loren Eric Swanson: Preachers and leaders

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Preachers and leaders

Abraham Lincoln was once asked why he gave the same speech over and over wherever he went. He paused, stroked his beard and replied, "Well, it's easier to change my audience than change my message." Ronald Reagan responded to the same question in like manner.

The other day I was listening to Marcus Buckingham's latest book (I think its called The One Thing) and he told the story of Martin Luther King's 1963 "I have a dream" speech. King had been giving the "I have a dream" speech in churches throughout the south but civil rights leaders proposed he try something new for the march on Wasington. Afterall he would speak to two million people. They suggested he develop the theme of the constitution being like a promisory note that African Americans wanted to cash in on. King stayed up much of the night, crafting his message and that's what he began with:

In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

As King pressed forward with this analogy he looked over the audience and could see that he was losing his audience. So he did what every movement leader does. He reverted to what he knew would connect with his audience...what had connected so many times before.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

And so he shifted and connected to finish one of the most moving speeches in American history.

Preachers have a different message for the same audience. Leaders have the same message for multiple audiences. The burden of preachers is they must come up with different messages for the same audience week after week. The burden of movement leaders (and change agents) is they must not tire of saying the same thing to different audiences. They must not tire of hearing themselves say the same thing.

A few years ago I wrote out my goals. One big, hairy audacious goal that I wrote was,

"To engage the church worldwide in the needs and dreams of their communities towards the end of spiritual and societal transformation."

Looking at it now, it does seem presumptous but its still what I want to shoot for. But to do this I need a consistent message and multiple audiences.

Jesus had one message (the kingdom) and multiple audiences ("I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent."--Luke 4:43). Paul also lived out his life preaching the same message to multiple audiences.

"For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came o see him. Boldly and without hinrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 28:30,31)--same message different audience.


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