My primary aim when writing something here is not because I fancy getting into some interesting debate but because stuff is pastorally important. So what is my pastoral concern when talking about offence.
My concern is that pastorally we should be thinking about the whole person. This means for example, that when we preach, to use an old phrase, we preach to the affections. In other words, preaching isn’t some mere intellectual exercise.
Sadly at times, I have seen examples of preaching … scrub that … I have seen examples of whole church life where the sense is that those involved either think emotions are unimportant or things to run scared of. That of course is not surprising because we have all seen the opposite end of the spectrum where there is complete disconnect from the mind and everything is all about a full on assault upon the emotions so that people are manipulated into the desired state to extract the required response.
I want to suggest that both extremes have their root in a misconception. It is the one that distinguishes between objective truth being to do with empirical facts and subjective feelings coming from the emotions.
So, assuming that our greater risk is the first problem, running away from emotion and not the second of trying to manipulate it, there are two risks here. The first, is that I simply communicate in a dry way (my dad would evaluate it as great logic with a complete absence of fire) so I say something interesting which fails to move. The second is that I take the attitude, especially with offence that if someone takes offence, it is their subjective reaction and so it really doesn’t matter what I say. I can say what I like because if they are offended they are offended.
Now I am suggesting here that we need to take a step back and think, not just about the content and will it be understood but also what is the intended and expected response. Is my intention to offend? There is a great follow up conversation here about whether it ever should be, but certainly sometimes that is someone’s intent. The football fans singing about the referee’s parentage, the state of the visiting team’s city or the size of vehicle needed to transport them home are not trying to encourage the opposition or start an interesting conversation, the fully intend to offend.
Now when I preach I know that there is an intended and appropriate response to the message. So, I want to think about my choice of words, the tone I use, the illustrations supporting my application etc because they can either complement the message and support the right response or they can distract from it. For similar reasons, those leading think carefull about the choice of songs and music, we have talked before about how sometimes a tune may be fantastic but just not support the words of a song at all.
It also means I take responsibility for the possibility that somene may be offended, whether or not that is either my intention or the nature of my message. I may realise that some people may be offended by a particular story, joke, activity in the service, choice of attire etc. I may conclude that the choice is not offensive in and of itself, but because felt offence is unhelpful here, I may decide that I will drop it because I don’t want people to be distracted. Of course may choose to leave something in, whether or not some will take offence because it is right and necessary to do it.
This is not about me trying to create the response by my own efforts, The Holy Spirit will use God’s Word to do that but how I speak needs to fit what I say so it is consistent and so it does not distract.
The important thing is that I am thinking about how people respond with hearts and minds to God’s word because I am preaching for a change.