By the Revd Dr Peter Sanlon
Many today are concerned about not just the content of what people say in the public arena, but also the way that whatever is spoken, is said. People can get offended as much by tone or manner, as content. The complex and varied needs of God’s people as we journey to heaven warn us against adopting any simplistic one size fits all approach to how people should speak as regards tone or manner.
So John Calvin wrote that there are different ways of speaking, suited to circumstances. Calvin wrote, ‘The pastor ought to have two voices: one, for gathering the sheep; and another, for warding off and driving away wolves and thieves. The Scripture supplies him with the means of doing both.’
If the variable tone Calvin commends is right, then a minister will never merely speak in a manner that flows from his personality or temperament. There must be a spiritual refinement, adjustment and calibration suited to the situation. In some situations that will be very conscious, at other times it will flow from the rhythms of grace that mark keeping in step with the Spirit.
There is a necessary and appropriate call to gently speak with and nurture the sheep. The minister is not to be heavy handed or coercive with the flock. But part of ministry includes warning off the wolves who promote teaching that would harm the flock – and to such it is right a pastor speaks with passion and firmness which demonstrates sincerity. Both these aspects of tone, voice and speech are part of faithful ministry. Both are seen in the life of Jesus and the ministry of Paul. Firm, robust – even rude insults are used by Jesus and Paul as they publicly challenge religious hypocrites and false teachers. They name their opponents and warn of them. Yet the same were also tender and kind among the Thessalonians, and in fulfilment of Isaiah 42, would not break a bruised reed.
None of us is adequate to give voice to both these ministries in the appropriate way and fitting situations – so we cry out for a greater filling of the Spirit that we may speak as God would have us do.
Rev. Dr. Peter Sanlon is minister of Emmanuel Anglican Church, Tunbridge Wells: www.emmanuelanglican.uk