Means can overwhelm messages. How an idea is delivered can make all the difference in how it is received. Too often what is said is lost in the haze of how it’s being shared. We intend to convey one thing, but tone, tempo, and even body language hijack conversations and distort content.

Last Sunday, Fergie sauntered toward the microphone set center court at the 67th NBA All Star Game. She was draped in an elegant black-lace cocktail dress. Her nails were long and decorated. Her lips were glossed. And after a brief introduction by the announcer, the former Black Eyed Peas vocalist delivered a performance of the national anthem which by all accounts was “unforgettable.”

Social media reacted passionately to her salty blues inspired rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner.” Some endorsed her attempt at creativity. Many more maligned the “liberty” she took with this hallmark of national pride.

With 19 vocal semitones, the US national anthem is known for being a remarkably difficult piece to perform. The lyrics come from a poem written by Francis Scott Key, originally called “Defence of Fort M’Henry.” Witnessing the bombardment of the fort by the Royal Navy, Key wrote the song inspired by the sight of his country’s flag during the American victory at the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812. For many years, the poem enjoyed a variety of musical renditions. It wasn’t until 1917, over 100 years later, that Woodrow Wilson charged the U.S. Bureau of Education with the creation of a standardized arrangement. This is the tune we all know today, though most don’t know the actual words.

In her bluesy rendition, every word was included, every note of liberty was struck (though at times a little off key). But the message of the anthem is not what people were talking about on Monday morning. It was not what she sang, but how she sang it, which took center stage that night. She later apologized:

“I’ve always been honored and proud to perform the national anthem and last night I wanted to try something special for the NBA. I’m a risk taker artistically, but clearly this rendition didn’t strike the intended tone. I love this country and honestly tried my best.”

Her’s is a clear example of how means of delivery can overwhelm a message.

No matter who you are, if you have something to say, you have to think about how you will say it. It’s true for managers seeking to inspire employees. It’s true for sales people trying to close a deal. It’s true for husbands wishing to remain husbands. And it is especially true for Christians striving to share an anthem of eternal freedom.

The raw message of Christianity is clearly the most important part of sharing the Gospel. But its content is too often muted by delivery. We talk about the love of God with sincere scows. We invite people to worship with an air of guilt-inspired obligation. And we challenge cultural norms with imposing tones of judgement which drown out God’s chorus of redemption.

Paul knew the way we deliver the Gospel could determine whether it was received as Good news, or just another burden for people to bare. He was constantly mindful of his audience, his delivery, and the way his message would be received. To the church at Corinth, he explained his ministry philosophy;

“For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. . . To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).

 


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