There’s much to appreciate about a medical doctor with a good bedside manner, one who possesses the ability to deliver difficult truths in a clear, kind, compassionate manner. Sadly, not every doctor possesses this ability, nor does every pastor.

In our current cultural climate, some pastors seem quick to sound the alarm regarding a perceived theological crisis yet are void of clarity and charity in their presentation. While perhaps justified in their engagement, the approach often serves to provoke rather than educate. In an age of pervasive untruth, I’m indebted to those who have and continue to faithfully “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

Is it possible to proclaim convictions boldly and engage difficult truths without a hint of hostility or conceit?

Perhaps we should consider the wisdom set forth in James 1:19 as a starting point:

“Know this, by beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

This passage gives God’s under shepherds at least three lines of real help:

1. Let every pastor be quick to hear.

Like a physician in an exam room, pastors must ask questions and attentively listen to the response. What was said? What wasn’t said? Imagine a doctor refusing to listen and offering a diagnosis without considering the patient’s symptoms.

Sadly, a lack of attentive listening also seems pervasive among pastors. Brothers and sisters in Christ are speaking, but the meaning of the message is often lost in communication limbo between the speaker’s mouth and the listener’s ear.

The solution is not to speak louder, but to listen more attentively. Are you speaking the same language as your listener(s)? English may be your shared tongue, but you may not speak the same language.

Consider that both speaker and listener bring context, presupposition and definition to the conversation. Are you conversing with a shared meaning? A wise pastor will take the time to listen well, ask clarifying questions and demonstrate an earnest desire to hear genuinely.

2. Let every pastor be slow to speak.

Once a doctor is prepared to diagnose and prescribe treatment, he or she will speak. A doctor possessing a good bedside manner will communicate the information with the best interests of the patient in mind and in an understandable way. Confusion does nothing to calm or cure a sick patient.

In the same way, pastors are called to speak. We must listen well and at the appropriate time speak because God has spoken. Our words must stem from God’s Word. However, if our message is to be heard, it must be spoken from a heart of love and in a language in which the listener can understand. As the apostle Paul writes, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor. 13:1).

Noisy gongs and clanging cymbals seem to permeate the current evangelical landscape. Many appear to believe the gospel, and affirm sound doctrine, yet are choosing to bludgeon with a sword instead of more gently using a heartfelt surgical scalpel in communication.

While either approach may pain an unrepentant heart, one serves to harm, but the other aims to heal. Yes, your tweet or sermon soundbite may be true, but is it right? James would (rightly) have us think before we speak.

3. Let every pastor be slow to anger.

The call of every physician is to avoid harm. The aim is to diagnose, treat, and heal. A doctor cannot bring about healing without a a proper diagnosis. The same holds true for pastors.

There’s a reason James addressed our ears over our tongues when he wrote “be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” We must be swift to hear God’s Word, but slow to speak our own words, slow to become sinfully angry. While Scripture doesn’t prohibit anger, it must be slow to rise.

The opposite seems most pervasive today.

Evidence of anger permeates every aspect our current cultural climate, including the church. The political left is angry with the political right and vice versa. Pastors are angry with church members, and church members are angry with pastors. How much of what angers us stems less from a pursuit of righteousness and more from a failure to communicate carefully and righteously?

If the righteousness of God is our aim, and I pray it is, the anger of man isn’t the answer. James’ words are vital for us.

Mind Your Words, Mind Your Tone

Like a good doctor, pastors must strive to present difficult truths in a clear, kind, compassionate manner. May we guard against our tendency to allow the tone of our message from hindering the truth from being heard.