tyler, startled, jumped back. Lori, alarmed, reached out and …put her hands around Bandit in a worried, caressing motion, and lifted him back into her lap. It happened in an instant.
…Cesar was about as angry as he ever gets. “…If Tyler kicked the dog, you would correct him. The dog is biting your son, and you are not correcting hard enough.” …Bandit was nervous. He started to back up on the couch. He started to bark. Cesar gave him a look out of the corner of his eye. Bandit shrank. Cesar kept talking. Bandit came at Cesar. Cesar stood up. “I have to touch,” he said, and he gave Bandit a sharp nudge with his elbow.
Lori looked horrifed.… “You don’t like that, do you?” Cesar said, in his frustration speaking to the whole room now. “It’s not going to work. This is a case that is not going to work, because the owner doesn't want to allow what you normally do with your kids… The hardest part for me is that the father or mother chooses the dog instead of the son."
"That’s hard for me. I love dogs. I’m the dog whisperer. You follow what I’m saying? But I would never choose a dog over my son.” He stopped. He had had enough of talking. There was too much talking, anyhow. People saying, “I love you,” with a touch that didn’t mean “I love you.” People saying, “There, there,” with gestures that did not soothe. People saying, “I’m your mother,” while reaching out to a Chihuahua instead of their own flesh and blood…
Repeatedly, Millan demonstrates the dog isn’t the problem, but rather the dog’s owner. The dog is man’s best friend partly because dogs are highly skilled at reading man’s intentions and moods—his phrasing. So when a man’s words say one thing and his phrasing something else, the dog will follow his owner’s phrasing, disregarding his words.
What can we learn from Millan concerning the work of pastors and elders, those called by God to shepherd souls? Consider this article a parable, and start by thinking about its application to preaching.
If a pastor preaches using a lot of what political analysts label “weasel words,” for instance, can anyone really be surprised if that pastor’s ministry is devoid of the Holy Spirit’s power? There’s a plate tectonic difference between “Thus says the Lord God Almighty…” and “Sometimes I wonder whether anyone else sees it the way it appears to me…"
In poker, dog training, and preaching there are tells that signal our intentions. Smile at a dog while saying “Bad doggie” in a reassuring tone and who can fault the dog for flipping over on his back and waiting to have his stomach scratched?
Preach 1Timothy 2, ending with a statement to the effect, “I can’t understand why God made this rule because I think women would make excellent pastors and elders, and their gifts for leadership have long ago been proven in the civil and corporate environment; but after all, we must assume God knew what He was doing when He inspired that chauvinist Apostle Paul writing in the ancient patriarchal culture to pen these prohibitions,” and how do we expect our daughters and the more aggressive women of our churches to respond?
Following such mincing leadership, who would fault them for eating up the teaching of Carolyn Custis James, Karen Jobes, and Diane Langberg; then pressing for their church to commission—not ordain, you understand—women deacons; then advocating women teaching our mixed sex adult Sunday school classes and small groups; then women serving our congregations the elements of the Lord’s Supper?
We could continue on this theme at length, but the parables general thrust should be clear. So ruminate on it and see where it takes you. And concerning pastors and elders, may the Lord lead us to teach and preach without trading on the authority God Himself has delegated to us and without apologizing as we exercise that authority.