Five Ways Pastors – Preachers Showcase A “Tin Ear”

tin earAt the end of this post, I realize that there will be some speakers and preachers who may legitimately discount what is said because of the common plight which accompanies a “serial speaker.” [1].

Yes, I understand that there are people who unfairly knit-pick the words and message of preachers-teachers.  That does not abrogate the legitimate!

And — Yes — at times, not only do we as pastors fail to communicate effectively, but we fail to communicate properly. We say it the wrong way, or we say the wrong thing. Or we don’t say what we should have said. Or we did not say it clear enough. We misspeak. We choose the wrong word(s).

However, none of that precludes the fact that as a speaker-teacher-preacher, we may have a “tin ear.”  We may not hear what we are saying.  We may not hear what it sounds like to those who are listening. That can be the fault of the “radio receiver.”  But it can also be caused by the “transmitter.” 

We may be talking in a way that seems appropriate to us, but is in fact offensive.  However, we do not hear it that way — but it is to those listening!


In Public Speaking:

Have you hear a speaker, politician, or political commentator make a comment, after which you thought or said . . . .

You are kidding!
Do you know how that sounds!
YOU . . . . are saying . . . . .WHAT?
That’s the pot calling the kettle black!

Some speakers have a “Tin-Ear.”

Tin Ear:

insensitivity to the appropriateness or subtlety of language.”

√ A speaker does not understand how that sounds to the audience who is and/or may be hearing it!

√ To be “Tone Deaf”:  Tone-deaf is also used to describe a person who either ignores, or worse yet, seems to be oblivious to how offensive or upsetting something they have said is to an audience.

. . . . . . . . 

From The “Pulpit”:

However, some pastors also may have a “tin ear” when it comes to . . .

  • the use of certain illustrative material.  I have heard some illustrations and said . . .
    “Ugh . . . what was he thinking of to use that as an illustration.  It comes across terrible!  Far too graphic!”
    “The sexual imagery in that illustration is really quite offensive.”
    → “I am getting uncomfortable with some of the depth or details of the story.  I think I need to bring my children out.”
  • personal marital or family details (which most believe ought to be kept private)
    “I hope his wife cleared him before he shared that information.”
    “If I were his child, I would be embarrassed for that to be shared.”
    “I know the pastor is trying to be transparent, but that will stick and linger in the minds of the audience.”
  • exhortations, admonitions, and reproofs, which they themselves are known to violate.
    “How can you be admonishing us about “family” when your children do not even attend church on any regular basis.  Don’t you hear yourself?!”“Pastor, please don’t exhort us about marriage, when you show such disrespect to your wife.  I hope you are listening to yourself.”

    “Really, you are being critical of church ministries who excuse sexual sins, and you yourself have refused to address it appropriately in your own church ministry! Don’t you hear how that sounds to God’s people?”

    “Pastor, you are you talking about sinful behavior and forgiveness! Don’t you hear how that sounds to those you have sinned against and never personally addressed or confessed your wrong-doing?”[3]

  • repeatedly bringing the focus back to yourself.
    “It really is all about you, isn’t it.  Even when praising someone else, you have to take some credit.”“Yes, yes — I know — there are 100’s of people who tune in and watch every week from around the world.  Don’t you hear how prideful that sounds?”

    “Yes, you are the pastor.  Remind us of your position again and again.  Do you hear how un-servant-like that sounds to your congregation?”

    → “Rather a self-serving message about criticism.  It sounds like there are people you are going after — from the pulpit.”

  • disingenuous explanations.
    “Really, that is the reason you are giving for canceling that service this year.  Do you hear how disingenuous that sounds!→ “Repeatedly explaining why attendance is down (or giving is down, or few attended this-or that event) sounds so hollow.  Maybe the reason is found in what we are doing?”

    “Why not just accept responsibility, and stop giving reasons for what you did which were unwise-to-wrong!  It sounds so insincere and repulsive!”

    “No, that is not a biblical principle.  It is what you have to believe and teach so that ‘wrong’ looks ‘right,’  ‘poor’ looks ‘good,’ ‘misguided” looks “wise.’  You don’t grasp how foolish it sounds when you do that with Scripture.

. . . . . . . . 

