The speaker shuffled his notes and feet uneasily. Impressionable young eyes stared back at him—some clouded with pain, others glowing with life.
He cleared his throat and told a “funny” story from his youth of a time he’d been intoxicated. The speaker went on to present a well-polished sermon. At the end of this youth meeting, a gray-haired woman waited patiently to address the speaker.
When her turn arrived, she gently questioned, “Were you trying to teach the kids that being drunk is fun?”
“No!” he snapped. “I was teaching from the Book of James.”
Shaking her head sadly, she sighed, “What about your opening? You had ‘em laughing intensely about being drunk.”
“That was just my opening illustration! It was meant to be funny. Didn’t you hear me qualify afterward that being drunk is a sin?”
“Let me be clear. I’m not saying you should hide the fact that you’ve been drunk before, but that story was merely intended to make the kids laugh. It made light of a serious issue in the lives of those learners.”
The true rarity in the story above is the woman’s wise, gentle rebuke. Thoughtlessness on the part of speakers is widespread and can be deadly.
As a young student, leading the Bible club at my public high school, I read an article on unintended curriculum that confronted my attitude toward using my words. The article questioned, what do you teach without meaning to? What do you lead hearers to infer and what conclusions do they draw from your words? Our curriculum includes both our content and our attitude.
To avoid any unintended curriculum here, let me clarify. I’m not saying we shouldn’t share stories of past sin or present struggles. Growing to be wise and confident in self-disclosure is actually a mark of Christ-like maturity. However, always avoid speaking with an attitude that glorifies sin, sickness, or Satan. The shifty, shiny speaker in the story above neglected this for the sake of humor. As a result, his hearers were fed attitudes that may have led them into temptation and the very lap of evil.
I have liberty to tell stories and to answer any sort of question. It’s a matter of what I say and how I say it. I often ask myself, “What will listeners hear and learn from what I speak out?” In group settings, I tell stories that lift up Jesus and speak truth clearly. In one-to-one conversations, I aim to communicate with a respectful spirit.
Afterward, I ask the Holy Spirit to convict me of any sin. He is faithful to do so. That’s part of His mission (Jn. 16:7-11). And I’m grateful for it. In fulfilling His mission, the Holy Spirit empowers us to fulfill our great commission. Thank You, Holy Spirit, for convicting and holding us accountable. Thank You, Lord Jesus, for sending Your Spirit in power.
The Lord judges teachers more strictly, because our words hold the power of life and death for listeners (Jm. 3:1; Prov. 18:21). Oh, let us speak boldly and wisely. Whether an aged saint is present to confront us or not, every time we speak, let us do so with knowledge that we are held accountable for what we teach both intentionally and unintentionally.