The Causes:

  • Impromptu: Sometimes, the material is impromptu.  It came to the speaker-preacher’s mind at the moment and was not filtered out by the process of preparation, time, and/or re-think.  Making comments off-the-cuff and not hearing how it sounds at the moment is potentially dangerous.
  • Experience: At other times, a speaker-preacher lacks experience.  Over time a preacher learns that such illustrations, examples, rabbit-trail comments, references, or wording do not go over well.  Experience provides feedback from a spouse or family member, comments from members who graciously “reference” what was said after the message, and/or the ability to read facial grimaces and uneasy audience movement.
  • Self-awareness: The cause may also be due to a significant lack of self-awareness.  The pastor doesn’t grasp at all how contradictory or prideful his words sound because he is so personally aloof.  While the listeners are surprised that he is making such comments, he sees nothing worthy of such a reaction.  He may even defend his words, double-down, and argue with those who suggest otherwise.
  • Hypocrisy: The worst cause would be hypocrisy.  That is what we see in the political world of public speaking.  Individuals, who either don’t see how hypocritical they are, or forge on even when they know and understand their hypocrisy.

. . . . . . . . 


√  Be very cautious about using any material which comes to mind on the spot!

√  Don’t specifically refer to previous members of the church in a negative way, no less by name — Audience’s Thinking: “One day you may use me as an illustration.”

√  Consider using a general reference rather than being too specific — “There are Christians who can be so divisive and critical in a local church setting.”

√  Consider moving from — “Some of you here today are doing a terrible job of raising your children to love Jesus. . . .” — to —  “There will be those who in most every church who are doing a terrible job at raising their children. . . . “

√  Be careful who you commend or vouch for.*  Audience Thinking: “They surely don’t know that person very well!  Got pastor fooled.”

√  Be careful when speaking about salary, pastoral compensation, or critics and criticism.  If a pastor is not careful, it may come across, and may even be true, that a pastor is using the “bully pulpit” for self-serving purposes and even as a one-sided opportunity to make his case.

√  Be careful what you commend or reference.  It might have been “good” at a point in time, but it might be far different later. Audience Thinking: “He watches/watched ‘Boston Legal’!”

√  Stay away from saying anything which is sexually inappropriate! — “My wife is hot.” / “When I was kid we went skinny dipping at a pond with . . . ” / “I read the story of . . . .”

Some speakers-preachers may not realize that they are asking the audience to call up mental images that are so out of place in church on a Sunday morning — and/or out of place, period!

√  Be careful when listing this-or-that and then indicating that you wrestle with one or more of those listed items. — i.e. “Some of God’s people wrestle with anger, or impatience, pornography, worry-anxiety, sexual immorality, alcohol or drugs.  I understand the battle with some of these sins.”  Audience Thinking: I hope it is “impatience.”

Yes, there are pitfalls when it comes to speaking.
It comes with the position and responsibility!

Yes, there are those who will knit-pick your comments.
Sometimes, it is the “radio receiver.”

And yes, sometimes, it is the “transmitter.” 
And it is your responsibility to “hear how it sounds!”

Ethos” is always in play when it comes to preaching.  People listen (and even decided to attend) because of their regard for the speaker. People give their attention to, or turn-off/tune out, when the speaker’s integrity or credibility comes into play! [2].

That is why there are qualifications for being a pastor-preacher-teacher!

When it comes to some of these listed pitfalls, let me also say . . .
“Been there and done it!”

1. “Serial Speaker”:  There are those who spend their lives “speaking.”  Politicians, “Ted Talk” speakers, those who travel on the Speaker Bureau, or attorneys don’t even come close to the volume of speeches and words that preachers do.  Preachers-teachers are “serial speakers” who speak to a “serial audience.”  “Serial” because it is the same speaker and the same audience, two to four times a week, and often for years!  Add to that counseling, small talk, funerals, weddings, committee meetings, discipleship, etc.

2. I find it much more difficult to listen to Ravi Z. (who passed away this year) after the scandalous stories were rightly reported before he died, and after he died.

3. I am always set back when I hear a pastor say that he knows of no one to whom or nothing for which he needs to apologize.  Such a lack of self-awareness is telling and odious.  It might be better (and more humbly) said . . . .

“I repeatedly ask the Lord to help me be sensitive to what I need to make right and follow through on, based on Matthew 5:23.  I know that I too easily believe my own evaluations — as Proverbs 21:2 reminds me — and I need help in understanding how I have wronged others by my decisions, actions. and attitudes.  If there are those who I have wronged, I need the Spirit of God to help me see it, acknowledge it, and seek his/her forgiveness for such actions.”

As Paul states, I know nothing against myself, but that does not mean that there is nothing about which I need to address and confront, as I am aware that they have “ought against me.”
. . . . . . . 
. . . . . . . 

* I know about ending with a preposition — I just refuse to agree or conform!

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